OP-ED: A Love Letter To Black People: Creating New Feminist Realities For Reproductive Justice
In a world where Black people have reproductive justice, we will be free to enjoy all aspects of our sexuality, create families of our choice (or not), have access to knowledge about sexual health, benefit from a wide range of contraception options, and enjoy high quality, affordable healthcare.
Although this type of feminist reality – a world where all Black people enjoy reproductive justice – has been threatened even more by the end of the constitutional right to abortion, it is important for us to remember that Black people have always forged a path forward for justice in the midst of the most unjust oppressive systems.
Black people in the US have not always had control over their own reproductive health or been able to determine when and how to create families of their own. Historically, Black families were forcibly separated from one another by slavery and, presently, by the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black people.
The late bell hooks, in her seminal work, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, explained the connections between racism and the portrayal of Black women’s sexuality.
“As white colonizers adopted a self-righteous sexual morality for themselves, they even more eagerly labeled black people sexual heathens. Since the woman was designated as the originator of sexual sin, black women were naturally seen as the embodiment of female evil and sexual lust. They were labeled jezebels and sexual temptresses and accused of leading white men away from spiritual purity into sin.”
This racist depiction of Black women has led many of us to hold on to sexual shame. This is not our burden to carry. The sexual shame belongs to those who cast Black women as w—-s and jezebels. The sexual shame belongs to those who assault Black women. The sexual shame belongs to those who chip away at the hard-won rights that Black women have strived for.
It is time for us as a people to let down this heavy burden. It is time to let go of the shame we feel around our sexuality. It is time to let go of the shame we feel around accessing abortions.
We are valuable and can make great choices for our own lives. The ability to make decisions for our lives is moral and just. To do this, we need more options and not less. Roe v. Wade was the floor and not the ceiling. This moment is an opportunity for us as a people to create bold feminist realities for reproductive justice. We have the blueprint – an archive of Black feminist leadership and actions – so that we can build upon a rich legacy of Black feminist and liberation work.
Our feminist ancestors include Coretta Scott King, who, in a 1966 speech called “family planning – a special and urgent concern” by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. That which should be a blessing becomes a curse for parent and child,” she said.
Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, was also a powerful advocate for abortion access. In her book Unbought and Unbossed, Chisolm said: “No matter what men think, abortion is a fact of life. Women have always had them; they always have and they always will. Are they going to have good ones or bad ones? Will the good ones be reserved for the rich while the poor women go to quacks?”
The Black Panthers and other revolutionaries understood that for a community to be truly powerful, they need to determine their own realities, and that is what we need to continue doing. Creating feminist realities and futures – a more just world for Black women and gender-expansive people – results in a better world for all people. The work to create this better world is being done right now by Black feminist and social justice movements, collectives and organizations.
There are groups like Southern Birth Justice Network that strive to make midwifery and doula care accessible to all birthing people, abortion funds like TEA Fund and The Afiya Centre in Texas who are working tirelessly to ensure Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people are receiving access to abortion care even in the face of dangerous abortion bans. And my organization, Black Feminist Future, which works to build the leadership of fierce Black feminists, organizations, and movements for the work ahead.
Black people deserve for our work to be funded so that we can thrive. Research by The Black Feminist Fund and Human Rights Funders Network indicates that a mere 0.1% to 0.35% of annual human rights foundation funding goes to Black feminist movements.
This is a situation that needs to be changed if we are to achieve reproductive justice. Lighting the Way: A Report for Philanthropy on the Power and Promise of Feminist Movements makes the case that philanthropists should “…give as if everyone’s lives depend on it—because they do.”
As Black people, we must move beyond the precarity endemic in a life buffeted by racism, capitalism, sexism, ableism, transphobia and its various attendant ills. We deserve to live full lives. We deserve to have control over our own lives. We deserve reproductive justice.
Paris Hatcher is a Black, queer visionary feminist who has been organizing individuals and organizations toward liberation at the local, national, and international level for twenty years. Currently, Paris is the founder and director of Black Feminist Future, a national Black feminist organization that amplifies and builds the power of Black feminist leaders, organizations and movements.