Black birthing in a racialized society

“I think parents do their best to make their kids feel safe in as many ways as possible,” said U of M doctoral candidate J’Mag Karbeah.
Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

As a daughter of parents who both worked in health care, University of Minnesota doctoral candidate J’Mag Karbeah, a Liberian immigrant, originally believed she was going to be a physician.

“As I began my coursework, I became more interested in public health as a way to enact profound community-level change rather than medical practice exclusively,” Karbeah said. 

“I thought I’d be in global health, but I think living in the U.S. as an immigrant and realizing the realities of living in such a racialized society really shaped the turn in my research to focus more on racism within the U.S. context,” Karbeah added.

Karbeah’s earlier work focused on racial disparities in prenatal health. She worked with Rebecca Polston, owner and director of Roots Community Birth Center, for a study on differences in models of prenatal care between traditional services and the culturally informed services offered at Roots Birth Center.

“We know from other data that oftentimes when seeking prenatal services, Black birthing people encounter discrimination and often feel less autonomous and less respected within their care encounters, especially in traditional hospital settings,” Karbeah said. 

“But what we see at Roots Birth Center…is that they overwhelmingly report feeling not only connected with their provider but also feeling respected and feeling really welcomed within the space,” Karbeah continued. “We believe that that’s a core aspect for ensuring better outcomes for Black birthing people.”

Karbeah’s current doctoral research is focused on looking at the impact of police contact on adolescent health outcomes. The research included a series of focus groups and individual interviews in the Twin Cities area looking at how Black reproductive-age women are impacted by high-profile cases of police violence.

“I think parents do their best to make their kids feel safe in as many ways as possible,” Karbeah said. ”I think for parents, it’s really difficult to tow that line of when do I have that conversation with my children, especially if they’re young children, and what does it mean for me to introduce this racialized reality to young children?”

Karbeah said she hopes the findings of her work will influence policymakers in regard to public safety. She says the results of the research show families get benefits from funds being diverted from traditional public safety mechanisms, such as law enforcement, to community services.