Commentary Race

My Blackness Goes Before Me: A Poem and Commentary on Racism and Reproductive Justice

Cheryl Gittens-Jones

I wrote this poem because I had grown tired of people not seeing me beyond the color of my skin or my "otherness." I see it being played out on a larger scale as in African-American's women's right to choose as exemplified in this article that talks about Anti-Abortion Billboards.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.

“In our research, what’s detrimental to the black community is the lack of access to comprehensive health care and education,” said Candace Cabbil, the program associate for pro-choice group Sister Song. “We believe that abortion is a part of healthcare.”

I wrote the poem below because I had grown tired of people not seeing me beyond the color of my skin or my “otherness.” The other day I visited a friend and the first thing her mother-in-law asked me was if I was from Haiti after she heard my accent.  I know not everybody can differentiate which is which accent from people in the Caribbean but sometimes it just gets tiring when you are lumped into one big statistic.  She later asked my 11 year-old, who is proving to be a very accomplished artist already, if she wanted to go to the local school in NH.  My daughter was offended that she could only see her attending a local university when she has ambitions for more specialized ones like Rhode Island School of design or MIT. She is young but we stress education and she knows what she wants to do and where she wants to go already. My friend’s mother-in-law’s attitude plays into the whole educated blacks equals affirmative action thing without her even knowing how she is being perceived by a person like me. It does not even matter because she does not care. She does not “see me.”

 On the macro level I see it being played out on a larger scale as in African-American’s women’s right to choose as exemplified in this article that talks about Anti-Abortion Billboards.  The organization responsible for these billboards just lumps all black women into one pile without any credible evidence.  I get offended by things like this because it feels as if so many people are speaking for black and African-American women/people or even for our President without knowing what is true or not about so many things. Have many of them ever visited the home of a black person in the inner city? Do many of them know our true day to day struggles? No. I wonder why they feel the need to use our skin color to define us. The poem came from the recognition that even though I might have a lot to say about many things, in this country, when people see me they first see my “blackness” and then they register (or not) the rest of me.  My daughter puts it even better.  She says it is like she is invisible. This is how it feels most days especially living in surburbia where there are not many of us. It is sad that they don’t see us as human beings.  Then I realize it is imprinted in the sacred document of this country that blacks are not fully human and I realize that race is stitched into the very fabric of what makes this country what it is. Not taking out the piece in the Constitution that stresses the inhumanity of black people gives a kind of permission for those who see us as ‘lesser than’ to continue to dehumanize us by not even registering our presence or our needs. After all, the Constitution says they can.

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The whole President Obama certiicate fiasco made me want to say something about it so I decided to break out this poem to say what is on my mind. If they can question his very citizenship then what would they do to a mere immigrant like me? The fact that my 11 year-old daughter could translate my words into a drawing says that she is really listening and hearing what I have to say regarding race past and present in America.

See Amaranthia’s art blog here.

A steady anger burns within me
Welling up from deep
Deep inside

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred constitution of the
Red, white and blue

Walking into a room
My blackness goes
My blackness goes
Goes before me

Those of the majority
Not all
Not few
But many
Still do not see
See me as
human
woman

Only
Black

Not as mother
Of a beautiful almond eyed
Sepia skinned
Baby girl
Not as graduate
of
Ivy league
Not as wife
As I
As Me

Someone whose life is
Just as significant
Meaningful
Purposeful
Beautiful

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred
Sacred constitution of the
The red, white
Red, white and blue
Not removed
Still written in
Indelible ink
To be read
Perused
Overlooked
Excused
Invoked

When I walk in
Into a room in my blackness
Precedes me
You see not I
Not mother
Not woman
Not wife
Just

Black

Nothing has changed

So many things locked in
Racist
Classist
Sexist
Passive aggressiveness
Intellectual sarcasm
Impoverished ignorance
Blatant Alienation

Little has changed
I am
Black and living next door
Behind the same white
Picket fence
Enduring bleached smiles
But not with
Eyes

A steady anger
Burns within me
Welling up from deep
Deep inside

Three-fifths of a human being
The sacred constitution
Of the red, white, and blue
Blackness walking
Walking into
Into the room before me

News Abortion

Reproductive Justice Groups Hit Back at RNC’s Anti-Choice Platform

Michelle D. Anderson

Reproductive rights and justice groups are greeting the Republican National Convention with billboards and media campaigns that challenge anti-choice policies.

Reproductive advocacy groups have moved to counter negative images that will be displayed this week during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, while educating the public about anti-choice legislation that has eroded abortion care access nationwide.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, along with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s choice for vice president, have supported a slew of anti-choice policies.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health is among the many groups bringing attention to the Republican Party’s anti-abortion platform. The New York City-based nonprofit organization this month erected six billboards near RNC headquarters and around downtown Cleveland hotels with the message, “If abortion is made illegal, how much time will a person serve?”

The institute’s campaign comes as Created Equal, an anti-abortion organization based in Columbus, Ohio, released its plans to use aerial advertising. The group’s plan was first reported by The Stream, a conservative Christian website.

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The site reported that the anti-choice banners would span 50 feet by 100 feet and seek to “pressure congressional Republicans into defunding Planned Parenthood.” Those plans were scrapped after the Federal Aviation Administration created a no-fly zone around both parties’ conventions.

Created Equal, which was banned from using similar messages on a large public monitor near the popular Alamo historic site in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, said in an interview with Rewire that Created Equal’s stance and tactics on abortion show how “dramatically out of touch” its leaders compared to where most of the public stands on reproductive rights. Last year, a Gallup poll suggested half of Americans supported a person’s right to have an abortion, while 44 percent considered themselves “pro-life.”

About 56 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion care should be legal all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center’s FactTank.

“It’s important to raise awareness about what the RNC platform has historically endorsed and what they have continued to endorse,” Miller told Rewire.

Miller noted that more than a dozen women, like Purvi Patel of Indiana, have been arrested or convicted of alleged self-induced abortion since 2004. The billboards, she said, help convey what might happen if the Republican Party platform becomes law across the country.

Miller said the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s campaign had been in the works for several months before Created Equal announced its now-cancelled aerial advertising plans. Although the group was not aware of Created Equal’s plans, staff anticipated that intimidating messages seeking to shame and stigmatize people would be used during the GOP convention, Miller said.

The institute, in a statement about its billboard campaign, noted that many are unaware of “both the number of anti-choice laws that have passed and their real-life consequences.” The group unveiled an in-depth analysis looking at how the RNC platform “has consistently sought to make abortion both illegal and inaccessible” over the last 30 years.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio last week began an online newspaper campaign that placed messages in the Cleveland Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Dayton Daily News, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann told Rewire.

The ads address actions carried out by Created Equal by asking, “When Did The Right To Life Become The Right To Terrorize Ohio Abortion Providers?”

“We’re looking to expose how bad [Created Equal has] been in these specific media markets in Ohio. Created Equal has targeted doctors outside their homes,” Mann said. “It’s been a very aggressive campaign.”

The NARAL ads direct readers to OhioAbortionFacts.org, an educational website created by NARAL; Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio; the human rights and reproductive justice group, New Voices Cleveland; and Preterm, the only abortion provider located within Cleveland city limits.

The website provides visitors with a chronological look at anti-abortion restrictions that have been passed in Ohio since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2015, for example, Ohio’s Republican-held legislature passed a law requiring all abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a non-public hospital within 30 miles of their location. 

Like NARAL and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Preterm has erected a communications campaign against the RNC platform. In Cleveland, that includes a billboard bearing the message, “End The Silence. End the Shame,” along a major highway near the airport, Miller said.

New Voices has focused its advocacy on combatting anti-choice policies and violence against Black women, especially on social media sites like Twitter.

After the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy, New Voices collaborated with the Repeal Hyde Art Project to erect billboard signage showing that reproductive justice includes the right to raise children who are protected from police brutality.

Abortion is not the only issue that has become the subject of billboard advertising at the GOP convention.

Kansas-based environmental and LGBTQ rights group Planting Peace erected a billboard depicting Donald Trump kissing his former challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) just minutes from the RNC site, according to the Plain Dealer.

The billboard, which features the message, “Love Trumps Hate. End Homophobia,” calls for an “immediate change in the Republican Party platform with regard to our LGBT family and LGBT rights,” according to news reports.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of Americans in favor of abortion rights. 

Analysis Politics

Paul Ryan Uses Falsehoods Behind Texas HB 2 to Push Yet Another Abortion Restriction

Ally Boguhn

In a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Paul Ryan agreed with an audience member's baseless sentiment that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics" in its Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

During a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) pushed falsehoods about the anti-abortion provisions at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt being necessary for patient health and safety. Ryan nonsensically then used the decision as a launch point to promote House Republicans’ Conscience Protection Act, which passed in the House Wednesday evening and supposedly shields those who object to abortion from discrimination. The only things Texas’ provisions and the legislation have in common, however, is that they’re all about blocking access to abortion care.

Town hall audience member and executive director of New Jersey Right to Life Marie Tasy claimed during the event Tuesday that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics,” in its landmark ruling against two provisions—the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements—of Texas’ HB 2.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said in response to Tasy’s remarks. “I agree with that.”

But the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

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Despite this, Ryan then used the falsehood at the center of HB 2 as a call to action for yet another anti-choice restriction: the Conscience Protection Act. After fielding the question from Tasy about how anti-choice issues could be advanced in Congress in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan pivoted to claim that the government is “forcing people to conduct [abortion] procedures”:

Actually, tomorrow we are bringing a bill that I’ve been working on called the Conscience Protection Act. I’m pro-life. I think you probably know that. And I would like to think we could at least get consensus in this country that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding abortions. That the government shouldn’t be forcing people to conduct procedures, especially health-care workers, against their own conscience.

Our First Amendment is the right of conscience, religious freedom. Yet our own government today, particularly in California, is violating that right and not allowing people to protect their conscience rights, whether they’re Catholic hospitals or doctors or nurses. Tomorrow we’re bringing the Conscience Protection Act to the floor and passing it. It’s Diane Black’s bill. And it is to give those citizens in America who want to protect their conscience rights their ability to defend those rights. That is one thing we’re doing tomorrow to protect the conscience, because I believe we need to cultivate a culture of life. And at the very least, stop the government from violating our conscience rights.

Ryan would go on to make similar remarks the next day while speaking on behalf of the bill on the House floor, though this time he added that the “bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way …. All it does is protect a person’s conscience.” 

As Rewire‘s Christine Grimaldi previously reported, the Conscience Protection Act would codify and expand on the Weldon Amendment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against any health care entity-including physicians, health-care professionals, hospitals, and insurance plans, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The Weldon Amendment currently must be passed each year as part of annual appropriations bills.

Grimaldi noted that the act “would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care.”

Ryan proposed similar conscience protections as part of his recently released health-care plan, though, as Grimaldi wrote, “the Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.”

But those whom Ryan and his colleagues are claiming to defend already have protections that impede access to abortion care, according to critics of the measure.

Ryan, for example, suggested in both his CNN appearance and his House floor speech the next day that California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under “basic health services” violates “religious freedom.” But a June investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights into whether California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment rejected similar complaints by anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Let’s be very clear—right now, current law says that hospitals, insurers, and doctors may refuse to perform an abortion or provide coverage for abortion, which already greatly limits women’s access to legal procedures,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Wednesday, speaking after Ryan on the House floor during remarks before the Conscience Protection Act passed.

“More importantly, when a woman’s health is in danger, providers would not be required to act to protect the health of that mother. This bill would allow them to refuse to … facilitate or make arrangements for abortion if they have a moral objection to it,” continued Schakowsky. “They could also refuse to provide transportation to another hospital if a woman is in distress if that hospital provides abortions.”

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained in a statement following the passage of the legislation in the House that the measure is about blocking access to abortion. “The Conscience Protection Act is dangerous, discriminatory legislation designed to block women’s access to abortion care,” said Ness.

“For example, a hospital could rely on the Conscience Protection Act to turn away a woman in an emergency situation who needs an abortion or refuse to provide a woman information about her treatment options. This legislation is a license for providers to discriminate against women and undermine their access to essential, constitutionally protected health care,” Ness said.