White Doulas, We Need to Understand White Supremacy to Organize Against It
Context: I am working with Ancient Song Doula Services (ASDS) this summer to help coordinate a grass roots response to the #NYDoulaBill that recently passed-without any knowledge or input from the doula community.
Yesterday, a white doula who had not attended or listened to the recordings of any of the multiple organizing meetings held recently around the NY Doula Bill called me and spent 10 minutes monologuing/ talking over me to say: First, she didn’t understand why we were bothering to create a grassroots lobbying infrastructure for doulas, because she had a connection to a particular legislator’s office- and she could just talk to that legislator to get the changes “we” want to the bill. Easy peasy. This was clearly the better political strategy, and grassroots work was a waste of time, energy, and focus. Second, she was very anxious to know -and was seeming to suggest she could provide- the lead organizer of Ancient Song with a written agenda to bring with her to an upcoming meeting with a legislator, ostensibly so she ‘wouldn't forget to represent the interests of women of color.’ 😂😂😂😭😭😭 (For context, ASDS is one of the most active Reproductive Justice (RJ) organizations in NYC, and the lead organizer is herself black and a long-time outspoken racial justice and reproductive rights activist.) Third, she asked if I was being paid and when I responded that I was not, she lectured “well, you SHOULD be paid for this.” Like I was an idiot for volunteering, instead of getting in on all that big-reproductive-justice/ big-birthing-peoples-interests money floating around. (In case the tone doesn’t come through in written form, this is a joke. There is no “big RJ” money.)
What was wrong with this interaction?
Racism is what I suspect underpinned the assumption/ incredibly low opinion that long-time black organizer would not think to prepare an agenda for an important upcoming legislative meeting. To be clear, Ancient Song already has an outline of an agenda in it’s open letter responding to the bill, published June 19th. We haven’t made a finalized version yet because the community has not come together to give their input on a finalized one yet. ASDS has already hosted one educational/ listening session, and we are working tirelessly to help others facilitate more of these sessions in the coming weeks specifically to prepare an agenda for the upcoming meetings with legislators that represents the voices and input of the whole doula community, not just a handful of white ones.
“White Saviorism” is the idea that one white woman is going to speak to another white woman and come up with a finished product that adequately responds to the needs & represents the desires of people of color. (“Why organize when I can just call so-and-so.”) It is also the idea that black people cannot represent their own interests without our input and guidance.
Toxic White Optimism
Michael Che made the following joke on SNL that has really stuck with me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2yOpGrA14k “I can’t believe I actually thought for a second that the FBI was going to lock up the sitting President of the United States simply because he’s guilty. I think it’s cause I’m around white people all the time. And white people have this thing I call “toxic optimism”... I said the phrase “checks and balances” to a black lady and she rolled her eyes at me for so long, I thought she fell asleep.”
If you think that a white doula and an assembly woman- are going to be able to get the State of New York to do ANYTHING for the benefit of birthing people that would in ANYWAY inconvenience men’s interests, then you do not understand how intertwined white-supremacy is with male-supremacy. (Remember Christine Blasey Ford? The patriarchy will take a bulldozer even white women’s interests when it suits them.) It means you are not paying attention to how our State currently treats black women/ birthing people and those who align themselves with their interests. Watch this youtube video and read the full comment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR8Ql59jE0Q&t=1s See how the current NY State legislator treated black midwifery leaders who came before the Senate and Assembly to testify on the New York Health Act. Read the rest of my blog and see how the State of New York treats black birthing people and babies in the hospital we run in the neighborhood we segregated. Then tell me this sentiment isn’t toxically optimistic.
The privilege to be oblivious to/ not think much about most of the things mentioned in the above paragraph, because it does not directly affect you or kill people in your neighborhood.
Negligent Racial Discrimination
Regarding payment: If there is money to hire a political organizer to represent doulas, that political organizer should have more experience than me, and be black. I have no answers that black women don’t already possess, just more time right now to give to a cause that currently lacks the resources to fairly compensate an organizer. If we had money, it would be a racially discriminatory practice to hire me simply because I’ve been the person privileged enough to get started on the work without pay while overlooking better qualified black organizers who cannot afford to work without compensation. If YOU have the resources to hire an organizer, or if YOU want to work on fundraising, please get in touch with Ancient Song. If you really think I, Katy McFadden, specifically should be getting paid- Venmo me $$ or keep your opinions to yourself.
All of the above are various manifestations of white supremacy. All the unnecessary trauma we navigate with our birthing clients are manifestations of white and male supremacy. Everything that is happening with how our government cares for birthing people and how this doula bill got through are manifestations of white and male supremacy. As white birth workers, we will not be helpful to the cause unless we understand and are actively engaged in the dismantling of white and male supremacy, in the world and in our selves. In some ways, dismantling a system that benefits us as white people will be hard. In more ways, you will realize how oppressive that system was to you as a non cis/het man and how dehumanizing it is really to benefit from others’ oppression. “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson. Anti-racism work is hard but liberating. Join us.
What to do next?
I’m not going to be able to explain in a blog post what it’s taken years of reading, listening and difficult introspection to learn. Or I am, and the answer is: “start the life long process of reading, listening, and difficult introspection.” One of the ways I got started was reading books off Efe Osaren’s post “Top 25 Books Every Doula (Birth Worker) Should Read” (While you’re there, you can compensate her for putting such a helpful resource together by donate to her gofundme for midwifery school!!) I’m also looking for white doulas with podcasts who want to host me and/or a panel to keep the conversation going- please reach out/ put me in touch!