Monday, November 3, 2008

Is My Revolution in My Womb?

Over the last couple of years I have moved through two different worlds---my Black Nationalist self and my Black Feminist self. Somehow, I cannot get them to connect; maybe I am a Black Nationalist Feminist? Does that even exist?

I recently had one of my Black Nationalist female friends state that Black Women need to procreate for the race at a higher speed than the speed that they were doing now….when I questioned her on the implications of child birth and the issues that we have with some Black men taking care of their children, she simply shrugged and said that it was not as important as out numbering White folks!?

Seeing where this was going, I simply left it as it was, but I wrestled with this for awhile….what makes folks think that if we outnumbered whites that economic mobility will come to us? But even more so, what does this mean for Black Women who are usually the sole bearers of these Black babies? Also, why should our contributions to the race be through our reproduction?

Two of the mostly widely read articles from Black women who rejected this charge to bear more children are Toni Cade and Frances Beale. In her anthology on Black women published in 1970, Toni Cade took up the issue “The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?” She states “I’ve been made aware of the national call to Sisters to abandon-referral groups and to raise revolutionaries. “What plans do you have for the care of me and the child?” Cade rejects both the sexist implication that women’s only role in the struggle is to bear children and the naïve faith that simply producing more children will improve conditions for Black Americans. She does not believe that the pill alone can liberate anyone, but asserts that it gives women critical control over a major part of their lives. Included in the essay, Cade recalls a political meeting in which “a tall brother stood up and castigated the Sisters to throw away the pill and hop to the mattresses and breed revolutionaries and mess up the man’s (white man) genocidal program.” Although the brother’s concern arose from real history of reproductive abuse, the brother still failed to understand the pill’s importance to the Black women’s self-determination.

In 1966, Frances Beale, a member of SNCC, which was a nonviolent student organization that was founded in 1960 for the purpose of coordinating the sit-in movement in an attempt to integrate bus stations, lunch counters, created a segment of SNCC called the Black Women’s Liberation Committee. Frances Beale wrote that Black women had the right and the responsibility to determine when it is in the interest of the struggle to have children or not to have them and this right must not be relinquished to any other than the Black woman to determine when it is in her own best interests to have children.” She makes this clear in her famous article “Double Jeopardy: To Be Female and Black”:

We are not saying that Black women should not practice birth control. It is her right and responsibility to determine when it is in her own best interests to have children, how many she will have and how far apart. The lack of the availability of safe birth control methods, the forced sterilization practices, and the inability to obtain legal abortions are all symptoms of a decadent society that jeopardizes the health of Black women (and thereby the entire Black race) in its attempts to control the very life process of human beings

Her position on creating safe birth control methods for Black women was echoed by other women during that time. Maxine Williams and Pamela Newman, two Black women members of the Young Socialist Alliance, also took up this issue. In 1970, Williams and Newman wrote in their pamphlet “Black Women’s Liberation” about pilot experimental birth control projects in which used Black Women as subjects. They concluded that the central issue was the right of Women to control their own bodies. “Women and not males ought to determine for themselves whether to have children or not”. This assured that there were many Black women who understood that the motivation for the establishment of free clinics in poor black neighborhoods may have been based in part on racism, but they still perceived the free services to be in their best interests.

A statement by the Black Women’s Liberation Group (BWLG) took a different approach and claimed that women took the pill “because of poor black men” who refused to “support their families” and would not “stick by their women.” The BWLG realized that “a lot of black brothers” were asking women not to practice contraception because it was “a form of Whitey’s committing genocide on black people.” As one member stated, “For women, the pill symbolized “the freedom to fight genocide of black women and children. . . . Having too many babies stops us from supporting our children . . . and from fighting black men who still want to use and exploit us.” It should be noted, that when the BWLG wrote this, one fourth of Black families were headed by Black women, double that of Whites.

Fast forward thirty years later and I am still confused why Sistahs and Brothers are still calling for freedom through procreation---this is dangerous. I think the chief danger in this charge is the notion of hyper-sexualizing the Black women’s reproduction. Proposals to solve Black social problems by reproduction make racial inequality appear to be the product of something that can be fixed by nature rather than by power. Also, by identifying procreation as the cause of Black people’s condition, Black people are diverting attention away from the political, social, and economic forces that maintain racial order. This harms the entire group, both Black men and women and thus the Black children that are born.

Beale, Frances. “Double Jeopardy: To Be Female and Black.” In Words of Fire: An Anthology of Black Feminist Thought, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. 294-302 New York: New Press, 1995.
Cade, Toni. The Black Woman. New York and Ontario: Penguin, 1970.

1 comment:

DNLee said...

I chose not to have children. But I have been expressly told -by a minister no less - that I and other colleged professional blck women like me should have babies for this very reason. One of friends responded, I need a husband first, hiss response .. that's nice, but have babies no matter.

It is steeped in this idea that Black middle class people need to maintain their numbers or position - and having children means they 'inherit' our class. I see that; but I also believe in helping to cultivate a middle-class from the exisiting upwardly mobile masses of our siblings/cousins, etc. We can grow the black middle class other than our womds. Cultural transmission of values is also viable and I'm maximizing my cultural fitness at the cost of my reproductive fitness. I think it will go further, farther, and wider.