Monthly Archives: February 2012
“Sugar production in the New World was essential to the rise of capitalism. Rather than simply satisfying luxury consumption, a lot of the sugar produced under slavery in the Caribbean found its way into the daily diet of the growing European proletariat. With many peasants leaving the country-side to seek jobs in the cities, there was an increased need for food production and a shrinking rural labor force. The need for more food was neither met by increased cereal production (which would have required substantial transformation in production techniques) nor was it met by increasing meat production (which was basically intended for the bourgeoisie). Rather, sugar became–and remains today– a substitute for real food. Capable of producing increased energy output at the expense of long-term health, sugar is the opiate of the working class under capitalism.” – Susan Willis
I have long been concerned by the number of Black people who believe that reproductive freedom is somehow a threat to Black freedom. There have been various instances of conservative Blacks group who perpetuate the false notion that Black women exercising reproductive freedom is somehow antithetical to Black freedom, and the overall progress of the Black community. What I read within these conservative agendas is the notion that Black women’s reproductive freedom is a threat to Black patriarchy and White supremacy. These two entities conspire to relegate the Black woman’s reproductive freedom to a location of betrayal, simultaneously posing a threat to the control that patriarchal Black men and racists White want to hold over the Black woman and the Black community.
I have long believed that reproductive freedom is one of the primary ways in which we assert ourselves as free people. As the great-grandson of a Black woman who was forced to have an abortion, I have always known, or rather sensed, that there was something important and revolutionary in our ability to control our own bodies. Reproductive freedom is one of the main freedoms on which all other freedoms rest, and without it we are forever vulnerable to the forces of oppression. I speak openly about the fact that Black women’s writing has been one of my primary pathways to feminism and feminist movement. Enter Toni Morrison. In her foreword to Beloved, Toni Morrison outlines the questions that propelled her to write her critically acclaimed work. One paragraph stands out from the others in its articulation of the struggles that Blacks, in particular Black women, have faced within this racist and sexist society.
Toni Morrison writes,
“In the eighties, the debate was still roiling; equal pay, equal treatment, access to professions, schools…. and choice without stigma. To marry or not. To have children or not. Inevitably these thoughts led me to the different history of Black women in this country–a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible, or illegal; in which birthing children was required, but “having” them, being responsible for them–being, in other words, their parent–was as out of the question as freedom. Assertions of parenthood under conditions peculiar to the logic of institutional enslavement were criminal.”
In one short paragraph, Toni Morrison poignantly articulates many of my own sentiments about the role, and necessity, of reproductive freedom in Black life. The powers who conspire to deny Black women of bodily autonomy don’t want us to remember the not so distant past in which Black women, and Black people, were the victims of their anti-choice institution. Sexist and racist America depends on Black people not understanding the degree to which they were denied reproductive freedom, and why our control of our own bodies, our right to make our own reproductive choices, is one of the most important aspects of any Black freedom movement.
In my mind, there is no question as to whether or not Black women, Black people, or any people should have control over their reproductive decisions. How could I look at the past and ignore the many ways in which this sexist and racist society thwarted Black reproductive freedom? It becomes clear me to me that aiding in the denial of reproductive freedom only furthers the marginalization of Black people. White supremacy and Black patriarchy have long been in cahoots. This becomes clear to me when conservative Whites and conservative Blacks unite in an effort to deny Black women reproductive freedom. Those Black people who are interested in Black freedom must think deeply about the ways in which their participation in the denial of Black reproductive freedom functions to further oppress Black people. Our notions of freedom in a White racist society should begin with our bodies. Reproductive freedom is Black freedom.