Following public backlash against his blatantly racist comments on the state of Black maternal health in an interview with Politico last week, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) tried to defend his remarks on Wednesday, claiming he was “misquoted” and insisting that he’s made countless contributions to the fight for Black maternal health.
Cassidy said last week that despite Louisiana having one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country, “if you correct our population for the race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear.” In other words: We’re not so bad if you don’t count our Black women. Black women don’t matter.
Cassidy, a doctor, tried to explain this comment away by claiming he was misquoted (he wasn’t) and that the “entire conversation” he had with POLITICO “was about his work to address racial bias in health care and address high maternal mortality among African American American moms.” Let’s go to the full quote:
“About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear,” Cassidy said in an interview with POLITICO. “Now, I say that not to minimize the issue but to focus the issue as to where it would be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality.”
This is where Black women collectively leaned forward and said, “Da fuck?” As someone who has literally watched while my Black friends almost died in childbirth, and who’s also been the victim of obvious medical bias myself, Cassidy’s convenient omission of our pain cuts deep.
It’s objectively true that Louisiana has some of the highest Black maternal death rates in the country: A report from the state’s health department shows that four Black mothers die for every white mother, and two Black babies die for every one white baby. The problem here is not that Cassidy doesn’t recognize these racial disparities, because he made clear that he does; the problem is him saying we should “correct our population for race.”
Cassidy defended his comments on Wednesday by claiming that he is working to address the abysmal Black maternal mortality rates in Louisiana and the country.
That’s all well and good. But the man wasn’t misquoted, and he is failing to address what he actually said, which is that the maternal mortality rate in Louisiana isn’t so bad if you don’t count Black women. There’s no way to take that out of context. It’s what he said, and what he meant by it is crystal clear.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), a Black congresswoman who’s talked openly about experiencing homelessness, hit the nail on the head: The fact that our most powerful leaders would even offhandedly remark that Black women’s experiences don’t count is exactly the kind of attitude that’s causing Black women to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related issues at higher rates.
Cassidy has yet to admit or implicate the real culprit in the Black maternal health crisis, which is white supremacy and systematic oppression—not obesity, not how we define pregnancy-related deaths, but racism. Black women—even the wealthiest and most powerful among us, like Serena Williams—are facing widespread discrimination and racism in the healthcare industry. A sitting U.S. senator can’t just introduce a bill or two that would “reinforce research” into the problem and then tell a national media outlet that they should exclude Black women from the statistics to make his state’s numbers look better. It sends the message that our lives continue to be devalued.