Are We Our Choices?

Monday, January 21, 2013

By Christopher Roberts

What are we if not our choices? Every day in every aspect of our lives we choose different things. We choose what to wear. We choose what brand of toothpaste to buy. We choose to love. We choose to hate. Whether they are of the mundane or the monumental variety, we all make choices. And for my metaphysical crew, if we all are spirits sailing across this world, some of the most important choices we make are about the vessel by which we navigate the seas of this human realm; our bodies.
By Kortney Ryan Ziegler

Forty years ago in the United States, Roe v. Wade institutionally recognized a woman's right to make choices about her vessel. The voyage of a woman's body is her own, and she is her own captain, able to follow whatever compass she pleases. However, there are efforts by some in the United States government to commit multiple acts of piracy against the vessels of the souls of women, especially women of color. In this attempt to seize navigational control of these vessels, a government based on the premise of the purity of the desires and morals of rich white straight men, to echo the sentiments of Audre Lorde, is doing what it was designed to do, and fulfilling the purpose of this particular tool of the master.

In the United States, power is largely about choices, and the tool of the Grand Old Party (GOP/Republican Party) has made it clear, via their rhetoric and policies, that it does not believe women are able to make choices about their own vessels. For women of color this assumption of an inherent inability to choose for oneself is compounded by the systemic belief about racial inferiority in the United States. One needs look no further than the phasing out of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. recently. The major reasons for the expiration of VAWA, which had been active since 1994, were that it extended protections to undocumented women, and empowered tribal courts on Native American land—or rather, reservation spaces; the entire country is Native American land.

VAWA would have provided crucial support for Native American women against sexual abuse and domestic violence. In her op ed on Take Part, "Tribal Councilwoman for The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” Terri Henry does a great job of showing how the rebuttal of VAWA by Congress devalues the lived experiences of native women, and does is poignantly from an American Indian perspective. By allowing VAWA to expire, Congress has hamstrung the ability of these women to make choices about their vessels, to seek justice when that vessel—their temple—is violated. This disregard for the souls of Native American women and the sanctity of their vessels speaks to the larger belief within the United States government that women of color, and their respective communities, are not the best equipped to make choices about their own bodies, their own vessels, their own temples.

We all make choices. We choose to believe in a particular definition of life. We choose to believe in a particular definition of death. The purpose of this post is not to make a case against anything. The purpose of this post is to make a case for something. And that something is choice. The choice of a woman, especially a woman of color, is to follow the compass of her choosing and to venture through this human realm on her own accord. If we make major choices about other peoples vessels we are no better than pirates stealing ships. Abortion or no abortion is a choice, but that is not the choice of the United States government, that is not the choice of men. It is the choice of that soul housed in that vessel that is the body. Depending on the compass one chooses to navigate the seas of humanity, the choices one makes with regards to one’s vessel will be addressed at a particular moment in time. And as far as I'm concerned that choice is between a captain and the creator of her compass, whoever she believes that to be.

Smooth sailing.

This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.