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Women of Color and Feminism: A History Lesson and Way Forward

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Anthea Butler for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A Black woman

On privilege, feminism and women of color

I was not surprised when I viewed Amanda Marcotte’s presentation on online feminism at this year’s Netroots Nation conference, in which she pointed mostly to young, hip, white female bloggers writing today. While there are many women of color blogging at sites like the Crunk Feminist Collective, women of color were represented in Marcotte’s PowerPoint presentation by one stock photo of a Black woman holding car keys, with a statement about how online feminists are “driving the movement forward.” The PowerPoint slide is indicative of a larger problem in feminism: the inability to see or identify with women of color who are feminists. It’s not a good look, but then again, this slight is not unexpected given the history between white women and feminists of color.

My purpose in this piece is not to bash Amanda Marcotte—a contributor here at RH Reality Check—but to illuminate some of the long history of tension between the feminist movement and women of color. Writing this piece in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial has not been easy. Is it always going to be this way? Will it always be this difficult to come together with white feminists, as women of color, to work on the many pressing issues in this country, including the rollback of women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights?

The tension between white feminists and feminists of color has existed for a long time, in part because of race, class, and positionality. It is fair to ask, “Why is it so hard for white feminists to embrace, celebrate, and partner with their sisters of color?” Is intersectionality just a dream, or can we work past this conundrum?

It is time for white feminists to become more aware of their internalized compliance to the “isms” that threaten to divide us all, from historical and contemporary perspectives. How can we come together without being torn apart by the other “ism” that threatens feminism: racism? A brief look at the history of the feminist movement and women of color, and a prescription for our future together, is long overdue.

A History of Privileged Positions

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Five Things I Learned About Abortion by Checking My Assumptions at the Door

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Samara Azam-Yu for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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

Originally posted at Colorlines.

Five - Fünf - خمسة - Cinco - Cinq - Пять - पांच - 五 - חמש - Pět

Five

When it comes to the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have this deep, yet complicated sense of gratitude to people who poured their hearts into the issue of making abortion a legal right. It is humbling to think about all the work that came before this moment in the civil rights, social change, and social justice movements.
As a young woman of color and an activist, it can feel like being a tiny, relatively unimportant drop in a formidable tide of change. But one thing makes me certain I must continue to do this work: somehow, women of color, young women, low-income women, immigrant women, and women in rural areas are still waiting while barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, continue to trump legal rights and provision of health services, human dignity, and self-determination.

After college, while working on public policy related to reproductive health, I began to see a gap in the way our institutions treat people of color, and believe that I must do something to help change the situation. I volunteered for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in 2007, providing rides and housing to women traveling long distances because they could not access abortion services in their area. On a very basic level, I volunteered because, were I to need help, I would want someone to be there for me.

I grew up in a conservative area and had internalized some challenging attitudes about abortion, poverty, and the death penalty — attitudes aligned with policy that worked against my (and my family’s) interests. Still, I discovered that I was ready to drop everything for a friend who needed my help. Eventually, I learned to hold this level of compassion for complete strangers, too.

While volunteering, I had the honor of meeting incredible, resilient women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. The most striking part of this experience was when I realized that despite how seemingly different each woman is, we are also all deeply connected by the human experience, and that I needed to check my assumptions at the door.

Here are some things I learned when I began to leave my assumptions behind.

1) Teens often include their parents and have their parents’ support in making decisions.

One of the first young women who came to stay with me was still in high school. She came to the San Francisco Bay Area on a bus with her mom. They didn’t have a suitcase and had to borrow her mom’s boyfriend’s duffle bag and cell phone to make the journey. The mother was exhausted from a long bus ride from the Central Valley, but she really needed someone to talk to about her daughter. The mother also told me that she got pregnant and had her daughter at her daughter’s age. Things had been difficult raising her daughter, and she wanted a better life for her. At least, she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity that she never had — to graduate from high school. It was hard for her to see her daughter pregnant, feeling sick, and vomiting, knowing that this was only the beginning.

2) Real life is not a movie or a story with a neat conclusion.

The same mother and daughter both called me to say they felt relieved and exhausted after the daughter’s pregnancy termination. They had made it all the way home, but someone stole their bags, including the lunches I packed for them, their clothes, their money, and the mother’s boyfriend’s cell phone. The mother and the daughter were moving forward, but the lost phone and bag seemed like it would put a strain on their relationship with the mom’s boyfriend. I quickly learned that helping someone access abortion services is but one moment in their broader lives.

3) Many women who get an abortion already have kids.
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“War on Women” Increasingly Focused on Women of Color and Immigrant Women

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Natalie Camastra for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

VAWA. PRENDA. Aderholt.

What do all these words (and acronyms) have in common?

A woman lays with her head in her arms

Photo: alainlm / Flickr

They represent the three latest attacks on women’s health, safety, and reproductive justice. However, the War on Women has been raging continuously in the 112th Congress. So what else connects these three? They represent the escalating attacks on the health and rights of women of color, and immigrant women in particular — their right to reproductive health care, their access to protections from intimate partner violence and other crimes, and their right to bodily autonomy.

Let’s start with the most recent affront: the Aderholt amendment. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5855), which includes a provision (Aderholt Amendment) that targets immigrant women’s reproductive health care with unnecessary and mean-spirited restrictions on access to abortion. The provision prohibits federal funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide abortion care for women in ICE detention centers — adding yet another layer to the harmful restrictions the Hyde amendment already puts in place.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), outraged over the politicized attack on some of the most vulnerable women in our society, led an effort to unite over 50 national, state, and local organizations in opposition the provision — a group that includes reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates as well as faith-based groups, advocates for Latinos health, and groups that represent immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ people.

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Learning the Right Lessons From the Philadelphia Abortion Clinic Disaster

9:07 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Carol Joffe for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is cross-posted with permission from Beacon Broadside.

Reading the Grand Jury report on Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, the now-closed abortion clinic ran by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, is stomach turning. This was truly a chamber of horrors: a filthy facility, with blood stained blankets and furniture, unsterilized instruments, and cat feces left unattended. Most seriously, there was a jaw dropping disregard of both the law and prevailing standards of medical care. Untrained personnel undertook complex medical procedures, such as the administration of anesthesia, and the doctor in question repeatedly performed illegal (post-viability) abortions, by a unique and ghastly method of delivering live babies and then severing their spinal cord. Two women have died at this facility and numerous others have been injured. What remains baffling is how long this clinic was allowed to operate, in spite of numerous complaints made over the years to city and state agencies, and numerous malpractice suits against Dr. Gosnell. Indeed, it was only because authorities raided the clinic due to suspicion of lax practices involving prescription drugs that the conditions facing abortion patients came to law enforcement’s attention.

As information about this clinic spread, many have understandably compared Women’s Medical Society to the notorious “back alley” facilities of the pre-Roe era, when unscrupulous and often unskilled persons (some trained physicians, some not) provided abortions to desperate women, in substandard conditions. This is an apt comparison. But Gosnell’s clinic should not only be understood as a strange throwback to the past. Women’s Medical Society represents to me an extreme version of what I have termed “rogue clinics,” facilities that today prey on women, disproportionately women of color and often immigrants, in low income communities. Read more

Anti-Choice “Freedom Rides” Seek to Curtail Freedom

7:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Pamela Merritt for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When I read that Dr. Alveda King is planning a revival of the famed 1960’s civil rights Freedom Rides to protest abortion in general and abortion within black communities in particular, I was quite frankly disturbed.  The Freedom Rides are every American’s legacy and serve to remind us all of the fact that rights without access and freedom from violence are rights in name only.  Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an activist opposed to abortion rights, is deeply involved in the campaign to frame abortion as a tool of genocide against black people.  RH Reality Check has done extensive coverage of the abortion as genocide conspiracy theory and I have followed news of billboards that claim that black children are an endangered “species” and the attempt to pass legislation in Georgia to “protect” women of color from abortion as racial discrimination.  Those who oppose abortion rights using the black genocide conspiracy theory isn’t new and it is a disturbing tactic on it’s own, but this latest move to co-opt Civil Rights history is a new low.

My father was 22 years old in 1961 when the Freedom Rides began. Although he lived in Pennsylvania at the time, he was deeply concerned about the racial oppression in the South.  Years later, he would tell me what it felt like to watch people challenge racial segregation on public transportation and interstate buses in the South and how watching the violence their actions provoked changed his life.  My father, and many Americans like him, became a Civil Rights activist because he was inspired by the courage of other activists and enlightened by images of the violent resistance to social change that greeted the Freedom Rides in the South.  When he spoke of the Freedom Rides, he always reminded me that they had a purpose – to make the promise of equality a reality and release Southern blacks from the limiting oppression of Jim Crow.  In short, the Freedom Rides were about access and an individual’s ability to exercise her or his rights without fear of violence.

Think about that for a moment – regular folks taking part in training on how to protest without violence and then jumping on buses to travel to the segregated South so that they could challenge communities that were denying black citizens access to facilities despite Supreme Court rulings striking down racial discrimination.  Now think about the so-called pro-life freedom rides proposed by Dr. Alveda King – individuals opposed to abortion rights taking part in training on how to protest a woman’s right to abortion services, despite Supreme Court rulings guaranteeing that right, and then jumping on buses to travel to cities so that they can challenge communities that are granting women access to healthcare providers and abortion services.

There is something uniquely insulting about a tactic used to fight against the denial of rights and access now being used to fight for the denial of rights and access.

Dr. Alveda King has the right to protest against abortion rights and she even has the right to insult the legacy of the Civil Right’s movement by appropriating language and tactics.  In 2010 America, Dr. Alveda King can organize a tour, charter buses, rent billboards and protest at community health care providers in all 50 states if she wants to.  If Dr. Alveda King gets hungry along the way, she can go to a restaurant and eat, if she gets thirsty she can go to any drinking fountain and drink and when she gets tired she will be able to go to a hotel and rest.

She has those rights and so many more because people fought for them, risked their lives and then returned to risk those lives again.

I stress “for” because that is a crucial word – a legacy of the Civil Rights movement is the struggle for rights, for the access without fear of violence that makes a right more than a mere suggestion.  The recent healthcare reform battle and subsequent attempts to restrict access to abortion services at the state level make it clear that those who oppose abortion rights are not fighting for anything; they are fighting against something. Dr. Alveda King and others who oppose abortion rights are fighting against access to health care, against access to comprehensive sex education and against a woman’s right to abortion services.  They seek to reinstate a system of separate and unequal access to services by passing legislation that would make abortion available only to those who live in certain states or who can afford to scale the hurdles of abortion restrictions. Their goals stand in opposition to freedom and are an insult to the principle of equal justice. 

“Pro-life” Freedom Rides are set to begin this summer in Birmingham Alabama.

Why I’m Not Celebrating the Pill

6:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bianca I. Laureano for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

I’ve mentioned before that hippie immigrant Puerto Rican parents raised me in the US. One of the messages that was transmitted to me as a young Puerto Rican woman growing up was that the birth control pill kills Puerto Rican women. And it did.

Excuse me if I do not partake in all of the celebration of The 50th Anniversary of The Pill because from my perspective it is still very much a reminder of the exploitation and violation of human rights among Puerto Ricans (and Haitians, and working class women in general) that continues today. Ignoring this reality is easy. Yet, it is a part of my, our history that I can’t simply forget or overlook. If I choose to ignore this history I also choose to ignore the history of activism by members of my community that has helped to create change at an institutional level. Ignoring this reality and history also perpetuates the ideas that historically oppressed communities are not important in the work we do today.

There are some things I’m not ready to ignore or forge and many of those are the power of language. The adjectives used to describe members of my community are horrifying. I don’t care if it was how people spoke “in that time,” they were and remain inappropriate. To describe our homeland as “slums,” “jungles,” and our community as “undesirable,” “genetically inferior,” and “ignorant” is defendable?  The ideology “that the poor, uneducated, women of Puerto Rico could follow the Pill regimen, then women anywhere in the world could too” is not condescending to you? Don’t be fooled. There was almost nothing that was “female controlled” or “empowering” about being a part of the trial for many participants, especially after they realized they were taking a medication that they did not know was not approved.

I remember reading the book Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill over a decade ago when I was in graduate school. The conversation we had as a group about the book shocked me. While I was sickened by the overt ethnocentrism, classism, ableism, xenophobia, and racism, other classmates were mostly intrigued by what the history was in the US. It was an extremely painful book for me to discuss with a group of 99 percent White people who viewed the history of my community as less than and Othered as fascinating. When I realized a yam in Mexico was a part of the early production of the pill and how the US obtained it, the inclusion of animal products that included pork and how some communities do not consume this product for various reasons, I was floored. Some classmates rolled their eyes at me as if I was making something out of nothing. To this day I’m surprised those people are now working within my community. I hope they have learned something over these ten years about the ways their thought processes isolated the people in the community they now try to provide services to. Engaging in these conversations continue to hurt.

Often, when I bring up this topic, I have people who say to me “but that was the ‘norm’ back then.” Just because it was/is the “norm” does not automatically make it “right.” Others have said to me “Look at how many people and families the pill as helped.” As if the lives of the women who were injured, died, or experienced some major side effects during the trials makes that ok. Who is thanking them? Who is remembering them? Then there are the “We need more of a biomedical model and not just a social one.” I don’t disagree, I just think that a biomedical model can also recognize how the field is constructed and given value by a society that gives it value (and money). I also think a biomedical model can be one that does not completely ignore a community response. Just because it has more money behind it does not make it better than other models. 

On anniversaries such as these, I ask that we all take a moment and think about the people who have been directly impacted negatively during trials, especially when historically discussions are not comprehensive and exclude us. Also think about how pharmaceutical companies are still engaging in some questionable actions and continue to purchase land in Puerto Rico, which does bring jobs to the island, yet those jobs are not always permanent.

All these talks about Puerto Rico and our status, do people really think that big money corporations want to lose the ability to work in a “foreign” country with a completely different approach to taxes? Think about it and consider doing some research on your own.

Worried About Women of Color? Thanks, But No Thanks, Anti-Choicers. We’ve Got It Covered.

6:22 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miriam Perez for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is part of a series appearing on RH Reality Check, written by reproductive justice advocates responding to recent efforts by the anti-choice movement to use racial and ethnic myths to limit women’s rights and health. Recent articles on this topic include those by Pamela Merrit, Gloria Feldt, Kelley Robinson, and Maame-Mensima Horne.

At first glance, it’s nice to see the anti-choice community pretending to care about communities of color. But within a few minutes, the skepticism sets in. What’s really behind these tactics, coming from a group that is majority white, middle-class and Christian? In the end, we know this isn’t actually about women of color and their well-being. It’s a sensationalist attempt to pit women of color against the reproductive rights movement. Classic divide and conquer.

Women of color within the reproductive rights and justice movement have brought light to the policies (often perpetuated by our own government, medical providers and researchers) that serve the mission of population control within our communities. We’ve fought back against the connections and alliances with those in the environmental rights movement who blame the challenges of resource scarcity on women of color and their family size.

We’ve fought back against governmental policies like welfare family caps and limits on access to certain types of contraception over others. We’ve fought with the reproductive rights community to get them to care about these issues and how they affect our communities—and we’ve won.

We’re fighting for access to contraception, to abortion, to options for childbirth and parenting. And now we’ll fight the racist and paternalistic logic behind the eugenics arguments being made by anti-choicers.

In the Latina community, we’ve dealt with all sorts of attempts at controlling our families. In addition to welfare family caps and abusive immigration policies, we’ve also got a long history of sterilization abuse. The height of this was in the 1970s, when Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias and others discovered that doctors and residents at a Los Angeles hospital had sterilized hundreds of Mexican women, without their knowledge or full consent. We’re talking women being asked to sign consent forms in languages they did not speak, being lied to and told that the procedure was reversible, or being offered sterilization in the midst of labor.

The result of this was a major organizing push by CESA—Committee to End Sterilization Abuse–to enact federal informed consent laws for sterilization. They won, and in 1976 these laws were enacted, mandating processes for informed consent, waiting periods for sterilization consent, and forms that had to be in the patient’s language, among other things.

But the fight did not end there. We’ve also dealt with a campaign to bring the population growth in Puerto Rico to zero—which actually worked in some cities, according to the documentary La Operación. Sterilization promotion was the primary tool here as well.

These days, the abuses are less obvious and more insidious. When I worked with pregnant Latina immigrants in Pennsylvania, I saw their options limited by the technicalities of their emergency Medicaid coverage. They could get sterilized, for free, right after their deliveries. But if they wanted the pill, the shot, or some other short term birth control? They were out of luck.

But what we know is that reproductive justice isn’t just about freedom from coercive sterilization. It’s also about access to a full range of reproductive technologies, whether that’s birth control, sterilization, abortion or even childbirth. Rodriguez-Trias understood this, which is why she formed CARASA a decade after CESA. CARASA, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse, understood that women needed options across the spectrum of reproductive technologies in order to truly achieve reproductive freedom. It’s clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide vital services to low-income Latinas, many of whom are uninsured.

Latinas and other women of color don’t need to be protected by paternalistic ideologues motivated by a political agenda that disregards the needs of women of color and their families. So thanks for your concern, anti-choicers, but I think the women of color advocates working within the reproductive justice movement have got it covered. We’re working in those clinics you attack, we’re helping to shape policies and provide services in our communities, services that allow us to decide what our needs are.

We know whom we can trust to make decisions about family creation: women themselves. We don’t need limits on what services we can access. And we don’t need your ideological bullying.

The next time one of your crisis pregnancy centers, one of your dramatic billboards, or one of your bogus pieces of “sex and race selection” legislation actually works to support women through whatever choice they make for their families—we’ll talk.