By Ryan Rosenberger
Professor and author Dorothy Roberts gave a presentation at Roosevelt University commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of her book entitled “Killing The Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty” on March 29.
In the book, Roberts asserts that the reproductive rights of black women have historically been under attack due to due to institutional race and gender discrimination. Roberts used historical examples dating all the way back to slavery to support her case.
Upon reflecting on the time period in which she was wrote the book, Roberts said she had mixed emotions. On one hand, she was discouraged at the fact that all of the big issues that she wrote about in her book were still prevalent in American society in that time period.
On the other, Robert said that the movement for reproductive justice was finally taking shape. Roberts went on to say that it has garnered more power over time.
When speaking on the oppression of black women, Roberts started out by bringing up the freedom of African Americans in America, stating that blacks have not been free for the majority of our nation’s history. “Even after slavery, there was another 100 years of Jim Crow segregation,” Roberts said. She elaborated on this idea by saying that African Americans have only known freedom in this country for 50 years.
Roberts also spoke about the enslavement black women faced during slavery.
“For black women, slavery didn’t just mean coerced physical labor,” Roberts said. “It also meant coerced reproductive labor.”
Roberts said the idea of a black pregnant woman was controlled by the slave master, then the fetus was considered property of a slave owner too.
Roberts also discussed perpetuated stereotypes that were raised during the Reagan administration. Roberts set up the contrast of the “bad black woman” and the “good black woman,” the former tending to be promiscuous to a fault and the latter being “subservient” to whites. She explained how these two ideas combined to create the idea of the “Black Welfare Queen.”
“This was supposed to be a black woman who had babies just to get a welfare check,” Roberts said. “She wasn’t interested in having children or taking care of her children.”
Roberts expanded on this idea by explaining that welfare queens were thought to only be interested themselves, spending welfare benefits on herself instead of her children. That this stereotype was critical in forming the public’s view of welfare programs during this time.
Towards the end of her presentation, Roberts touched on more modern issues, such as the ongoing abortion debate and how more attention has been paid to African American women over the last decade.
Roberts talked about how the abortion rates are higher in the African American community than in the white community because of less resources available. Roberts also stated that anti-abortionists have used the higher abortion rates in the black communities as evidence that African American women having abortions were helping commit a genocide against their own people.
“They began a billboard campaign across the country with billboards stating ‘the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” Roberts said.
Roberts ended her presentation by explaining that all of these historical examples reiterate the idea that the wombs of African American women are a destructive force to their children.