Owning My (Black) Womanhood Is a Revolutionary Act
Recently, I was tweeting about reproductive justice and the war that America has been waging on Black women long before the Tea Party rose to prominence in 2010. I was in the midst of a “y’all don’t own me so get outta my womb” rant when the quote below was tweeted to me and attributed to Margaret Sanger:
“The mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among Whites, is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”
Speaking publicly about women’s rights increases the likelihood that some anti-choice evangelical will use this quote against you during a “let me put you on to why you should hate Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood” moment. Two things are wrong, however: (1) the quote describes eugenics, which was popular thought among both white and Black people; and (2) Dr. W.E.B. DuBois said it, not Sanger.
Dubois, Dr. Thomas Turner, and Marcus Garvey saw eugenics as a strategy for racial uplift through selective breeding. Dubois believed that Black people would gain equality by assuring the propagation of the best and the brightest. Black biologist & HBCU Professor Dr. Turner believed if intellectuals reproduced and if “defectives” or the intellectually disabled were eliminated from society, Black people would gain equality. Marcus Garvey believed eugenics could be used to increase racial pride by purifying the black gene pool and therefore eliminating self-hating distinctions based on white beauty norms such as lighter skin, smaller buttocks and straighter hair.
Usually after I educate an evangelical about Black eugenicists, they are either stunned into silence, or they say, “But how can you like Planned Parenthood when its founder Margaret Sanger was racist?” To which I respond, “But how can you like the Constitution when the Founding Fathers owned slaves?” To be clear, I am far from an apologist for white supremacy; the point is that I cannot think of one long-standing American institution in this country that does not have racist roots.
From the moment we stepped off the slave ships, Black women were dehumanized and forced to breed like mules in order to profit America’s first capitalists. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man on the farm.”
During slavery, Black women were not considered women at all. Instead, they were walking incubators, subjected to perpetual rape, forced births, and white evangelical preachers who remixed scripture to justify as God’s will their maltreatment of Black women. But some of these women refused to be indoctrinated by religious hustlers complicit in America’s Faustian Bargain, so they resisted coerced reproduction by secretly using contraceptive methods and abortion techniques learned in their native Africa. These Black women risked brutal beatings and death in order to reclaim some control over their own bodies.
Fast forward to 2013, and little has changed since emancipation. There are still conservative Christians who manipulate scripture, but now they do it to promote laws that will deny every woman ownership of her own womanhood. These anti-choice evangelicals deny science when they personify embryos and contradict the Bible when they disregard the needs of the women who carry them. Dr. Obery Hendricks, Biblical Scholar and Professor of Biblical Interpretation explains:
“One of the most vexing things is how many conservatives are more concerned with the unborn than the already born. The book of Exodus makes it very clear that an unborn child, or a fetus, is not on the same level as a human being. The punishment the Bible dictates for killing a woman is death (eye for an eye) but if you kill a fetus you just pay a fine.”
History demonstrates that white evangelicals are not the only group that has tried to regulate Black women and their bodies. While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and activists in the Civil Rights Movement supported Planned Parenthood, Marcus Garvey tried to shut down neighborhood Planned Parenthoods in an attempt to force Black women to breed revolutionaries for the Black Power Movement. The Black Panther Party was equally oppressive toward Black women until Elaine Brown’s tenure as the head of the Party. Brown revolutionized the Black Panther Party’s views about Black women, shifting the Party’s rhetoric away from calling abortion “genocide” to championing reproductive justice — education, fair-paying jobs, and quality health care, including safe and legal abortion rights for Black women.
Elaine Brown is an example of the type of woman we need in leadership positions. If we support candidates who believe healthcare is a right and fire legislators who don’t; if we worship in spaces that empower us instead of binding us with sexist theology; if we support women’s groups who are battling in red states; and if we remain vigilant like Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and other champions who refused to be silenced as they fought for our reproductive rights, we will not only win the battle, but we can ensure that there will never be another “War on Women.”
The struggle continues.
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- Owning My (Black) Womanhood Is a Revolutionary Act - August 30, 2013