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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

African Americans see higher infant mortality rates

Randy Stobl

A minority infant in west Michigan is two to four times more likely to die before the age of one than a white infant. WGVU’s Mutually Inclusive takes a look at the how and why.

“So, infant mortality varies dramatically across communities. And that’s something that people don’t quite understand, is infant mortality is a white-glove test for how well a community is taking care of it’s most vulnerable citizens.”

That’s Cathy Kothari, professor at Western Michigan University’s school of medicine.

Using her measure as a standard for community care for vulnerable citizens, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Grand Rapids are all failing.

Infant mortality rates among white babies are about six per 1,000. For black babies in Muskegon, it’s almost twice as high, and in Grand Rapids it's about three times higher.

In Kalamazoo, a black baby is four times more likely to die before age one than a white baby.

“The leading cause of infant death is prematurity—being born too early or too small. And that is pretty much the leading cause no matter where you’re at. Where we see differences is that black women are much more likely to deliver premature babies than white women.”

Which begs the question. If infant mortality is the white-glove test for a community - not for the individual parent, as Kothari says - what are these three communities doing differently for white women and for black women that puts black women’s pregnancies at risk?

“Institutions that are designed to serve in ways that make sense to people who built those institutions, which tend to be white males - they aren’t necessarily designed to serve poor women or to serve the needs of black women. [The institutions] aren’t necessarily welcoming places to those women, despite the best intentions.” 

Keep listening this week for more of WGVU Mutually Inclusive's in-depth look at infant mortality among African-Americans living in West Michigan.

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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