We’re Listening to Ourselves: Black Women Rebuild and Reclaim the South

Thursday, April 04, 2013

By Bianca Campbell

The South is often seen as a threat to the rights of our chosen families, but Southern Black women, in alignment with African American views on reproductive access, have been taking this opportunity to uplift the values of our communities.

While it may be true that reproductive health policies and practices established in the South reverberate across the country, The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that 24 of the 43 anti-choice laws that sprung up in 2012 were in just 6 states: Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. This suggests that the battle for rights isn’t just in the conservative South, though a large part of the war is here: the rest of America has policies just as oppressive. This is not to placate the unique struggles of the South. Instead, it is to highlight that it is not the South that needs saving, but that our wins in the South can help women across the country obtain autonomy.

In recent years, anti-choice groups have attempted to use claims of racial genocide to divide the Black community on abortion. Despite an elaborate billboard campaign to “save the race,” anti-choice groups are losing ground as women of color in the South have been laying heavy groundwork: organizing those most impacted by the policy or practice and cultivating the leadership of Black women in the South. Across the nation, 82 percent of African Americans believe that abortion should be legal in at least some cases while a majority (57 percent) also believe abortion services should be available in all communities. Even the right wing’s religious claims are fruitless as 76 percent of African Americans who attend religious service at least once per week believe that women should have the right to an abortion and more than 8 in 10 religious African Americans who went to church less frequently also believe in letting women choose--facts that stand in the face of anti-choice rhetoric that claims Black women are being overwhelmed by “unwanted” abortion services. This strong support lives here in the South, where many of our big cities are predominantly Black.

With our effective strategies in response to these campaigns, women at SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW took down racist anti-choice billboards plastered in communities of color and stopped Georgia legislation that banned abortions based on the race or sex of the fetus in 2010. Sistersong, Planned Parenthood Southeast, and others defeated the Mississippi Personhood amendment in 2011. In 2012, Women With A Vision (WWAV) in New Orleans, Louisiana reversed legislation that required sex workers to register as sex offenders. After a retaliatory arson attack, WWAV is rebuilding their office as all of us stack the South back together brick by brick.

We know why our campaigns have resonated in the South: our communities support Black women having justice and authority in how we choose our families.

We find support when we fight to end the shackling of pregnant women in prison; when we empower youth and families with accurate information on sex, and access to health care; when we advocate healthcare for all families, including trans, queer, and formerly incarcerated families. We find that Black families want and actively strive for reproductive justice in the South.

Black communities are not listening to hostile conservatives. We're listening to ourselves. Black women's lived experiences are winning this public opinion battle. Now, let's continue to leverage opinion into policy.

Bianca Campbell is a participant in Echoing Ida, a blogging project of Strong Families. She is an Organizer with SPARK Reproductive Justice Now where she facilitates workshops and develops curricula that bring together queer theory with racial and reproductive justice movements. She lives and works in Atlanta, GA.

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