Law Professor Khiara Bridges publishes new book
Associate Professor of Law Khiara M. Bridges spent a year and a half doing anthropological fieldwork in the obstetrics clinic of a large, public hospital in Manhattan. There, Bridges observed pregnant women as they interacted with the batteries of professionals who make up our public health care system—doctors, nurses, nutritionists, social workers, health educators and financial officers. Bridges’ observations led her to a conclusion: that, under the rules of Medicaid, pregnancy becomes an opportunity for state supervision, management and regulation of poor, uninsured women of color.
The book that grew out of this fieldwork, Reproducing Race: An Ethnography of Pregnancy as a Site of Racialization (University of California Press, 2011), is an exploration of race in the medical setting. In it, Bridges investigates how race—commonly seen as biological in the medical world—is socially constructed among women dependent on the public health care system for prenatal care and childbirth.
“Since I was a young scholar, I’ve been interested in all aspects of pregnancy—the politicization, cultural meanings and medicalization of pregnancy,” said Bridges. “Writing this book gave me an excuse to remain obsessed with the subject. In the process, I found that I could become an advocate for poor women, whose desires to become pregnant and to bear children are viewed within political and popular discourses as a problem that needs to be solved.”
Deftly weaving ethnographic evidence into broader discussions of Medicaid and racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality, Reproducing Race shines new light on the politics of health care for the poor, demonstrating how the “medicalization” of social problems reproduces racial stereotypes and governs the bodies of poor women of color.
“The two-tiered health care system that we currently have plays an important role in reproducing problematic ideas about race and class,” said Bridges. “This is not to argue that race and class will cease to be important subsequent to the universalization of health care. If history is a teacher, we must be attuned to changes in ideas about race and the poor in the advent of universal health care.”
Bridges joined the BU School of Law faculty in the fall of 2010 and teaches Critical Race Theory, Criminal Law and a course on the Fourteenth Amendment. She also has a joint appointment in the Anthropology Department in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences. Bridges has worked as an academic fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a reporter for the Miami Herald, and a counselor at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. She is a classically trained ballet dancer who continues to perform professionally in New York City.
“I juggle my lives as law professor, author and professional dancer by not sleeping a lot,” said Bridges with a laugh. “I love the crazy life that I live. I would be deeply saddened if I were forced to wear only one hat. My goal is to write more books, to teach more students and to dance on bigger stages.”