College: Keble College
Research key words: Race, (obstetric) racism, racial health disparities, Black women, maternal health, UK, misogynoir, chronic crisis, slow research, biopsychosociality, Black feminist anthropology
My research interests converge socio-medical anthropology, Black feminist scholarship and methodologies, racial health disparities, and racial-social justice. Building on my Masters’ thesis- where I explored how gendered systemic racism and intra-racial dynamics of gender influence Black (UK-based) women’s susceptibility to hypertension (Durham University, 2020)- my DPhil research project extends the study of these two factors to Black maternal health.
Inspired and convicted by what has been dubbed as a ‘Black maternal health crisis’, I am researching Black UK-based women’s intergenerational experiences of racism during the maternal period; i.e., during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum. I am acting on their calls to name the racialised violence they experience as ‘racism’, and I am repositioning anti-Black racism as a systemic (not social) determinant of health. In doing so, my research builds on the sparse but existing statistical and ‘informal’ narrative data, aiming to further explore and further conceptualise the particularities of the racism they are subjected to- the racism that kills, maims, and traumatises both them and their children. Decades’ long reporting from maternal health authorities have consistently shown Black women to be at the highest risk of maternal death and morbidity. For example, in the past 20 years, at different points, they have been between 7x-3.7x more likely to die during the maternal period than their white counterparts. A movement which highlights these consistent racial disparities, centring the role of systemic racism in the obstetric institution, gained traction in 2020. It resulted in the uptake of the term ‘Black maternal health crisis’ and new research and advocacy efforts. However, although the Black maternal health crisis has been evidenced to be transnational- particularly in research conducted in North and South America, and certain parts of western Europe and southern Africa- research in Britain lags behind. In this, there is a notable lack of ethnographic data which contextualises the statistics and explores the ways in which racism impacts and shapes Black women’s experiences of pregnancy, healthcare, and health in their maternal bodies. Thus, my research will be exploring Black women’s intergenerational experiences of racism as experienced in/ through the obstetric institution in Britain.
I will be doing so using the Black feminist framework of ‘obstetric racism’, as coined by African American anthropologist Dr Dana-Ain Davis, as the primary analytic. However, my objective is not to merely apply it, but to critically investigate the extent it is useful and effective in studying and further conceptualising racism as a systemic determinant of Black women’s maternal health and wellbeing in Britain. In light of this objective, my overarching research question is this: to what extent is Davis’ seven dimensions of obstetric racism (diagnostic lapses; neglect, dismissiveness, or disrespect; intentionally causing pain; coercion; ceremonies of degradation; medical abuse; and racial reconnaissance) reflective of what Black women actually go through? Do the dimensions mirror the linguistic and discursive tools, words, and phrases that Black women use to describe their experiences? In cases of differences, inconsistencies, or gaps, what are Black women describing or explaining instead? Do they have their own ‘local knowledge’ terms and frameworks for said racism? How can these extra pockets of knowledge be conceptualised anthropologically, and can they be reconciled with Davis’ framework?
To study and gain insight into these questions (and the crisis at large), I will be centring Black women’s narratives and maternal histories, as well as Black feminist iterations of the ethos, methods, and ethics of co-production, collaboration, slowness, and patchwork ethnography.
Dr Thomas Cousins
Dr Lucy Lowe (Senior Lecturer in Medical Anthropology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh)