Google "missionary" and you're more than likely to have your screen populated with images of smiling black children and black mothers hailing white doctors and teachers as their personal saviors abroad. This is branding carefully cultivated to maintain white privilege and white saviour-ism, and centers whiteness based on the exploitation of black mothers and children. This is white supremacy in action, and it is wrong.
Fetishization, or the stereotyping, appropriation, and profiting off of a person in a particular race, social class, or body, occurs frequently in the context of mission, whiteness, and colonialism, especially in relation to black motherhood. As early as the 19th century, Christian missionaries brought western medicine with them to the colonies, hailing Modern Science as the first wave of "civilization" to support mothers and families in the colonies and bring them into the European, White, "civilized" future.
Today, western medicine has failed black mothers the world over, including those in the U.S. The maternal mortality rate among black mothers in the United States is the highest in the Global North (or "developed world"), with black babies twice as likely to die in childbirth than white infants, and black mothers 243% more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers in the U.S.
Much work has been done to show that bias, black women's experience of stress, and structural racism lead to life-or-death decisions by medical professionals that are more likely to hurt black women and infants.
Whit e folks need to turn our attention to our own failures to address systemic and structural racism. Is mission work something that you're doing because you feel better, uplifted, and "helpful?" Have you asked yourself what it is about mission work that you enjoy and want to gain? Have you done the research on the history of colonialism and mission work? Are you aware of the experiences and perspectives of those living in postcolonial mission contexts, and their feelings about missionaries and representations? Are you asking mothers if you can post photographs of their children, or them? Do you have consent to brand individuals for your own personal gain or organizational gain? Are you aware of tokenism, tropes, and fetishization themes of black motherhood, and are using them to advance you own personal agenda? If you haven't explored these questions, invite your community to do some anti-racism and white privilege work that can unpack their relationship to whiteness and white privilege before determining if a mission trip is the right next step.
Check out these wonderful organizations to support black motherhood and livelihood in the U.S. and to decolonize our relationships with black mothers and infants.
-Black Mamas Matter: www.blackmamasmatter.org
-Black Women's Health Imperative: www.bwhi.org
-Ancient Song Doula Services: www.ancientsongdoulaservices.com
-Sister Song: National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective: www.sistersong.net