Re-enslaving African American Women

Loretta Ross

African American women who care about reproductive justice are not fooled into thinking that the Black anti-abortion movement cares about gender justice. If they had their way, we would be re-enslaved once again, based on our fertility.

I have spoken on many campuses in the wake of the “Genocide Awareness
Project,” which displays posters at colleges to create controversy
among young people about Black abortion. Students are understandably
confused when presented with seemingly fact-based information that
claims that Black women are the scourge of the African American
community. I provide accurate historical and contemporary information
about Black women’s views on abortion.

African American women who care about reproductive justice know that
the limited membership in the Black anti-abortion movement doesn’t
represent our views and we are not fooled into thinking that they care
about gender justice for women. In fact, if they had their way, we
would be re-enslaved once again, based on our fertility.

But the Black anti-abortion movement needs to be taken seriously. The
people involved in it carefully exploit religious values to make
inroads into our communities. They poison the soil in which we must
toil.

Carefully orchestrated campaigns by Black surrogates for the religious
and political right not only oppose abortion, but they also organize on
behalf of many other right wing causes, such as opposing stem cell
research, supporting charter schools and opposing affirmative action.

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Through clever positioning and photo-ops by the right wing, the Black
anti-abortion movement appears stronger and more numerous than it
actually is. Generously funded by a predominantly white anti-abortion
movement desperate for Black representatives, the Black anti-abortion
movement seeks to drive a wedge into the African American community.

They tell African American women that we are now responsible for the
genocide of our own people. Talk about a “blame the victim” strategy!
We are now accused of “lynching” our children in our wombs and
practicing white supremacy on ourselves. Black women are again blamed
for the social conditions in our communities and demonized by those who
claim they only want to save our souls (and the souls of our unborn
children). This is what lies on steroids look like.

Opposition Research Needed

Who are these people in the Black anti-abortion movement? This movement
needs to be carefully studied through opposition research. Information
on them, their connections to white anti-abortion groups and their
sources of funding is scant.

Of course, the most famous of the Black anti-abortionists is Alveda
King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a Pastoral Associate,
a member of the avid anti-abortion group Priests for Life, and Director
of African American Outreach for the Gospel of Life Ministries. Because
her father was Dr. King’s brother, Alveda is the leading voice for
linking the anti-abortionists to the Civil Rights movement. This is
despite the fact that both Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King
were strong supporters of family planning in general, and Planned
Parenthood in particular. Alveda King, who lives in Atlanta, has also
spoken out strongly against gay rights and in support of charter
schools.

A widely known Black anti-abortion minister is Rev. Clenard H.
Childress of New Jersey, founder of the BlackGenocide.org project and
website. He is the president of the Northeast Chapter of Life Education
and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), established in 1993. He claims that
the “high rate of abortion has decimated the Black family and destroyed
Black neighborhoods to the detriment of society at large.” He led
protests at the 2008 NAACP convention in Cincinnati and has accused the
organization of practicing racism against Black children. He is also on
the board of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform that circulates the
Genocide Awareness Project.

Alan Keyes, perennial presidential candidate, is also well known in
anti-abortion circles. Keyes first came to national attention when
President Reagan appointed him as adviser to Maureen Reagan (daughter
of the president), as she led the official U.S. delegation to the UN
World Conference for Women in Kenya in 1985. At this meeting, the U.S.
affirmed its support for the infamous 1984 “Mexico City” policy that
banned U.S. funds from supporting abortion worldwide. Keyes helped lead
the anti-abortion protests at the 2008 Democratic National Convention
in Denver, and is a favorite of the right for his fierce extreme views
on a number of issues.

There are a handful of other Black spokespeople for the anti-abortion
movement. The point is not how many there are, but the disproportionate
impact they have. They have created the false impression that if only
Black people were warned that abortion is genocide, women would stop
having them in order to preserve the Black race, either voluntarily or
pressured by the men in their lives.

The Sexism They Sell

The sexism in their viewpoints is mind-boggling. To them, Black women
are the poor dupes of the abortion rights movement, lacking agency and
decision-making of our own. In fact, this is a reassertion of Black
male supremacy over the self-determination of women. It doesn’t matter
whether it is from the lips of a man or a woman. It is about
re-enslaving Black women by making us breeders for someone else’s cause.

I am reminded of the comments of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black
woman in Congress, who dismissed the genocide argument when asked to
discuss her views on abortion and birth control:

To label family planning and legal abortion programs “genocide” is male
rhetoric, for male ears. It falls flat to female listeners and to
thoughtful male ones. Women know, and so do many men, that two or three
children who are wanted, prepared for, reared amid love and stability,
and educated to the limit of their ability will mean more for the
future of the Black and brown races from which they come than any
number of neglected, hungry, ill-housed and ill-clothed youngsters.

We need our leading African American women’s and Civil Rights
organizations to speak out more strongly in support of reproductive
justice. We need to organize young people to resist the misinformation
directed at them by these groups. Many of our campuses are unaware of
the activities of the Black anti-abortionists until they show up,
usually invited by a white anti-abortion group.

But mostly, we need to let the world know that they do not speak for
Black women. As my mother would say, “they might be our color, but they
are not our kind.”

This piece first appeared at On The Issues magazine.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”