Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

by Dorothy Roberts
     
 

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This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years—using a black feminist lens and the issue of  the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's—especially poor black

Overview

This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years—using a black feminist lens and the issue of  the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's—especially poor black women's—control over their bodies' autonomy and their freedom to bear and raise children with respect and dignity in a society whose white mainstream is determined to demonize, even criminalize their lives.   It gives its readers a cogent legal and historical argument for a radically new , and socially transformative, definition of  "liberty" and "equality" for the American polity from a black feminist perspective.

The author is able to combine the most innovative and radical thinking on several fronts—racial theory, feminist, and legal—to produce a work that is at once history and political treatise.  By using the history of how American law—beginning with slavery—has treated the issue of the state's right  to interfere with the black woman's body, the author explosively and effectively makes the case for the legal redress to the racist implications of current policy with regards to 1) access to and coercive dispensing of birth control to poor black women 2) the criminalization of parenting by poor black women who have used drugs 3) the stigmatization and devaluation of poor black mothers under the new welfare provisions, and 4) the differential access to and disproportionate spending of social resources on the new reproductive technologies used by wealthy white couples to insure genetically related offspring.

The legal redress of the racism inherent in current  American law and policy in these matters, the author argues in her last chapter, demands and should lead us to adopt a new standard and definition of the liberal theory of "liberty" and "equality" based on the need for, and the positive role of government in fostering, social as well as individual justice.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From forced breeding and involuntary sterilization to the use of invasive methods of birth control (Norplant and Depo-Provera) and more recently welfare reform legislation, Rutgers law professor Roberts traces the history of social policies used by the dominant power structure to control black women's reproductive freedom. Her well-documented work convincingly reveals why black people, and women in particular, have reason to mistrust the medical establishment and government programs, especially those related to family planning. Roberts argues for an expanded concept of liberty that will "facilitate the processes of choice and self-determination" as well as protect individuals against government coercion. -- Faye Powell, Portland State University Library, Oregon
Kirkus Reviews
Roberts's exploration of the history of African-American women and reproductive rights is brilliant, controversial, and profoundly valuable. The author, a professor of law (Rutgers University), brings forth a view of black women wholly ignored by mainstream America. Beginning with slavery and moving to the present day, she argues that white America has perpetuated a legacy of pathological social violence against black women and their reproductive capabilities. Female slaves, Roberts asserts, were often bought with the express purpose of using them as breeders; white males profited by raping black women and selling their children. Later, in the first half of the 20th century, the eugenics movement turned contraception from a tool of women's liberation into a tool of control to cut birth rates among southern blacks, and as late as the 1970s black women were routinely sterilized by hysterectomies that were not medically necessary. More recently, poor black women living in urban areas have been forced by courts, doctors, and health care organizations to be implanted with the Norplant birth-control device; doctors frequently refuse to remove it on request. Roberts's arguments are especially convincing because they are so well researched and thoroughly dissected. Drawn from documented cases, African-American theorists, and media reports, Roberts's knowledge of her subject is total. Instead of painting black women as passive victims of this reproductive racism, she represents them through the image offered by a former slave, Anna Julia Cooper, who characterizes the black woman fighting to protect the bodies of her daughters as "an entrapped tigress." Roberts outlines an agenda for change in thefinal chapter, positioning the book as an important stepping-stone toward transforming the way black women and their children are treated in America."The denial of Black reproductive autonomy serves the interests of white supremacy," Roberts states, and she demands her reader rethink the relationship between race and reproduction.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679758693
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/28/1998
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
209,893
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.76(d)

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