So of course many of us are still digesting the Travon Martin verdict and how it impacts us as people black and non white in our daily experience. I have heard and read so much about it not only from the USA but in Europe as well. If you are not white in the ‘first world’ you have probably experienced some form of prejudice or your life racism in your life, yes even Obama has had his moments, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/07/obama-gives-unexpected-speech-race-trayvon-martin-could-have-been-me-35-years-ago/67391/.
I too have had my share of experiences first as a black midwifery student and now as a midwife. The colour of my skin has taken precedence over my skills and abilities as a midwife on more than a few occasions. I have been made to feel very uncomfortable and at times down right angry when confronted by the ignorance of others who feel they need to obstruct me doing my work because they are not comfortable with my skin colour. At one point I considered only transferring in to hospital with my patients if I was accompanied by my white colleagues. This, I have to say was a very low point for me in my professional career. I actually felt that my clients were being subjected to greater stress on transfer because they were transferring in, not only from a home birth but with a black midwife.
In Spain, home birth is still rare and many doctors and hospital midwives feel that we who work in the home birth field are dangerous practitioners because if we were safe we would work in hospital. Couple that with Spain’s or more so Catalunya’s deep racism issues (immigration is still very new here, so much so that I know of only 3 black midwives in all of Barcelona and I am one), you can begin to get a picture of the challenges I come across form time to time.
In my experience I have been thrown out of delivery suite, accused of being a cleaner, shouted at for over 20 min by a very large Catalan doctor and told to go back to Britain because midwives of my kind should not work in Barcelona. When I explain my job to other medical processionals her, who are not of the circle of forward thinking professionals, eye brows are raised and my qualifications questioned. This also happens at times from prospective clients or their families upon meeting the midwifery team. And no its not because of what I do, because I am often with my colleagues in these situations and they are not questioned as I am. But, interestingly enough when they find I am a British midwife, they tend to calm down and have a look of ‘ahhh!, they have black health care professionals over there’.
What ever,I let it go and move on because I now I am a brilliant midwife and any woman who is fortunate enough to have my care only sees and feels my heart. But there are some instances that really take me by surprise. Once we received a call from a German woman who had had a very traumatic birth in hospital, not with us. She had a small child and was just home from hospital after discharging her self because of very bad and disrespectful treatment. My colleague and head midwife felt she could some really loving care and attention so sent me to look after her. It was far away but I was happy to do this.
On meeting her I found her to be lovely but a bit nervous Her son was just waking form his nap and she was a bit anxious. After debriefing about her birth trauma, I went to wash my hands so that I could examine her. At this point her son had come through to her room. I re entered her bed room and smiled and said hello. He then began screaming. I had no idea what had happened but thought, ahh well he had just woken up, his mum was a bit upset and home with new baby and their was a stranger in his home. All normal enough to set a small child off. This was not the case. I was told with much embarrassment by the mum that her son was terrified of black people! The look of pain on her face really made me feel so bad for her. She went on to tell me, she had no idea why but he screams and cry’s every time he sees one. So trips to the beach are a trauma, because there are so many people selling beads, sarongs and jewellery who are African. He always freaks out.
I have to say I was a bit speechless but the dad came and took him out of the room and I got on with my job. The boy was never there on my subsequent visits and my client was really very nice and grateful for her care. Of course I did not equate this to racism or prejudice, just bit weird and freaky. Still, it made me feel uncomfortable.
Last night I was contacted by a woman who is 25 weeks pregnant with twins. She was contracting and her doctor decided to put a few sutures in the base of her cervix to keep her from going into premature labour. Her doctor and she and her husband are all German. The premature contractions were never actually verified as starting labour but this was his professional judgement. She was sent home from hospital late in the evening with several self administered clexain injections but not taught how to administer them.
She is a young first time mum with very little Spanish and no family here, so she contacted me. It was 11pm when I spoke to her and she lived about 45 min away. I knew if I got a train to her I would not be able to get the train back as it was so late, so I asked my lovely friend to give me a lift to hers.
Well last night must have been some kind of crazy energy night because many things happened one after the other to lead us to being, 3 black people in a car in a very posh neighbourhood outside of Barcelona, looking for a house we had never been to in the middle of the night. Strangely enough another car with 3 black people had also been in that neighbourhood before us, and robbed one of the houses. Enter us, a short time after.
As we were a bit lost, my friend tried to ask for directions, but found that the few people on the street were very rude and not helpful at all. I thought to myself, they must feel frighted being approached by a black man in the middle of the night in their posh Catalan neighbourhood. I made a joke and we all laughed about it, until it happened to him again with another set of people. I, then rang my patients husband who kindly came to meet us and lead us to the house. They had only recently moved there and he understood how confusing it could be. He also mentioned that there had been a break in and that there were police everywhere.
As we approached the families street, with out knowing that the robbers had been 3 black people in a car, we saw that first, my patients husband was stopped by a large crowd of neighbours. He was questioned got out of his car and gestured to us saying we were his friends. The crowd then descended on us and became very agitated, asking us to get out of our car and identify ourselves. It became very heated very fast as my friend and his mate were two black African men in the front and beginning to get quite a lot of abuse. I felt very angry but as I was being stopped from seeing my patient by this nonsense, so I got out of the car and identified myself as the midwife for the man in the car ahead. I was then asked personal questions about mu client to which I replied were non of their business. I went to the patients husbands car and asked him to do something because his wife had waited very long for this injection and her 24 hour schedule would be very upset.
This poor man looked so embarrassed, the same look as the mother with the screaming child and I felt my self feeling all at once, embarrassed, angry, disgusted and responsible, simply because of my skin colour. I was worried for my friend and his mate where being made to get out of their car and subjugated to a bit of real paranoid nastiness. I was shocked and shaken and worst of all ashamed. Ashamed that I had brought these lovely people into this situation/ I know the fault was not mine but I was the one person who brought these people into this situation.
Finally the police arrived and with no issue at all after explaining why we were there and showing my nurses card, we were allowed to pass. I went in to look after my patient and her lovely husband stayed with my friends to insure they were not harassed. My visit took about 30 min and when I stepped into the street I saw the crowd still there and heard many apologies being made.
It took me until this morning, after doing my Buddhist chanting, to see the beauty of that whole situation. Although it was a stressful and unpleasant experience, I realised that for that crowed of Catalan people, something extraordinary had happened. They had experienced a moment that maybe supported their fear or even belief that, black people are dangerous and thieves. They lived their fear of people other and different than themselves entering their space and endangering their families and peace of mind. They found themselves organizing and based in fear, becoming aggressors to innocent people simply because of the colour of their skin. But shortly after this very upsetting episode, they were shown that these different’ black people’ where actually there to help and support a family of their community. They were made to re adjust their thinking based in fear, ignorance and prejudice and accept that people are bad and good and the colour of their skin does not make them either one.
The idea that a midwife would make a house call in the middle of the night, is unheard of here, no one, doctors or any one else in the care profession does this. And that that midwife be black was a whole other concept for them. I know that during my time with my patient, my friend, who is such an open respectful and dignified man, spoke with these people and befriended them in his wonderfully natural way. And I know this will go a long way towards helping to clear away the racist stereotypes that are prevalent here in Catalunya to do with black immigrants.
There are no easy answers anywhere about the bigger picture of the challenge of humanity over animality, but I believe one person can make the difference needed. How we react and victims of racism and prejudice is so important. Our outrage. pain and anger is understandable, but we can transform these situations as well. In the same vain we can choose not to allow our fear or ignorance about those different from us to guide us to create more negative situations.
My feeling about Mr Zimmerman, was that he was a frighted man who felt dis empowered for what ever reasons. His actions were those of a coward based in the world of animality where, those who feel week make themselves feel stronger by praying on others. Hiding behind a title such as neighbourhood watch, or a badge or a law that can be twisted to justify moments of loss of humanity that lead to destruction. Like the mob of neighbours in my little Catalonian street, fear can be and is often used as a starting point to do harm in the name of justice. It is in those moments that someone must hold the ground for humanity and not be dragged into the darkness with those already taken by it.
It could have been easy to have started arguing with those people. I felt indignant and angry with them, but my heart was in play and I more concerned for my friends and patient. I saw and felt the possibility of explosive violence around me and worked very hard to keep my temper and dignity as to not ignite the situation. I was fortunate to be with two beautiful men who although I know felt probably more under threat than I did, managed to maintain their dignity and attempt dialogue with the neighbours. Of course we were fortunate the police were well trained and professional, which was I feel no coincidence. The energy in our car was that of support, kindness and giving. I was determined to help and support my patient and my friend was determined to support me in doing this. Both our natures are based in kindness and helping others, and I feel this is what shone through in the critical moment.
For me this is the most powerful weapon against negativity. Light always illuminates darkness and we all have the capacity to shine our light of humanity, respect and dignity, for ourselves and others in any given moment. It all about making the choice in the moment. If not darkness and destruction will over run. Its a constant battle. It happens within us as well as with out, but I believe if we can win over the battle within when we are called to challenge the battle outside of ourselves we will be prepared.
Sorry this is not so much about midwifery, but it is why I practice as a midwife. I believe with all my heart that one person of integrity with a heart based in respect and kindness can change the world they live in. I believe we all have this amazing capacity in our lives and in my work I strive to use my heart to truly touch the families I support and help them to have beautiful births full of dignity, respect and love. It my small way of changing the world for the better.