Editor's note: This Black History Month, we’re highlighting Black perspectives, and sharing stories from Black Googlers, partners, and culture shapers from across Canada. Elsie Amoako is the Founder and CEO of Mommy Monitor and participant of the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders class of 2021.
Black history month has always been an intense experience - where I am bombarded with questions from non-Black people about how they can be more inclusive and increase the diversity in their establishments. But beyond this, it has always been 28 or 29 days of a reminder of pain, loss, and harm draining my senses, like an alarm clock that will not shut off.
Growing up, I was taught about great women from African history, like Yaa Asantewaa, a Ghanaian warrior queen who led an army against the British or the Dahomey Amazons, who were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin). But as an adult living in North America, I am faced with another history of murder, pain, and disparity that the Black community has endured for centuries.
From 1844 to 1849, in Mount Meigs, Alabama, 12 enslaved Black women and girls worked for Dr. James Marion Sims, known as the "father of American Gynecology." These women tended to domestic needs, nursed children, and were surgical nurses while still being experimental subjects. Dr. Sims performed his experiments on Black enslaved women without anesthesia (one Black woman endured 30 painful surgeries) before opening a women’s hospital years later to treat white women with anesthesia. All of which falls into this pervasive history of using Black bodies as test subjects like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, stealing and misusing the tissue of Henrietta Lacks, and sterilization abuse by doctors that performed medically unnecessary hysterectomies on poor Black women in the 1970s. This abuse continued into the 1980s and 1990s, with birth control tactics and abortions enforced on Black pregnant women that had an addiction to crack—rather than supporting them with treatment. Many other examples can be provided, but what remains clear is that no person can call themselves free if they do not have control over their own body---and in 2022, Black people still do not have complete control.
We cannot escape the overwhelming truth about Black history, but we can acknowledge the clear call to action and an invitation for all of us to do better today. As a Black Canadian woman, an African woman, the founder of Mommy Monitor, an advocate, a researcher, and many other things, I constantly think about how what I create or produce can serve my community. There is no coincidence that Mommy Monitor was developed to serve Black pregnant persons. The mandate will always be to serve all who need support while prioritizing those predetermined to inequity and disparity because of a history that tells our experts, populations and systems that Black lives do not matter. However, in my work I can shift this narrative by showing the world and teaching institutions and systems how to change the racist, inequitable behaviour that has been ingrained in our society for centuries.
There is not a need to change the narrative of our history but instead a chance to learn how to heal from the generational trauma of hate and take back control over our bodies, minds, populations, and lives. As Audre Lorde has said, the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house — but with community, there can be liberation. This is the future that I envision, contribute to and hope for.