I’m Katie. We crossed paths briefly earlier this year outside of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. I was the Black woman, in all black with my hair in a bun: as if I were dressed for a funeral and a fight.
I was afraid to walk past you, a large white man sporting a trucker hat and spewing hate through a megaphone.
“YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!”
“BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS!”
Your companion, an older white woman with a kitten on her shirt, had a markedly different tone as she addressed patients.
“Please … please don’t kill your baby, ma’am. We can help.”
Do you practice this routine? Good cop, bad cop: the harassing strangers edition. Is it effective? Do you protest this clinic exclusively, or are you traveling propagandists?
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As I got closer to you, you paused your chorus of general insults and dropped your megaphone to focus specifically on me: “You say ‘Black lives matter,’ and go kill your Black baby. Black lives matter more to me than they ever will to you.”
Fighting words—well-worn ones at that. Across the nation, your fellow anti-abortion protesters have tried to twist and contort the call to support Black lives into efforts to suppress Black autonomy.
This is a tired tactic. After “Black Lives Matter” became a mainstream rallying cry, uninformed people like yourself increased the volume of existing rhetoric linking abortion to slavery and genocide. We’ve been here before: Your comrades thought you were clever when you posted a billboard in New York stating that the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb, and have continued to do so around the country. You and your ilk refuse to say “Black Lives Matter” in other instances, but effortlessly created the hashtag #UnbornLivesMatter.
Black lives matter to me beyond birth. Black lives haven’t ever mattered to self-important white men like yourself.
Black women have been making hard decisions for themselves and their families’ well-being for a long time. Most of these decisions wouldn’t exist without the omnipresent foot of white supremacy pressing on our backs.
I wonder if that’s why the vast majority of anti-choice protesters outside of abortion clinics on Saturday mornings are white. I assume since you’re exercising your First Amendment right to protest my decisions, you are familiar with the 13th Amendment. You know, the amendment that outlaws slavery except for the punishment of a crime. Are you just interested in Black bodies to fill prisons? More forced labor for the 21st century?
Would you feel as if your noble efforts were wasted if my Black baby never reached the age where you could lock her up or shoot her? Across the United States, Black infants die at a rate twice that of white infants. And most of those babies come from poorer, less educated families headed by Black women. Families like mine.
When you said you care more about Black lives than I ever will, did you include my Black life? Did you think about the life-or-death decision having a baby is for me? Black women are three and a half times more likely to die in labor than white women. In Atlanta, the disparity is larger. For every white mother in Fulton County who didn’t survive childbirth in 2014, four Black mothers died.
Much of that disparity is due to the toxic stress we hold in our bodies from simply being Black in America. That disparity is also due to subpar medical treatment from doctors and nurses who believe negative stereotypes about Black people, including that we feel less pain. Would you adopt my motherless child if I were to die, Mr. Protester? Would you raise her to be “colorblind?”
Do you and your fellow protesters discuss infant and maternal mortality, or is that not part of your “pro-life” agenda? Do you consider the lives these Black babies you claim to care about would lead? More likely to be killed by the police or imprisoned. Less likely to acquire wealth and more likely to live in poverty. If trends continue, they’re likely to be educated yet underpaid. Starting before they reach middle-age, they’re more likely to suffer from a host of chronic diseases. And their life expectancy is lower.
You must spend Sunday helping the Black people who are already here because you care about our lives. Real Black lives, not the hypothetical kind. Right? Am I right?
Perhaps your time would be better spent joining SisterSong’s Black Mamas Matter planning group. You could be among researchers, policy experts, service providers, and community organizers who are identifying innovative strategies for improving Black maternal health outcomes. SisterSong is a short drive from the clinic you protest. If you leave before rush hour, you can > beat traffic.
Or you could attend protests against police violence instead of abortion clinic protests. You could support Black bodily autonomy or work against the system that leads to a hugely disproportionate number of Black people behind bars.
If you cease to care about Black lives after birth, you’re not for Black lives. Until you mourn the deaths of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and Mike Brown and Kalief Browder as much as you admonish my decisions, do not profess to care about Black lives.
In other words, don’t you ever profess to care about Black lives. Those are fighting words.