Decolonizing Birth

Artist unknown

This powerful image of birth, found on numerous websites devoted to a wide variety of themes related to justice, decolonization, and power, depicts a woman of color squatting as her baby crowns. Birth, like mothering, is a site of power for many woman. But it could have particular potency in the context of healing and justice for those women most marginalized both within our medical system and more broadly within a networked system of institutionalized inequity, injustice, racism, and classism. In the United States, the situation for pregnant women is especially alarming for African Americans, women of color, and low-income women and their families.

Images such as this one empower the pregnant or laboring woman, providing visual guidance to the process of birth and crowning. The woman depicted is in the squatting position, which is an ideal way of positioning the body during labor and birth. She bears down strongly, her arms spread out as the baby is born. The image could bring special strength to pregnant woman of color, and in particular African American women. Arisika Razak, a Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies, as well as a Registered Nurse Midwife, explains in her work the power that sacred or profound images of African and African-American women can have on African American women, especially in perceptions of the body.

This image is about birth as metaphor, as a process of decolonization. It is also a profound piece that can be used to visualization birth and in actual birth as a rite of passage.