How Much Do Black Lives Really Matter?

Shaina Williams

To what extent do Black lives truly matter? What is the value of Black lives and how willing are we to do what is necessary to not only preserve them, but to nourish and strengthen them?

As a young Black woman that has seen countless videos, news reports, and articles on instances where Black lives have been violently taken across the U.S., these are among the questions that I have sat with for hours on end. My ultimate conclusion at this point is that Black lives are perceived as less valuable than non-Black lives.

While police brutality (which is painfully real) has been the focal point for many activists advocating for Black lives, infant and maternal mortality rates among Black people is also a troubling issue. In the U.S., there has been a general increase in pregnancy related deaths since 1987 with the highest death rates being among Black women. As some may already be aware, Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die during pregnancy, delivery, and after birth than non-Black women, often from preventable causes. Additionally, Black babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than non-Black babies. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note, the racial-ethnic disparities are undeniable.

Essentially, the cause for all this death boils down to racism and underinvestment in practices and programs that would assist those in need of care and support. Structural racism in the healthcare system has led to many Black mothers and children receiving lower quality care from staff members than non-Black patients and are also more likely to receive care at lower-quality facilities. As a society, we have failed to invest in Black lives in ways that would promote long-term stability, growth, and independence while also failing to see and affirm the worth and dignity of Black people from conception to natural death.

Naturally, those who have been made aware of the high death rates for Black women and children have begun to consider ways to decrease them. Ironically, a solution that I have witnessed many offer is abortion, which is already highest among Black women. “They will be born into poverty and be abused and miserable,” “they will add to the strain on the welfare and foster care systems,” “they will never have a good life or amount to anything,” “they will probably become drug dealers, gang bangers, or end up in jail, anyways,” are all variations of justifications I have heard regarding why abortion is the solution for ending this particular crisis in the Black community. It is as if many believe at their core that there is no hope for the Black community and therefore it is better if we just surrender all efforts to save Black lives, particularly those Black lives with a lower socio-economic status. That we should just succumb to the belief that there is nothing better for us, that society cannot improve, that Black lives cannot be improved,  that new legacies cannot be born. As a Black woman, I reject this perspective rooted in hopelessness.

In recent months, I have been overwhelmed with a deep sense of hurt and frustration over this, especially considering that many of the individuals (including celebrities) I have seen offer this “remedy” are people who also speak out against police brutality because police brutality ends Black lives. What does such an overt inconsistency mean? My concern is that we genuinely believe the lie that it is better to end Black lives in the womb than to do the hard but necessary work to eliminate the root causes of discord and death within the Black community. If we were to join together to save Black lives we would make it possible for the Black community to have the opportunity to thrive. While I know there are many well-meaning social justice warriors who have offered abortion as the solution, I struggle to believe they genuinely care about Black lives if their solution ultimately means more death for Black people and potentially more pain and trauma for Black women. This suggestion translates as Black lives being unworthy of the time and effort involved in choosing and pursuing the right but difficult path over the easier, cheaper option. If we truly want progress, we must look beyond a solution that doesn’t result in more Black innocents being thrown away as medical waste. A nation that already has its streets flowing with centuries of Black blood and bodies would be well advised to do everything in its power to prevent more bloodshed and carnage.

What will save the lives of Black mothers and children is our commitment as a society to first create change within ourselves; a change that compels us to seek life-affirming solutions that will sustain and enrich the lives of Black people in holistic ways. We must also create change within our healthcare systems that will lead to diversifying medical staff and properly training them on quality patient care for all. Saving Black lives looks like adding and improving quality healthcare and family support programs, providing Black women with the resources and education they need to access healthcare, and decreasing the overuse of cesarean sections on Black women.

While this all will take much time, effort, and money, it is my belief that we, the Black community, are worth it. Our lives, families, communities, and legacies are currently at stake. Though the Black community continues to live in a very difficult time, I have faith that change is possible. If all of us, regardless of race, belief, and culture, begin an inner transformation – if we really begin to think deeply about the necessary implications of saying we value life and the principles of kindness, equality, and justice – then we will realize and embrace the truth that we have the power  to completely transform the lives of Black women, children, and families.

  • What about this piece surprised you most? How will you apply this new knowledge? Brainstorm a list of four ideas.
  • How does William’s piece provide a broader understanding of structural racism and the kinds of steps that need to be taken to address it?

Shaina Williams graduated from Northwest University in 2012 with my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She is enrolled in the MA Divinity program. Shaina has been passionate about helping women and children in need and has volunteered and interned for organizations that seek to equip and empower vulnerable women and children. As a Black woman, she also has a heart for bettering her community and raising up strong Black warriors for the world!