Whether sterilization or hysterectomies…Or, the egregiously high percentage of Black persons dying during birthing…Parenthood and anxiety can consume our daily thoughts. It’s often uncomfortable to discuss with others.
What’s the Word? Dispossession
Simply, dispossession is ‘the action of depriving someone of land, property, or other possessions.’ However, it is important to note that dispossession is a requirement of a capitalist economy: the bourgeoisie accumulate wealth through the expropriation of land and labor. We can also be ontologically dispossessed: alienated from our bodies, spirituality, and other forms of non-material labor that create voids we seek to fill through capitalist consumption.
What We’re Reading
This week, we’re reading Dorothy E. Roberts’s Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Prof. Roberts is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology at Penn Law School and the School of Arts & Sciences.
Prof. Roberts has written extensively on the Constitution’s entanglement with reproductive rights and justice. Roberts unpacks the combined impact of socioeconomic mobility that governs Black women’s bodily autonomy from policymakers and medical personnel. She denounces the biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, as well as supplements paradigm thinking in birth work, midwifery, and doulas.
Roberts saw the prosecutions as punishing black women for having babies, which led her to research the history of punitive policies directed toward African-American women, and write about the regulation of their childbearing.
Roberts chronicles the war against black reproduction, from slavery to present day. The regulation of Black women’s reproductive decisions is rooted in a system of slavery that valued fertility because it benefited the slave owner economically. Slave women were given incentives to bear children and were often punished for failure to procreate. Their children were born into slavery and became the property of the owner, creating a labor pool that could both self-replenish and expand.
Roberts ends her book as a call for a positive view of liberty and the recognition by law of the connection between reproductive liberty and racial equality. She writes that “liberty is inadequate to eliminate the subordination of Black women. The abstract freedom to choose is of meager value without meaningful options from which to choose and the ability to effectuate one’s choice (p. 309).” This view of liberty does not take away the choices of privileged women but instead calls for facilitation of change and equality, and the protection of an individual’s autonomy free from degradation. This expansion of reproductive liberty makes room for all women to share the means for equality.
There is no sole version of a truly progressive reproductive rights movement. But, Black women’s reproductive needs in mainstream feminist and civil rights agendas continue to be excluded. Thus, Black maternal advocacy can help us #protectblackwomen. A must read!
What In The World?!
Assistant Professor Mali Collins discusses an expansive definition of reproductive labour, the spectacle of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the whiteness of the abortion access movement, what we can do to survive this moment in community, reconnecting with your body, and black maternal dispossession.
How Your Period-Tracking App Could End Up Tracking You (Mali Collins, 2021)
Transcript will be available on our website here.