When black women were thought to be overly fertile, sterilization programs were created. We were thought to be bad mothers, except when we were rearing white people’s children for free, so Jane Crow came along and took our kids from us as a way to control our movement.
These attacks are not artifacts of history but present in some forms today. Earlier this summer, the National Black Pro-Life Coalition placed a billboard in Dallas in a predominantly black neighborhood to shame and stigmatize women who choose abortion.
So is it any wonder that when a black woman takes ownership of her own body, proclaims that she will take care of her own body, that it strikes a nerve?
To be clear, the uproar hasn’t been from whom you might expect. We as a black community have bought into the lie, too. Colonization has done a number on us, up to and including eroding some folks’ ability to look at the context in which we live. The very context that would inspire a woman to end a pregnancy.
Texas is one of the most dangerous states for black women’s reproductive health. This is true for women who end pregnancies and those who don’t. Black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related issues as white women.
Reproductive healthcare restrictions on abortion are not only harmful to black women but are also contradictory to the strong support for abortion care in Texas by black people. Ninety-five percent of black adults in Texas believe a woman’s ability to control whether or when she has children is an important part of financial stability for herself and her family.
Since slavery, the value of black women’s bodies has been based on our ability to birth children. The economic oppression of black women and the control over black women’s bodies is inextricably linked. Economic oppression can show up in various forms, a mother challenged with financially supporting children becomes pregnant, or a mother who lives in an unsafe community and can’t afford to move. A reproductive justice framework identifies why a woman must make choices that are best for her and her family.
In communities in Dallas and across this country, black women are the economic lifeblood of their families. For generations, women have shouldered the responsibilities of feeding their families with limited resources. It’s a resourcefulness some take pride in because the truth is too difficult to bear witness to.
Unless you are willing to help black women, leave us be. Trust black women to know what is best for our bodies, our families and our communities. We know exactly what to do to take care of ourselves.
Marsha Jones is the executive director of The Afiya Center. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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