State Violence and Pregnant Black Mothers

By Marlo David | Black Perspectives

For Black women, pregnancy presents a multiplying set of vulnerabilities which illuminate the intersectional frames of race, gender, and class that increase their susceptibility to state-sanctioned violence, especially forms of violence that are less visible in public conversations about Black life. The risks of pregnancy affect women’s physical and mental health, and for Black women these concerns are amplified by their experiences of structural and quotidian forms of racism. The history of devalued Black motherhood in America presents the foundation upon which contemporary forms of state violence against Black women have evolved.

In particular, issues such as money bail exploitation, shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth, inadequate support for survivors of domestic violence and people with mental health conditions, as well as alarmingly high maternal mortality rates for Black women are not commonly understood as sites of state violence in the same ways that police brutality and killings are. For these reasons, this essay uses a reproductive justice lens to describe the connections among these issues and the ways that pregnancy goes unmarked as a site of risk for state violence. Further, this essay links contemporary practices and the historical narratives of Black motherhood that demean the experiences of Black mothers or minimize their pregnant status. Finally, I consider how Black maternalist activism, such as the #FreeBlackMamas initiative organized by the National Bail Out Collective, can be used as progressive tools for change.

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