By Sikivu Hutchinson
Reverence for white pregnant women, white motherhood, and the maintenance of white families are an integral part of American national identity. Built on a white supremacist standard of care that favors, privileges, and uplifts white bodies as the “invisible” norm and standard of humanity, Black folks are automatically dehumanized in these systems.
On January 10th, April Valentine, a 31 year-old African American young woman who was pregnant with her first child, died at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood after complaining to nurses for hours about numbness in her legs. Over the past two weeks, her family and hundreds of supporters from the community have gathered at the hospital to protest her death and call for justice. Valentine gave birth to a baby daughter named Aniya before she passed away.
Valentine’s cousin, Mykesha Mack, has been leading the protests at Centinela. She described her cousin as a warm, loving person who had a special passion for helping children. At this Saturday’s demonstration, she lamented that Valentine, “Couldn’t wait to be a mother, and she was robbed of that. She could be your sister, your daughter or your cousin. This is a human rights issue.”
The family maintains that Valentine’s regular doctor was not present when she started to experience distress and didn’t come for hours later. They also criticized the facility’s old equipment and expressed dismay that Centinela is one of the only hospitals in the Inglewood area, serving a predominantly Black and Latinx working class community. This week, they will meet with Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell and District 35 Senator Steven Bradford. They are also requesting that California Attorney General Rob Bonta launch a state investigation into Valentine’s death. Mack has also recommend that supporters show up to Inglewood City Council meetings to provide public comment and press for accountability.
According to Google reviews from former pregnant and parenting patients who were treated at Centinela Hospital, Valentine’s experiences were not unique. As one former patient wrote, “This is the worst hospital to have a baby. I got the worst care from an admitting nurse…She was very rude to me. She kept putting me down about my health issues and weight. When it was time to transfer to another room, she kept telling me to hurry up so my baby won’t be born on the floor. She also told me not to scream because I will scare other women. She treated my husband horribly like he was a stranger. Even told him to go outside to ask if I was being abused. I think she did that because my husband is black.”
Another patient who was 36 weeks pregnant related that she encountered rude and unprofessional behavior which made her feel unsafe. The staff member she dealt with “made comments on my personal life. Instead of helping me she was more judgmental. I wasn’t even seen by a doctor and was not provided a wheelchair.”
The anti-Blackness that these women experienced appeared to be normalized within the culture of this facility (another Black male patient also complained about racist behavior from staff and numerous posters expressed outrage about delays in treatment). Mistreatment of and disdain for Black patients is baked into the American medical establishment. High rates of maternal morbidity among Black women attest to systemic failures not only at the level of inpatient care but also at the prenatal level.
According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. The 2020 rate for white women was 19.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. Lack of access to overall quality healthcare due to the intersections of poverty, racism, and anti-Black misogyny, as well as underlying chronic conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity), and the “implicit bias” of health practitioners are leading factors in these disparities.
One solution that has been implemented with success is providing Black women with doula support. “Doulas offer guidance on pain or complications ahead of delivery and help clients navigate hospitals and doctors. Continuous guidance from a doula has been cited as one of the most effective interventions in easing pregnancy. Doulas offer guidance on pain or complications ahead of delivery and help clients navigate hospitals and doctors”.
Doulas are an important intervention, but preventive education that challenges racist/sexist perceptions about Black women is also critical. Centuries of anti-Black misogyny have constructed Black women as subhuman breeder/Jezebels who are immune to pain, less “feminine” than white women, and thus not worthy of care or protection. As Hannah Nikole Jones notes in the 1619 Project documentary, “All these centuries later, false beliefs about Black women’s pain and their humanity still impact the reproductive health care they receive and the consequences for black women and their children.”
As of this date, Valentine’s family has not received any information or correspondence from the hospital about the circumstances leading up to her death. Valentine’s horrific and unconscionable experience underscores why the U.S.’ medical apartheid regime continues to pose a clear and present danger to Black women, communities, and families.
- Supporters who would like to donate a virtual gift card to April’s baby can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or donate to the GoFundMe for Aniya.
- Community members can also contact the following elected officials who represent Inglewood residents directly:
- Representative Maxine Waters @repmaxinewaters or https://waters.house.gov/contact
Senator Alex Padilla @senalexpadilla or 310–231–4494
- Supervisor Holly Mitchell @hollyjmitchell or email@example.com
Inglewood Mayor James Butts @mayorjamesbutts or 310–412–5111
- Community members can also call Prime Healthcare, the owner of Centinela Hospital, and demand that Dr. Prem Reddy step down at 909–235–4366.
- Inglewood City Council meetings are held on Tuesdays at 2pm. Info on how to provide public comment