Killing the Black Body - Dorothy Roberts


Dorothy Roberts’ KILLING THE BLACK BODY:  Race Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty is a deep, challenging, excellent book, particularly for white men (and secondarily for white women).   For me it taps into the denial which I go into (thankfully less and less frequently over time) as a privileged white man, where racism, sexism and homo/lesbian/trans phobias don’t penetrate me deeply and I relax, seemingly oblivious to what others face in their daily lives.

But the movement  to expand women’s reproductive options was marked by racism from its very inception in the early part of this century (note: 20th century).  The spread of contraception to American women hinged partly on its appeal to eugenicists bent on curtailing the birthrates of the “unfit” including Negroes.  For several decades, peaking in the 1970’s, government-sponsored family planning programs not only encouraged Black women to use birth control but coerced them into being sterilized. (p.56)

Roberts is deliberately “attacking” in her words.   She also provides both documentation, and clear examples for her perceptive views.

In the caption beneath the photograph the woman explained that she voted for Duke because Blacks “just have those babies and go on welfare.”  This woman was willing to decimate programs that benefited her in order to ensure that Black people could not benefit from them.

This is the dilemma Black citizenship poses for radical welfare reform:  While a strong welfare state is required to make Blacks full participants in the political economy, whites’ refusal to extend full citizenship right to Blacks persistently blocks efforts to establish an inclusive welfare system. (p.244-5)

The message goes far, far deeper than areas related to poverty and its elimination.   The author delves significantly into fertility issues and how we as a society cope with the struggles to have successful desired pregnancy and childbirth.  The racism shown here is rarely subtle!   The importance of the white male being biologically tied to his children and the “critical” issue that babies not end up being “Black”, with white parents is clearly documented.  The corresponding lack of concern for Black parents, most particularly mothers, and related issues related to our “white means 0% Black” realities expose how racism systemically persists today.

Black family ties have traditionally reached beyond the bounds of the nuclear family to include extended kin and non-kin relationships. (p.261)  … Most Blacks downplay their white genetic heritage to identify socially with other Blacks.  Even children of interracial couples (having one Black and one white parent) tend to identity themselves as Black, often as a political choice.  (68) (p.262)

For most privileged white people, particularly men, we/they don’t need to think about most of the issues brought up in this book, because they generally don’t direct impact our/their lives.    For me, it’s a little different, given that my partner and her children are Black

It is extremely important that we learn to prioritize learning of the “others” we may not encounter directly in our lives.   The resistance of white people, particularly white men, to our changing world has become significantly more  important since both editions of Dorothy Roberts’ book have been published (in our “Trumpian” reality - for example).

This book provides an excellent opportunity to expand our learning!


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