NOTE 2/11/23: This post captured an important rhetorical moment in time–when leaked documents from the Supreme Court clearly revealed that the attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade has continued white supremacist leanings that were always connected to it. This moment is ongoingly relevant in understanding the links between the ugly parts of our past and some people’s attempts to keep us trapped there. Hopefully this analysis can continue to help us to fight for a healthier future in which we can see the ugliness in our systems and continue to fight racism and fascism alike.
Not shockingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about abortion laws and the Supreme Court this week, what with me writing this after a document was leaked suggesting strongly that the Supreme Court is on the edge of overturning Roe v. Wade. All week I’ve been both hearing and feeling deep concern about this, including concern from black women as those who demographically often suffer most from this if Roe v. Wade really gets overturned. In this blog post I plan to unwrap the ways in which looking back at white supremacist legal rhetoric from slavery up through the rhetoric in the leaked draft has given me a new perspective the abortion issue.
Hopefully whether or not you saw this side of things before, reading through it will help motivate you to fight assertively for Roe v. Wade to stay law.
So yeah, as always, I’m talking about this as a white pastor’s kid who grew up in a right-leaning moderate church. And one who went on to become a communication scholar who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication.
And as I think I’ve discussed here before, I’m someone who took a long time to shift from the moral disgusts I was raised with around the topic of abortion. Let’s just say it’s been a journey.
Dismissing The Handmaid’s Tale as “Too Extreme” or “Unrealistic”
I know I’ve discussed before (here) the way that my brain first discounted The Handmaid’s Tale as “too extreme” or “unrealistic” even though Margaret Atwood has discussed how all of the experiences related there had happened to women around the world.
And as I’ve been listening to the abortion debate this week in the wake of listening to a good chunk of the audiobook for The 1619 Project it occurred to me that one of my reasons for dismissing those experiences of women in The Handmaid’s Tale was because they were specifically happening to white women.
Back When I Was Socialized to Gaslight Feminists
See, when talking about abortion, I too used to dismiss the “extreme” rhetoric, as I used to class it, about the idea that the abortion debate was about men “owning” women.
Such an easy thing to dismiss out of hand.
Enter The 1619 Project
And yet, having just listened to the part of The 1619 Project analyzing the historical legal rhetoric and policies around (white) men literally owning black men’s, women’s, and children’s bodies, I listened to this week’s rhetoric around the possible Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade with new eyes.
Especially when comparing it to ongoing language, which I’ll get to later on, from neoconservatives, both in 1987 and in the recently leaked draft.
(Aside: Yup, I can see why people who are concerned that we might actually understand our country’s history of injustices are trying to ban this book! Go read it!)
How a Banned Book Helped me Understand the Context Better….
See, in The 1619 Project there’s an entire chapter on how white slaveowners used Black enslaved women’s bodies as breeding grounds, even while interracial relationships were illegal, especially for white women to have sex with Black men.
Content warning: this chapter can be super hard to read/listen to because of lots of descriptions of inhumane practices including rape.
But it’s important.
Exposing My Own Socialized White Supremacy
See, listening to this content helped me realize that when I was being raised to think The Handmaid’s Tale was “unrealistic” and foreign, part of the problem was the light skin tones.
Slavery WAS The Handmaid’s Tale (And More)
Because it wasn’t just “women around the world” that underwent the kinds of horrors expressed in that book.
It was enslaved women of color in this country. And only a few generations ago.
Focusing on Black women’s historical experiences related to their enslavement is really important for us to do. Because—let’s be clear—there is a strong link between trying to outlaw abortion in the kinds of extreme ways we’re seeing and white supremacy.
Tracing the Link Between the Religious Right, Abortion, and White Supremacy
See, if you are one of those who hasn’t heard, the voting bloc around outlawing abortion as the ONLY issue only popped up several years AFTER Roe v. Wade. (You can read about this here, including a discussion about how Baptists were in favor of life beginning at birth before that.)
The main issue they were trying to get people to vote about before that was…wait for it…maintaining segregation in Christian schools, mostly in the south.
I’ve known this for a few years now, but it wasn’t until I listened to that chapter from The 1619 Project about how white enslavers raped black women to use them as literal baby breeding grounds that I made a connection between the two things.
Really About Maintaining the White (Male) Supremacist Hierarchy
See, as Kristin Kobes Du Mez has pointed out in Jesus and John Wayne, the idea behind white evangelicalism has basically been boiling down to the idea that (white) males have been using rhetoric to aggressively stay on top of the status hierarchy.
Not Actually “Pro-life”: More Like “Forced Birth”
And the truth is, as many have pointed out, the “outlawing abortion is the only moral thing we could possibly do” argument is not actually broadly “pro-life.”
We know this because the same Christian leaders that opine about “holocausts of babies” are actively dehumanizing the opposition.
And this demonized and dehumanized opposition is the only group that is offering any sorts of policies that actually, you know, support women who are birthing babies in any way.
Dehumanization and Refusing to Offer Support and Care Is Weirdly Not Part of Loving Your Neighbor
Sooooo yeah, when they were convincing me to vote “pro-life,” they weren’t caring about the lives of the babies that were being born. Much less the mothers.
They were just caring that they WERE born.
What Were the Motives, Then? The Birth Dearth Book
Why would they want them to be born? Well, a book called The Birth Dearth from 1987, by a neoconservative who studied demographics (you can read analysis of and excerpts from this <begin sarcasm> fabulous book <end sarcasm> here), seems to explain a good part of what’s going on here.
As this article and others point out, this book by a man that has advised presidents complained that not enough white middle- and upper-class women were having babies, and were instead having abortions.
Oops, Not Covering Up Our White Supremacy Well
He actually argues in the book that THIS is the problem—the fact that too many people of darker skin tones were giving birth, and NOT ENOUGH WHITE PEOPLE.
In short, the problem, according to this book, is that white people have been becoming the minority. And it blames that on 60% of the abortions at that time were from white women.
Sooooo yeah. Let’s be clear. Despite the rhetoric of my youth insisting that voting to overturn Roe v. Wade was about being moral and loving, the drive to outlaw abortions has EVERYTHING to do with white supremacists fearing others getting a say in anything.
It comes straight out of a desire to literally produce more people to “correct for” increasing numbers of people with diverse skin tones in the US.
I Didn’t Say It Was a Rational Plan
Of course, this logic is breathtakingly impractical. See, ALL THE RESEARCH shows so many of the standard pro-choice talking points are true. Outlawing abortion doesn’t actually reduce abortions—it only reduces legal ones.
Which means that more women—of all skin tones—tend to die under situations where abortions are illegal.
But yeah, this type of logic doesn’t exactly spring from the font of reason in any way.
Ohhhhh, Driven By Fear Over Loss of Power. That’s So CHRISTLIKE!
It springs from—I just said it above—fear. Mostly white male fear. Mostly fear that they will lose power if others gain it.
And let’s be clear—this isn’t a rational productive kind of fear. It’s not being produced by the kind of men that exactly are empathetic to women and care about their pain in any way either.
(And it’s sort of the opposite of being Christlike, if you’re tracking such things.)
The Moral Majority: Neither Moral Nor Reasonable Nor the Majority….
All of which means that my former belief that I needed to vote to outlaw abortion is, indeed, both irrational AND unloving.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of that’s the opposite of morality.
Definitely White Supremacist, Though!
It is also really white supremacist.
(Past) Time to Validate Women’s Fears and Fight for Roe v. Wade
And yeah, those women who are out there changing their cover photos to depict Handmaid’s Tale garb right now?
They’re not actually overreacting, based on the white supremacist philosophy behind The Birth Dearth book.
Let’s Overturn a Horrific White Supremacist Legacy
And the direct line between the horrific logics for using enslaved women as production lines for more property for light-skinned men and The Birth Dearth’s logic about outlawing abortions to get more white women to give birth is disturbingly clear.
And that’s not even getting into the fact that the laws actually give us the opposite effect of the plans outlined in The Birth Dearth. Because hey, middle or upper-class women can always find a way to get safe abortions if they want them, legal or not.
It’s the poor, including women of color, that are most likely to be stuck in a corner if abortions are outlawed. Most likely to seek unsafe abortions.
Most likely to die.
White Supremacist Leaders: Continuing to “Not Give a D*mn”
And yeahhhhh let’s be clear. If it’s white supremacist logic driving this bus—the kind of white supremacist logic that descends straight from those who disturbingly and disgustingly raped enslaved Black women so that the children of those rapes could literally increase their property—they aren’t exactly going to, to cite Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, “give a d*mn” about that.
Looking for Evidence of Concern in the Leaked Draft
Wondering whether all of this is really the logic driving the bus in the present? After all, 1987 was a long time ago, right?
Yup, It’s There! “Domestic Supply of Infants” (Ummmmmmm)
Both Samuel Alito in the leaked draft AND Amy Coney Barrett elsewhere have used the term “domestic supply of infants” relating to trying to get babies (especially white ones) to adoptive mothers.
It hasn’t gone away, folx.
And it’s not even trying to be subtle, either.
That certainly doesn’t make it better in soooo many ways.
These Are Not Good Reasons In Any Way
I know this much is true, though: this language about a “domestic supply of infants” falls into a long and sordid line of white supremacist rhetoric in the ways I’ve just outlined. And we desperately need not to ignore or gaslight or dismiss that fact.
Time to Make Ourselves Heard
Those of us who can see it, and who seek to be remotely rational OR empathetic or both, need to rise up and assertively speak back to this aggressive attempt to legislate this thing.
Because, as I’ve outlined, this thing I was taught—that it was somehow a moral thing, THE MOST MORAL THING, to overturn Roe v. Wade—is flat-out wrong in so many ways.
Those of Us for Roe v. Wade ARE the Moral Majority, In Reality
What I know is this: the large majority of people in the USA are against overturning Roe v. Wade. And that’s because there is no reasonable or moral reason to do so.
And if we raise our voices assertively, both in the voting booth and other ways—it can make a difference.
I also believe, wholly and completely, that that is both the rational AND the ethical/moral/loving thing to do.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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