Kim Anderson, a Columbia Law School graduate, took all the correct steps in preparing for the birth of her child.
She exercised, ate well, received prenatal care and avoided cigarettes and alcohol. So Anderson was perplexed when her baby was born 2 1/2 months premature.
It might have had little to do with her preparation and everything to do with being African-American.
That's the message in Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks, a PBS documentary screened Thursday by the Black Infant Health Practice Initiative in Tampa. The documentary profiled Anderson as a classic example of the disparity in which African-Americans have an infant mortality rate twice as high as non-Hispanic whites.
In 2005, African-American babies were 4.4 times as likely to die in our county than non-Hispanic white babies. The number dropped to 2.2 in 2006, said Estrellita "Lo" Berry, project director of the initiative. But it's no less alarming.
State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, helped get funding to create the initiative in 2007. For the last year, it has studied the disparities in eight urban Florida counties, including Hillsborough, and two rural counties.
Infant mortality is a complex problem with many contributing causes.
The fact that college-educated African-American women have a higher infant mortality rate than white women who don't graduate from high school suggests it's not solely socioeconomic. Data comparing the rates of low-birth-weight babies of African immigrants to the United States with rates of low-birth-weight babies of whites and African-Americans indicated it's not genetic.
Unnatural Causes cites research that suggests the chronic stress of racism takes a toll on African-American women and their children even before they leave the womb. More studies need to be conducted, but African-American women in the program share the theory that racism-related stress can have adverse physical impacts.
This assertion will undoubtedly lead some to suggest blacks are playing the race card, but we need to address the humanity of the situation and focus on positive outcomes.
After all, these are babies we're talking about.
People need to understand members of the diverse initiative have concerns about the healthy outcome of all babies.
You can't dismiss the disparities, however. Solutions can come only from dealing with uncomfortable truths and working together.
Self-help will be as important as social responsibility in curbing the trend. Certainly, greater access to health care and community services will help. Improved health education also could be a boon.
Empowering black women to deal with all the stresses of their lives, including racism, is critical.
The bottom line is this nation should not have one of the worst overall infant mortality rates of any industrialized nation, and the rate for African-American babies needs to be improved.
To quote UCLA obstetrician Michael Lu, "You're not created equal if you can't get a equal start."
That's all I'm saying.