Professor Dána-Ain Davis' Book 'Reproductive Injustice' Wins Awards for its Excellence and Influence

Dána-Ain Davis (Photo Credit: Alex Irklievski/GC)

By Bonnie Eissner

Professor Dána-Ain Davis’ (GC/Queens, Anthropology/Urban Studies) new book, Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth, was recognized for its excellence and influence with two awards. It won the Association for Feminist Anthropology’s 2020 Senior Book Prize and the 2020 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology.
 
Published in June 2019 by NYU Press, Davis’ book teases out the relationship between the disproportionately high rates of premature birth among Black women in the U.S. and persistent medical racism. That racism, she argues, is a legacy of slavery-era ideas and treatment of Black women’s bodies. Davis focuses her research on professional women. Through extensive interviews, she exposes subtle racism in the medical profession that has profound and even lethal consequences.
 
In its award letter, the Association for Feminist Anthropology wrote that Davis “convincingly argues that longstanding poor birth outcomes for Black women, including higher mortality and morbidity rates, cannot simply be explained as a feature of poverty. Rather, reproduction is one of the key sites through which we can identify forms of structural racism, or what Saidiya Hartman calls the ‘afterlife of slavery.’” The association noted that the book will “continue to influence the discipline, and has the potential to impact the broader public, as well.”
 
The Eileen Basker Memorial Prize similarly recognizes Davis’ book as “the most courageous, significant, and potentially influential contribution to” the field of medical anthropology.
 
Davis says that her book has made “good trouble,” to borrow Congressman John Lewis’ term. An obstetrician epidemiologist is working with Davis to use the book’s findings and theory to create a tool to measure Black women’s experiences. The scale is being validated nationally, and they plan to use the information to help hospitals improve their practices.
 
Davis has been invited to participate in grand rounds with doctors at hospitals in North Carolina and Kansas “to help them think about and be able to dismantle racism.” She also spoke to doctors from around the world who participated in a continuing education course organized by the maker of Clue, a smartphone app that tracks women’s ovulation cycles.
 
Davis attributes her book’s influence to two factors. First, she says, the book ties poorer birth outcomes for Black women to racism, rather than race, where the blame is usually laid.
 
“And I think it also maybe hit a nerve,” she says, “because it draws specifically on people's experiences with racism and what it feels like to experience racism.” Individual accounts allow medical professionals to see how they can improve patient care.
 
Davis hopes that meaningful change will come. “I think first medical providers and the medical complex have to acknowledge that there are ways in which there's a history of racism built into medicine, particularly in obstetrics and gynecological care,” she says.
 
Davis spoke about her book in this interview and in this episode of The Thought Project podcast.

Submitted on: NOV 3, 2020

Category: Anthropology | Diversity | Faculty Awards | General GC News | Psychology | Women's and Gender Studies