Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty Paperback – 1 Mar 2000
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This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years--using a black feminist lens and the issue of the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's--especially poor black women's--control over their bodies' autonomy and their freedom to bear and raise children with respect and dignity in a society whose white mainstream is determined to demonize, even criminalize their lives. It gives its readers a cogent legal and historical argument for a radically new, and socially transformative, definition of "liberty" and "equality" for the American polity from a black feminist perspective.
The author is able to combine the most innovative and radical thinking on several fronts--racial theory, feminist, and legal--to produce a work that is at once history and political treatise. By using the history of how American law--beginning with slavery--has treated the issue of the state's right to interfere with the black woman's body, the author explosively and effectively makes the case for the legal redress to the racist implications of current policy with regards to 1) access to and coercive dispensing of birth control to poor black women 2) the criminalization of parenting by poor black women who have used drugs 3) the stigmatization and devaluation of poor black mothers under the new welfare provisions, and 4) the differential access to and disproportionate spending of social resources on the new reproductive technologies used by wealthy white couples to insure genetically related offspring.
The legal redress of the racism inherent in currentAmerican law and policy in these matters, the author argues in her last chapter, demands and should lead us to adopt a new standard and definition of the liberal theory of "liberty" and "equality" based on the need for, and the positive role of government in fostering, social as well as individual justice.
About the Author
Dorothy Roberts was a poet of exile. Born in Canada of a family already distinguished in the arts, she lived most of her adult life in the eastern United States. Yet, her poetry remained firmly rooted in Canada and in the landscape of the North.
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While this premise has been previously examined by other scholars, Robert's contribution differs in legal analysis of the state/women relationship specifically as it applies to black women. She also faults fellow feminists for their ignorance, silence, and apathy towards black women's unique reproductive rights.
Begining with a critique of the predominantley white pro-choice movement for preoccupation with white middle class women and the assumption reproductive access means the same thing for all groups, Roberts holds black women's fertility is only valued if a predominantley white society can find ways to benefit from it.
She also notes that illegal abortion took the highest tolls on low-income black women who were unlikely to have the financial and political clout of rich white women to convince doctors to perform theraputic abortions in secret. At the same time, abortion should not be the sole issue of a truly progressive reproductive rights movement because coercive sterilization and contraceptive programs are also painful incidents in black women's reproductive history.
The pro-choice movement should oppose reccent 'welfare reform victories' because of the destruction such punitative measures have on black communities. Although most recipients were and continue to be white, policy debates were flooded with inferred images of the black "welfare queen" to foster and exacerbate racial and class tensions within the most conservative industrialized nation in the world.
Because anything else repeats the very conditions she is seeking to eliminate, a truly progressive reproductive policy supports the rights of all women to control their own bodies. Not enough to perform "multicultural" outreach, all feminist reproductive rights groups must fully intergrate a multi-pronged, class concious approach into their mission statement and policy objectives.
This book is an indispensible text for a social science course on reproductive rights, law, and/or social policy, but should be read by all who are concerned about securing freedom for all.
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