Black mothers and our families deserve better than billboards exploiting the social determinants perpetuated by white male supremacy that has created the various hostile environments in which we live and parent.
UPDATE, May 19, 1:00 p.m.: SisterReach has reported that as of Friday evening the three billboards have come down.
It was 2010 when anti-choice groups erected the first anti-woman, “pro-life” billboards in Atlanta, Georgia. The billboards stated that Black children were an “endangered species.” Iterations of that same message said that Black mothers’ wombs were unsafe, Black children were unwanted, Black women had been betrayed by “abortionists,” and that Black mothers were aborting future leaders like President Obama. When those messages didn’t work, the groups targeted Black mothers again through our men. Those billboards showed a Black man kissing his partner’s belly alongside a message that his fatherhood began in her womb—her unsafe womb.
Fast forward to today in predominantly Black and underserved neighborhoods of Memphis, Tennessee, where Prolife Across America has erected three anti-choice billboards. Prolife Across America’s anti-abortion rhetoric is packaged with pictures of beautiful baby girls with bows on their heads. The billboards represent another attempt by the anti-choice movement to guilt Black mothers about their personal reproductive health-care decisions while pitting Black fathers against us.
The placement of these billboards comes at a time when Black people everywhere are forced to remind the world that Black lives matter, especially the quality of those lives. Our communities are still laden with economic disinvestment, gentrification, joblessness, under-employment, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual assault, domestic violence, and struggling schools. In the Deep South, our opportunity at healthier bodies has been compromised as many southern states refuse to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid while failing to implement state-funded health plans. Medicaid expansion would ensure that thousands of people, despite their employment status, could access the health care they need—which covers all preventive services for women, including reproductive health care.
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Unfortunately, these anti-woman, anti-choice supporters are nowhere to be found when advocates are working to change the lived conditions of Black communities. They are not coordinating job fairs or fighting for low-income housing. They aren’t investing in community gardens or fighting to ensure proper grocery stores in food deserts. They did not stand with Trayvon Martin’s mother or Eric Garner’s wife. They didn’t fight to ensure Marissa Alexander’s freedom or the custody of her children. They were silent as Black lives were lost during and after Hurricane Katrina and remained silent while Black families searched for a new start. Instead, they erect inflammatory, shaming billboards.
The money invested in anti-abortion billboards alone could help poor Black families in Detroit pay their delinquent water bills or seed the movement to fight mass incarceration. Did I miss their parade championing Toya Graham’s action of desperation and parenthood as her child’s “unsafe place” proved to be the streets of Baltimore instead of her womb? Somehow, “pro-life” activists are only present to shame Black mothers, manipulate Black fathers, and exploit Black babies with campaigns that are egregious, racist, and divisive.
Their interposing actions in Black communities disguised as “help” only add to the harmful and traumatic experiences of Black women, men, and children. They are not invested in our long-term well-being. Their temporary concern for the little Black “princess” on the billboard will cease the moment she is of child-bearing age and eligible to become a “welfare queen.”
These heinous attacks on Black families are unfruitful and unwelcome, especially in the city where one of the Black leaders they care so much about, Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered in cold blood just under 50 years ago. There was no billboard erected in honor of his life. There has not been any justice for his death, as sanitation workers in Memphis still fight for fair wages and the lived conditions of Black lives still do not matter in America.
It is not coincidental that “pro-life” groups forgo consulting Black communities about what we need in terms of support or resources to change the daily conditions of our lives. That trend of disregarding us is directly connected to the constant dehumanization of Black people in this country—a trend that dates as far back as slavery. The recent poll, African-American Voices on Sexual Health, released in June 2013, demonstrates that Black Americans across multiple generations trust Black women, support access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education, and view contraception as fundamental health care.
Black Americans overwhelmingly support abortion—in fact, 80 percent of Black Americans believe abortion should remain legal regardless of their personal feelings. This vast majority holds true with those identifying as conservative (74 percent) and those identifying as religious (76 percent). SisterReach’s report called, Our Voices and Experiences Matter: The Need for Comprehensive Sex Education Among Young People of Color in the South, offers insight into one of the strategies to ensure Black families’ success—access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education.
Black mothers and our families deserve better than billboards exploiting the social determinants perpetuated by white male supremacy that has created the various hostile environments in which we live and parent. Environments that are unfit for ourselves, let alone the potential babies we may bear. Environments where the murder rate for Black Americans isfour times the national average. That murder isn’t happening in abortion clinics. That murder isn’t happening at the hands or in the wombs of Black women. Black mothers aren’t crafting policies limiting our access to contraception, sex education, or health care. Black mothers aren’t championing gun access policies or limiting access to government safety net programs.
Our opportunity to realize reproductive justice as the Black family will continue to be thwarted if the insistence of these insidious anti-woman, anti-choice tactics targeting our communities are not stopped.
The agenda of Prolife Across America and other organizations like it is not in the best interest of Black women, men, and our families. These groups are seeking to make Memphis the next battleground in their so-called war against abortion, but using Black children as political pawns will not succeed. As reproductive justice activists working on behalf of women of color inTennessee, wewill not be silent about their racialized attacks—be they political, religious, or cultural. Their misguided tactics to divide the Black communities of Memphis through their disingenuous concern for the abortion rate of Black women is an effort ill spent.
If the anti-choice movement is actually concerned about Black lives, they will take the billboards down and instead re-route those resources into productive efforts to achieve the complete health and well-being of Black families in Memphis and throughout the country.
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 periodand 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 strippedby 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 Cosmopolitanwhy 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.”
A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazinetook 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.
Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.
Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.
It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.
As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.
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So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymore—now they’re murderers, too.”
Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”
Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”
It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of origin—conditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”
There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.
Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.
“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”
When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.
“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”
It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”
“The Border Crossed Us”
From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.
“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”
Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positive—illustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoric—at the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.
Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”
Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?
At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.
“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.
The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativistDonald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.
Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:
There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.
But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.
The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expandingmandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.
In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.
When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”
This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.
During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.