Many of us follow Candice Brathwaite on Instagram (if you don’t, are you living under a rock?), so when news broke on Saturday that Candice believed she was replaced by Rochelle Humes to present a documentary on black women and childbirth, there was understandably widespread uproar within the community. “Here we go again” echoes in my head.
Not only has Candice campaigned about this tragic issue for years following her own personal traumatic childbirth experience, but Candice is a fierce advocate for black women full stop. Some may not understand why this situation has sparked so much outrage but I’m going to break things down because this is such an important topic.
When the Black Lives Matter movement finally gained worldwide attention following the death of George Floyd; networks, companies, big brands and TV personalities (amongst others) came out the woodwork to stand in solidarity with the black community to say our lives mattered. There was a beacon of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, but it was also fair to say that there was equally a lot of scepticism about the sincerity of all this support.
Blackness has always been treated as a trend, and trends don’t last. Since we can remember, black people and black culture has only been celebrated for selfish gain. For some, being seen to care about black people is almost akin to supporting a charity – it looks good and plus you get tax breaks.
But behind the veneer of caring, there is little being done to drive the transformative change to move black bodies from being the object to the subject. We’ve heard the shocking statistics surrounding the stark disparities between the death rates in childbirth and pregnancy between white and black women; this unacceptable reality is one that strikes fear into the hearts of every black woman who becomes pregnant, so really, we should be the front runners to talk about this right? Apparently not.
*Enter Candice stage left*
Soon after giving birth to her first child Esmé by caesarean section, Candice caught a dangerous infection which sent her into septic shock. Since then she has been at the forefront of discussing black women, childbirth and mortality.
With such a powerful perspective from her lived experience, Candice would have been the ideal candidate to tell the story of the harsh reality of the invisibility of black women, and how that has led to negligence rooting from unconscious racial bias. If Candice’s compelling and real delivery of her experience as a black mother in her book “I Am Not Your Baby Mother” is anything to go by, she certainly would have been the right person to lead the crusade for change.
It’s no surprise that TV Executives so often miss the mark and fail to understand how much this can dilute such vital stories. This is not about Rochelle; this is bigger than Candice. This is about recognising that commissioning the right person will truly bring awareness that may initiate the real change needed to stop this dangerous pattern of death.
Colourism in TV is nothing new. Darker-skinned black women have long been seen as unworthy for prime TV roles. Lighter-skinned black women are a ‘safe space’ for white media. Is this acceptable? No. Are we used to it? Yes. Are there situations when this approach is a complete no-no? Absolutely; and this is the perfect example.
As a woman who has herself experienced trauma at the hands of a hospital after birthing my first daughter, this really hit a nerve. Hearing a story from a person who has walked in your shoes and truly understands your pain is really something. Without directly trying to criticise Rochelle, her clear privileges make it hard to see how TV bosses saw her as the right representative for this topic. Connection is everything and I fear that this will now be lacking.
The networks have to change the way they operate. Ratings cannot be prioritised over the issue. We cannot stay this enough (but I will again); CHANGE MUST COME.
The ball is in their court.