If you have never read The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., fix that today, please. I particularly recommend the audiobook edition. Karen Chilton knocks the narration performance all the way out of the park. Plus, there’s this one little detail white folks (like me) don’t like to admit: The book is written beyond our literacy level. Having The Prophets read to you by someone who knows how to say the words out loud will help you follow the story better. I’m just being honest.
Today the United States Supreme Court decided that, although States have no right to make their own decisions about concealed carry laws, and all people must be allowed to carry a gun openly, States absolutely have the right to make their own decisions about abortion laws, and no people must be guaranteed access to a safe and legal, life-saving medical procedure. In Thomas’s concurring opinion, he writes that the right to access contraception (which prevents abortions from being necessary), the right to have sex in the privacy of your own home without being arrested, and the right to same-gender marriage should also be reviewed by the Supreme Court to reconsider those “mistakes” as well.
I’m not sitting here with images of the Handmaid’s Tale going through my head today. Is it likely that we’ll soon be living in a Gilead society where women are property whose only value is to produce new babies for powerful men? The Supreme Court would have that become our reality if they can. But there’s something I notice about the Handmaid’s Tale memes going around that has me even more terrified: those women are all white. In that story, what has happened to the Black folks? The Indigenous folks? The women evangelical white men don’t want to be caught impregnating? Where have they been sent? There is a reason “Gilead” memes are full of white women only. One of the reasons is to keep white women afraid of a fictional future instead of fearing the repeating history of our non-fiction past.
The images running through my mind today are of a place far more real: The United States of America, 1822. People are saying reproductive rights were rolled back 50 years today, but I suspect they were in fact rolled back closer to 200 years.
Throughout the United States’ history, more often than not, raping people has been legal and common. Forcing them to produce children against their will has been legal and common. Demanding a human be born and not giving a damn about the child once it is alive has been legal and common.
Has your outrage about the overturn of Roe v. Wade drawn your attention away from the January 6 insurrection hearings yet? If Republicans can make us focus on “women’s rights” instead of addressing White Supremacy, they can lull us into a 1920 voting rights moment where white women believe they’ve won some kind of freedom without even noticing that the same freedom won’t be extended to Black women until 1964. If we stay focused on dismantling racism, we win liberty and justice for all.
For 400 years, Black women learned and practiced the art of bodily autonomy in shackles. They found ways to end pregnancies. They helped one another keep waking up to endure another day of monstrous labor under the whip-enforced command of white men who hated them almost as much as they desired them. Many died. White women did not speak up, clinging to what little power they were “given” by their husbands, and unwilling to part with it in favor of real liberation. No one needs a fictional story about Gilead to see where we’re headed. Our history tells the story just fine on its own.
Why do I have to make reproductive rights an issue about race? Because who gets the right to choose their own body’s fate has always been about race. From the forced sterilization of Native American women through the 1970’s, to the forced breeding of enslaved African Americans, to the difficulty of white women to find providers willing to sterilize them because they “might change their mind later”, race has always been a determinant in who gets the privilege to control their reproductive autonomy.
When choosing leaders, experience matters. This is why we need to elect as many people of color as we can in November. This is why we need the descendants of those enslaved people running our government now, to prevent us from going back there again. They know things in ways white people are only beginning to scratch the surface of recognizing. We have opportunities today, through them, to move the nation forward into a path of loving kindness.
My heart is heavy today, as I lament the truth that my own parents and grandparents care more about some exercising power over a theoretical clump of unviable fetal cells than they care about their own living, breathing, hurting, hated, crying, queer offspring. I want to offer you some words of encouragement. I want to tell you it gets better. But all I can really find the words for right now is: Please vote in November. We need you here with us.
And if you can, please volunteer with and donate to these campaigns: