A recent scientific study found that Black newborn babies in the United States are three times more likely to die when looked after by White doctors. In her essay, “Dying to be Competent,” African American sociologist, writer and professor, Tressie McMillan Cottom shares how her daughter became one of those statistics. Four months into her pregnancy, Cottom began bleeding. She reported the symptoms to her doctor and went immediately to his office but sat in the waiting room for half an hour before being seen. After the doctor examined her, he sent her home explaining that the bleeding was normal and that Cottom “was probably just too fat.” Cottom’s pain and bleeding persisted. She called the doctor again. Because the pain was in her hips and not her back, she was told she was probably constipated. (Many Black women experience labor pain in their hips, not their backs.) Three days later, an ultrasound revealed two tumors. She went into labor soon after. Racked with pain, she begged for an epidural. When the anesthesiologist got there, he threatened to withhold her pain medication if she couldn’t keep quiet. Finally, as she was wheeled back to recovery with her dead baby in her arms, the nurse said, “Just so you know, there was nothing we could have done because you did not tell us you were in labor.”
The very people entrusted with Cottom’s care didn’t believe her. They dismissed her concerns, denied her pain and then blamed her for their incompetence. Cottom says of the situation, “I was highly educated. I spoke in the way one might expect of someone with a lot of formal education. I had health insurance. I was married. All of my status characteristics screamed ‘competent,’ but nothing could shut down what my blackness screams when I walk into the room.”
Why does Blackness negate trust? Trust would have recognized that Cottom’s pregnancy was in crisis. Trust could have saved her daughter’s life.
In our vision statement, the Outlook promises to create and curate “trustworthy resources for the church.” The word “trustworthy” is important for us. For most of our 200 years, White male voices have been centered, trusted. If we are to maintain the trust of our readers and be faithful to the vision to which we aspire, our conversations must be inclusive and our trust expanded. This vision is one that we aspire to live into with every issue, email, post, curriculum, and letter we share. We seek to provide a forum where disciples of Jesus Christ can connect and be nurtured, where sustaining and challenging conversations can be had. We seek this for all, not just a favored few.
We have entrusted Black women with every aspect of this issue. From start to finish. All Black women. On our cover, Denise Anderson immortalizes scholar and preacher Katie Geneva Cannon who paved the way for a new generation. Shani McIlwain interviews members of the Task Force on Disparities against Black Women and Girls. The hashtag #TrustBlackWomen went viral after their report was not included on the docket of the last General Assembly. Chanequa Walker-Barnes challenges us with the question, “Are White Christians ready for Black women’s voices?” and Tricia Hersey reminds us of the importance of rest.
Words matter. Who gets to speak matters.
We are all part of the beloved community. When we value and listen to people whose experiences differ from our own, we are enriched. God loves us all.
So listen. Listen to the voices of the Black women who have contributed to this issue. Listen to the wisdom they impart, learn from the experiences they share, revel in the art, poetry, liturgy and prose presented to you in these pages.
Are you ready to trust Black Women? Are you ready to listen? I hope so.