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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008
Re-enslaving African American Women

by Loretta Ross

I have spoken on many campuses in the wake of the "Genocide Awareness Project," which displays posters at colleges to create controversy among young people about Black abortion. Students are understandably confused when presented with seemingly fact-based information that claims that Black women are the scourge of the African American community. I provide accurate historical and contemporary information about Black women's views on abortion.

African American women who care about reproductive justice know that the limited membership in the Black anti-abortion movement doesn't represent our views and we are not fooled into thinking that they care about gender justice for women. In fact, if they had their way, we would be re-enslaved once again, based on our fertility.

But the Black anti-abortion movement needs to be taken seriously. The people involved in it carefully exploit religious values to make inroads into our communities. They poison the soil in which we must toil.

Carefully orchestrated campaigns by Black surrogates for the religious and political right not only oppose abortion, but they also organize on behalf of many other right wing causes, such as opposing stem cell research, supporting charter schools and opposing affirmative action.

Through clever positioning and photo-ops by the right wing, the Black anti-abortion movement appears stronger and more numerous than it actually is. Generously funded by a predominantly white anti-abortion movement desperate for Black representatives, the Black anti-abortion movement seeks to drive a wedge into the African American community.

They tell African American women that we are now responsible for the genocide of our own people. Talk about a "blame the victim" strategy! We are now accused of "lynching" our children in our wombs and practicing white supremacy on ourselves. Black women are again blamed for the social conditions in our communities and demonized by those who claim they only want to save our souls (and the souls of our unborn children). This is what lies on steroids look like.

Opposition Research Needed

Who are these people in the Black anti-abortion movement This movement needs to be carefully studied through opposition research. Information on them, their connections to white anti-abortion groups and their sources of funding is scant.

Of course, the most famous of the Black anti-abortionists is Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a Pastoral Associate, a member of the avid anti-abortion group Priests for Life, and Director of African American Outreach for the Gospel of Life Ministries. Because her father was Dr. King's brother, Alveda is the leading voice for linking the anti-abortionists to the Civil Rights movement. This is despite the fact that both Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King were strong supporters of family planning in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular. Alveda King, who lives in Atlanta, has also spoken out strongly against gay rights and in support of charter schools.

A widely known Black anti-abortion minister is Rev. Clenard H. Childress of New Jersey, founder of the project and website. He is the president of the Northeast Chapter of Life Education and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), established in 1993. He claims that the "high rate of abortion has decimated the Black family and destroyed Black neighborhoods to the detriment of society at large." He led protests at the 2008 NAACP convention in Cincinnati and has accused the organization of practicing racism against Black children. He is also on the board of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform that circulates the Genocide Awareness Project.

Alan Keyes, perennial presidential candidate, is also well known in anti-abortion circles. Keyes first came to national attention when President Reagan appointed him as adviser to Maureen Reagan (daughter of the president), as she led the official U.S. delegation to the UN World Conference for Women in Kenya in 1985. At this meeting, the U.S. affirmed its support for the infamous 1984 "Mexico City" policy that banned U.S. funds from supporting abortion worldwide. Keyes helped lead the anti-abortion protests at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, and is a favorite of the right for his fierce extreme views on a number of issues.

There are a handful of other Black spokespeople for the anti-abortion movement. The point is not how many there are, but the disproportionate impact they have. They have created the false impression that if only Black people were warned that abortion is genocide, women would stop having them in order to preserve the Black race, either voluntarily or pressured by the men in their lives.

The Sexism They Sell

The sexism in their viewpoints is mind-boggling. To them, Black women are the poor dupes of the abortion rights movement, lacking agency and decision-making of our own. In fact, this is a reassertion of Black male supremacy over the self-determination of women. It doesn't matter whether it is from the lips of a man or a woman. It is about re-enslaving Black women by making us breeders for someone else's cause.

I am reminded of the comments of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, who dismissed the genocide argument when asked to discuss her views on abortion and birth control:

To label family planning and legal abortion programs "genocide" is male rhetoric, for male ears. It falls flat to female listeners and to thoughtful male ones. Women know, and so do many men, that two or three children who are wanted, prepared for, reared amid love and stability, and educated to the limit of their ability will mean more for the future of the Black and brown races from which they come than any number of neglected, hungry, ill-housed and ill-clothed youngsters.

We need our leading African American women's and Civil Rights organizations to speak out more strongly in support of reproductive justice. We need to organize young people to resist the misinformation directed at them by these groups. Many of our campuses are unaware of the activities of the Black anti-abortionists until they show up, usually invited by a white anti-abortion group.

But mostly, we need to let the world know that they do not speak for Black women. As my mother would say, "they might be our color, but they are not our kind."

November 24. 2008

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Loretta Ross is the National Coordinator of
a national coalition of 80+ women of color and allied reproductive justice organizations headquartered in Atlanta. Ross researches and writes extensively on African American women and abortion and co-authored Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, a book on the history of the activism of women of color.

Also see Anti-Abortion Terror Tactics Take a Toll by Eleanor J. Bader in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See The Dangerous Complacency of Victory by Merle Hoffman in the Cafe in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


Michael Robert Brown posted: 2012-09-15 18:22:05

This Blog was most helpful, your ideas are straight to the point, and the colors are cool too.

Matt posted: 2013-01-02 20:37:05

Imma gonna comment here inteasd of MamaFesto because I don't want an google or openID account. Sorry if this is a bit disconnected as a result.I just wanted to say that I loved your paragraph about it taking years to understand intersectionality because it speaks to my own experience. I became feminist (although I didn't know or use the term) at a very young age because the sexism (outright chauvinism) in my life became overwhelmingly apparent when my first brother was born. I was three. I'm sure it took some time for me to understand why things were not fair and I doubt I could articulate it beyond, but why does he get when we don't ? It was also a very christian fundamentalist household so there was a lot of stuff to unpack there too. I very nearly didn't become a true feminist I nearly stopped at exceptional girl/woman and not a feminist, I'm an equalist on the path, but thank goodness I kept going because I don't think I would have grokked intersectionality at all without becoming a feminist. But I didn't learn over night. Sure, I was a progressive, I had GLBT, non-neurotypical, and differently abled friends and roommates, I had friends and lovers of other races, but I still didn't get it. I thought I did but hoo boy like most white people, I was still soaking in kyriarchy and greasing its wheels. Without thinking I would accept stereotypes, laugh at inappropriate jokes, and generally be a really sucky ally because I didn't even see the problem unless it was really blatant.I don't have any children, but there are a lot of children in my life. I try to use teaching moments to talk about these sorts of things, to try to pass on some of this awareness so that their road to getting it is further along than mine, but there is only so far that I can take them as a non-parent. Kudos to everyone who is a parent and giving their kids a head-start on that path. It's a long hard road and most society is encouraging us (the privileged) to take the easy path inteasd. But it's the hard road that leads to a better world.

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