We recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Sarah Noble, managing director of the Reproductive Justice Collective in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and learned that they too engaged in a campaign to take down the racist anti-abortion billboards sponsored by the Radiance Foundation. With their permission, we are re-posting their Op-ed December, 2010 on this issue.
By Sarah D. Noble
Milwaukee is the latest target of a billboard campaign paid for by groups that claim to be pro-baby but are truly against the rights of black women and families. Thirteen offensive, anti-abortion billboards are scattered across Milwaukee's central city neighborhoods.
The campaign is part of a movement organized by Pro-Life Wisconsin and funded by the Radiance Foundation. These groups already have made their way to other states - Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, Missouri and Florida - and were soundly defeated in Atlanta. Their Milwaukee ads, which state "Black & Beautiful" and "Black children are in danger," exploit images of black babies.
This is a tired strategy that uses black people as "the face" and messengers and aims to drive a racial wedge into the pro-choice movement. Their end game is to criminalize women who make decisions about their lives and to push legislation to ban abortions, as well as challenge Roe vs. Wade.
Anyone who cares about the rights of black babies in this state would focus less on a woman's decision to have future children and more closely on prenatal health and infant mortality. In Wisconsin, a black baby is three times more likely to die before his or her first birthday than a white child. Moreover, Wisconsin's infant mortality rate is among the highest in the nation.
Black babies not only deserve to live; they deserve to live healthy lives in healthy families and in healthy communities. Ensuring the health of black babies means addressing the current state of black families: impoverishment, lack of education and joblessness, at crisis levels in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee's poverty rate is now the fourth-worst among big cities in the nation, according to the Census Bureau. Additionally, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reports African-American males and females in Milwaukee Public Schools have a 31% and 46% graduation rate, respectively. The same source reports the rate for white males is 66%. The 2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the overall unemployment rate for Wisconsin was 9.4%; however, it was 33.3% for black males.
These billboards - and the groups behind them - say and do nothing to address these dire disparities. Instead, they aim to distract us from addressing the structural, institutional, economic and political barriers that lead to poor health outcomes for black women and black babies.
This Pro-Life Wisconsin campaign is one of many race- and gender-based attacks by conservative groups on women and girls of color and their families. Groups like these oppose rights and freedoms that we consider fundamental to all humans - basic rights that support a woman's ability to decide when to have children, when not to have children and to parent the children she has in a healthy and safe environment.
The Reproductive Justice Collective, an organization led by women of color, and the Trust Black Women Partnership believe the solution is greater access to affordable reproductive care that can help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, broader access to contraception and the elimination of obstacles that interfere with personal decision-making.
Let's focus on creating safe environments and healthy communities without the fear of violence and intimidation from individuals, private groups or the government. Let's take down these offensive billboards that criminalize women and aim to divert and divide us and instead focus on the rights of black women and the ability of black babies to thrive.
Sarah D. Noble is managing director of Reproductive Justice Collective in Milwaukee.