Tag Archives: racism

The Ties that Bind: It’s Time to End Shackling

4 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

They’ve been saying that love has made its way to PA this week. They’ve been saying that equality for all has worked its way down the winding East Coast and is on the brink of the South and Midwest. Love. Equality.

But what has gotten washed away in the seas of good tidings for the state of Virtue, Liberty, and Independence, is a woman tripping and falling face first onto her pregnant belly because of shackles around her legs and waist. She could not protect herself or her fetus because her hands were cuffed behind her back.

What has gotten lost amid tales of happy couples finally getting to share their love is a woman in labor, her ankles shackled to her hospital bed rubbing her skin raw until scars are left, her legs unable to fully open so she can birth her child. Lost is the story of her child being born into a set of shackles, years after the state has banned the practice of shackling.

Shackling is the act of restraining pregnant incarcerated women by chains that link their wrists, ankles, and their bellies. These shackles are used in correctional facilities across the US throughout pregnancy, including during trips to and from the doctor, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

For a while there, Pennsylvania seemed like a model of the anti-shackling and reproductive justice movement. In 2008, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the widespread practice of shackling women during labor. And, in 2010, the Healthy Birth Act was passed in Pennsylvania that prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant incarcerated women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

But, the law isn’t being followed. The state of Pennsylvania has continued to illegally shackle incarcerated women during their second and third trimester of pregnancy stripping them of any of the mores Pennsylvania so proudly scrawls across bumper stickers and state quarters. The ACLU of PA estimates that 820 women a year are restrained while pregnant. Facilities in Pennsylvania filed only 109 incidents of restraint for 15 women in 2012-2013.

Four years later, prenatal clinics are unfamiliar with the law. Four years later, doctors didn’t know they could ask a correctional officer to remove the restraints. Most clinicians had never spoken to a correctional about security concerns, and many believed that using restraints was only for the correctional officer to decide and not medical personnel.

Only twenty states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women with a statute. But, if what is happening in Pennsylvania is happening with a law in place, what is happening across the rest of the country?

I have never given birth. Honestly, I don’t even know if giving birth is in the cards for me. I imagine it hurts, an unbearable amount. I also imagine that there is nothing more joyful and loving than holding that bright red screaming baby after that hurt. I imagine it’s like no feeling I can imagine.

I have never been arrested. Never felt that cool steel around my wrists or ankles or pregnant stomach. Never felt that gut dropping feeling of uncertainty about the rest of my life.

The idea of facing these two forces, this incomparable pain and joy, the horror of detainment and arrest is unimaginable to me. Yet, every day women across the United States face this. They face it while they are in labor and delivery and while they hold their screaming red baby for the first time.

The reasons we imprison women in this country are complex, the reasons we shackle them are historic and myriad. But it does not make them right. Like many historic institutions in this country, it is time for shackling pregnant incarcerated women to come to an end. It is time to bring love and dignity to Pennsylvania.

For reproductive justice oriented organizing and mobilizing in PA check out New Voices Pittsburgh

Billboard Madness

9 Jun

Today, while driving on the freeway in New Jersey, I saw a billboard that says “Abortion Stops A Beating Heart,” with the symbol for heart substituted for the word.  Let’s leave aside the blatant falsehoods in the statement itself.  After all, by now you probably know that at the point of conception, there is no beating heart.  In fact, during the first few stages of fetal development there is no heart at all.

So, what’s with the billboard?

Billboards, by their very nature, are intended to distract drivers and their passengers from the roadway.  Several years ago, I suffered a car accident when a driver’s attention lapsed due to a billboard for a furniture store.  I’m sure that many others have experienced similar events.  It is absurd to realize that every day, millions of Americans’ lives are put at risk by companies seeking to make money from advertising, but it is even more sickening to realize that every person who zips by the anti-abortion billboard on the freeway, flying by at the speed limit of 65 miles per hour, is distracted by a sign put up by a group that claims to be concerned with saving lives.

Do the groups that put up anti-abortion billboards along fast highways and lonely rural roads realize that every person who sees them is more likely to die as a result?  How can they not be?  Their holier-than-thou message is hardly less distracting than an advertisement for fast food or self storage locations, even if you do not find it as enraging as I do.

The hypocrisy of the billboards is undeniable.  What makes the purported life of an as yet unborn fetus worth more than that of an autonomous human being and his or her passengers?  Worth more than a mother driving home from the office or a father and his children on their way to the dentist?  Of course, these billboards are only a small fraction of the many that line America’s roadways, but they are the only ones that do so with the sole rationale of claiming that “all life is valuable,” while really making a bizarre judgment call about who is worth being put at risk and why.

The Racist Billboards Are Coming for You Next

7 Jun

Late this afternoon I received an email with a link to this article about racist anti-abortion billboards. Great, I thought, more of the same bullshit. I opened the link, prepared to be disgusted, and my blood pressure shot through the roof. This is the image that glared back at me:

Racist Billboard

The text reads, “El lugar mas peligroso para un Latino es el vientre de su madre/The most dangerous place for a Latino is in the womb.” This strategy is not new, but one word is: Latino.

Some of you might not know, since I’m a pretty pale lady, but my mother is a Brazillian Jew and my father is an American Jew. I identify as Latina, as white, as Jewish, as American.  It’s not explicitly stated in the billboard, but the tone implies that all Latinas are alike and fit a certain stereotype–we’re low-income, uneducated, and, as a result, committing genocide against our own people. The language takes advantage of the current national racist, ignorant, anti-immigrant discourse that defines a Latino person as an “other.” In reality, the Latino community is as diverse as any other, yet the polarizing language of this billboard reinforces both racist and classist prejudices.

On the surface it may not seem like it, but this billboard is targeting people like me. And if you don’t speak out about this racist propaganda, they will target you next.

According to Yahoo, this disgusting billboard is set to go up in Los Angeles this week and is sponsored by a group called the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. This group promotes the dangerous (and absolutely false) idea that abortion providers like Planned Parenthood specifically target minority communities.

They seemed to have missed the memo. Planned Parenthood serves the Latina community with dignity and respect. If you’re concerned about the rate of abortion among Latinas, invest in comprehensive sex education. Combat poverty. Give our families access to the best education the US has to offer. Give us jobs. Give us labor rights and domestic worker’s rights and all the basic civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Or you could focus on the facts: “No Conspiracy Theories Needed: Higher Abortion Rates Among Women of Color Reflect Higher Rates of Unintended Pregnancy, Improving Access to High-Quality, Affordable Contraceptive Services Among Steps Needed to Reduce Health Disparities.”

But I digress. These billboards are beyond offensive. They take advantage of deeply rooted, dangerous attitudes about race and genocide. They seek to splinter minority communities, igniting a non-existent battle around women who are supposedly the cause of their own community’s extinction.  Sistersong reveals the true motives of those behind these insulting billboards :

They believe in population control and use false compassion for children to disguise a racist and sexist agenda. Our opponents are manipulative, zealous, and immoral. They lie using religion as a cover. They try to use combination of guilt and force to undermine our human rights. They accuse us of practicing genocide on our people when we stand up for ourselves.

And what can you do about this hate masquerading as concern? Below are tips from Sistersong and the Trust Black Women Partnership:

  • Watch: Join your sisters by telling staying in the loop about local anti-abortion billboards, legislation, or rallies. Contact SisterSong and the nearest Trust Black Women partnering organization to speak up for your community. Send your information here.
  • Write: Write a letter to the editor of your local print and online news publication, community radio or online radio station, blog, or use social media to support Black [and Latina] women and our reproductive options. We have strong messaging that supports our human right to reproductive justice. If you need a template or sample, contact SisterSong and Trust Black Women. Send us a copy of your letter.
  • Advocate: Contact us directly or the nearest Trust Black Women partnering organization to find out about organizing efforts near you. If you want to stop reproductive injustices in your local community and you would like us to help promote your efforts, contact us today.
  • Share: Send information about Trust Black Women to your friends through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Give: You can give a financial contribution to Trust Black Women and support our national organizing. Maybe you are too busy to work on a campaign but you agree that Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Donate . Specify you are contributing to Trust Black Women.

Get on it. They shamed black women. Now they’re after Latinas. Don’t be fooled: these ads may be race-specific, but they are deeply offensive to ALL women.

Review of Silent Choices: Black Women and Abortion

20 May

The other day, I watched (and enjoyed) a documentary called Silent Choices. Silent Choices is about abortion and other reproductive justice issues in the black community. The idea itself is wonderful; black women’s experiences are often ignored in the mainstream media and pro-choice movement itself. This documentary uplifts black women’s voices, which is a wonderful change from the typically white-dominated talk about abortion.

This documentary  succeeds in showcasing black women’s abortion related stories. Too often, attempts to discuss the issues of marginalized groups end up as people speaking over these groups, as opposed to people allying with them. This is not one of those documentaries. The makers of Silent Choices let black women speak for themselves; for once, black women’s voices were uplifted, not trampled over.

Every woman in this documentary had a touching story to tell, but one woman’s story in particular really touched me. Angela shared her pre-Roe illegal, back alley abortion story. She was afraid to tell her mother because she had five kids, loved kids, and would probably forbid the abortion, but after thinking about it, Angela says that her mother “may have done the same,” recognizing that all types of women need and use abortion. Angela attempted to abort her pregnancy twice. The first time, the person who attempted the abortion on her simply gave her a shot and then punched her in the stomach. After this failed attempt, she went to someone else. She describes this back-alley clinic as “factory-like” and she says that the provider was mean to her. She says, “it wasn’t like you could call somebody and take your choice of a good clinic. You had to find somebody underground, you had to find somebody who did this stuff.” Angela is not alone in her experience. People of color are disproportionately affected by poverty, and therefore are disproportionately affected by restrictive anti-choice laws. A white woman is far more likely to be able to afford to travel, to take more days off of work, or to pay more in order to obtain a safe abortion. Angela, along with many other women, did not have those options. The more restrictions we put on abortion, the more stories like Angela we have. Reproductive justice is not simply an issue of sexism; it is also an issue of racism and classism.

One aspect of this documentary that disappointed me was how much air time was given to anti-choicers, particularly one male anti-choicer. At some point in the documentary, it went from being a film that uplifted black women’s voices to typical anti-choice babble that went without rebuttal. I’m not going to lie; I kind of nodded off while listening to the anti-choicers talk.

The documentary ended off with a montage of responses to this statement, made by an anti-choicer: “Abortion is a white woman’s issue.” I found it refreshing to see pro-choicers rebuking this ridiculous statement. Overall, I thought this documentary did a great job at uplifting black women’s voices and illustrating how abortion and other reproductive rights issues affect the black community. This film is easily worth the five dollars being asked for it; I recommend it.

How to Be an Accountable Ally

13 Apr

I was at CLPP this past weekend — a yearly conference at Hampshire College called From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Advancing the Movement for Reproductive Freedom. As you can imagine, a lot of shit goes down in this space, most of it good, some of it ugly, all of it challenging and inspiring. One big theme of the conference was how some organizations are not accountable allies. What we didn’t talk about, at least at the panels I attended, was HOW to be an accountable ally. How do you make sure that in fighting for your own rights, you’re not trampling on someone else’s?

Let me put a disclaimer on this: I’m no authority on the subject. I have a shitload of privilege and am unpacking it as we go along. If you see a gaping hole, please speak up! This is not the end all, be all — it’s the start of a conversation.

So. How do you be an accountable ally?

1. Own your history. This came up frequently at CLPP, mostly in reference to Planned Parenthood and their failure to message effectively on Margaret Sanger and her history with eugenics. In order to be an ally, you have to be willing to talk about the uncomfortable shit, especially when it involves racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, etc. Before you think about helping transform another person’s history, confront your own.

2. Examine your privilege. I’ll go on the record as saying that I hate the word privilege. It reeks of jargon and academic superiority, but it’s important nonetheless. A non-exhaustive list of articles to read on privilege:

3. Do some learning. The last thing you want to do is show up in someone else’s space and expect them to educate you about their lives, their struggle, their issues. Do some research on your own. Asking questions is fine, but expecting someone else to break it down for you is not. What do I mean, exactly? Asking a woman of color to explain the rocky history between feminism and racism is not acceptable. Most people are not walking encyclopedias, and it is not her job to educate you. At the very least, do some googling before you approach someone about their history.

4. Admit it when you screw up and apologize. I’m 100% guilty of being defensive instead of making a disagreement or confrontation into a learning opportunity. This is critical — we’re going to fuck up in this work, and we have to be humble enough to admit it when we do. Claiming that you had good intentions is not enough — own your mistakes! I’ll be the first to tell you that this is pretty freaking painful in the moment (not to mention an ego blow), but well worth it in the long run. No one is The Perfect Ally, an admitting it proves that you’re aware of your own faults.

5. This is a process, and it won’t be easy. So forgive yourself when you make mistakes, because you will. Just because you intend to become an ally doesn’t mean that you are one — being an ally is a two way street. It’s an honor and privilege (!) to be trusted by a community that’s not your own.

For more on CLPP, take a look herehere and here. And please add your comments and additions to this list.