I believe there’s heaven
I believe in war
I believe a woman’s temple
gives her the right to choose
but baby don’t abort.
— Frank Ocean, “We All Try”
This week several frames of scores of black women’s identities simultaneously came into play and focus: Monday, the day observing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, shared racial heavy-handedness and air time with the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The two landing on the same day of the calendar must’ve been for some of us (and you know who you are) tantamount to sneaking into that second movie at the multiplex without paying.
All this blackness and seemingly level playing fields and Black History Month doesn’t even start for another nine days.
Just when it looks like America is joining together to normalize race, gender, class and sexuality (the president landed on every group and so did news cameras during his speech), Oxygen still must be shamed and strong-armed by colorofchange.org to cancel All My Babies’ Mamas.
Clearly, the struggle continues to keep some dumb-ass black men from hanging themselves by the mythic girth of their own penises; further, struggles continue for black women who spend our lives fighting any number of battles on a daily basis.
Female and black?
Check and check.
We can wake up and be poor, under-educated and -employed, invisible during the “conversation” around representation in the rarified air in corporations, education, sports management and ownership. Meantime, we’re constantly being — and allowing ourselves to be — objectified, and some of us are entering our second and sometimes third generation as single-parent heads of households.
Female, black and poor?
Check, check and check.
AIDS still dogs us disparately than other populations and feminists still haven’t figured out how to reconcile the lop-sidedness of the movement from back in the day, when white women were gleefully yanking off and burning bras and motioning over their shoulders for black women to join them.
But sistas couldn’t as easily leave their lives, their men, their classrooms, their work, their babies; some were caring for the children abandoned by the white women marching in the streets.
Others, like Angela Davis, joined revolutions against the prison industrial complex, the metaphoric strangulation of the poor and the rights to choose to form and follow other forms of government. Those black women were beaten, raped, shot and shot at, imprisoned and chased into hiding.
And we’re supposed to sidestep the landmines of victim language in this, the greatest country in the land. Since it is the greatest country, we’ve a responsibility to call bullshit on the worthy.
The day after the twin peaks of King’s birthday and Obama’s inauguration is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
It is, in my experience and race, an anniversary not of the rights and access to clean, safe and affordable abortions for whatever reasons the child-bearer chooses; rather, it is the 40th anniversary of a (black) woman’s right to keep secrets.
I have never had an abortion and it doesn’t make me any better than any woman who has.
I know several black women who’ve aborted; I’ve accompanied two black women to abortions.
Don’t judge me.
What I do not so much judge but rabidly pull apart with my black women friends are the racial and therefore cultural differences between white women and black women and the fight to keep abortions legal and accessible. White women tend to be more confessional and experiential in this fight, choosing to use their own abortions as rallying calls, calling cards and, sometimes unbeknownst to them, declarations of white-skinned privilege that everything they’ve done privately can be publicly exchanged for the greater good.
Loosely but specifically, when a black woman spreads her legs and places her heels in those cold metal stirrups and the abortionist inserts the implement into her womb that will find and then remove that fetus, that woman is killing The Dream.
That black woman is killing not only The Dream, but she is disappointing every black secretary and domestic who hand mimeographed and distributed the leaflets calling for the Montgomery bus boycotts; she is disappointing Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She is tarnishing the sheen of Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz and Myrlie Evers-Williams and reversing the course of black martyrdom for the ages. She is aborting not only a fetus but also all the hopes, aspirations and Black History Month adages of every Negro National Anthem ever written or sung.
In short, that black woman in that sterile room atop that table is disappointing a race and keeping its secret.
And this isn’t necessarily about the left/right/right/wrong of abortion, per se.
This is about the racial burden of black abortions, given the sometimes supernatural and insurmountable racial pressures we place on ourselves particularly in what’s supposed to be a post-racial-if-Barack-can-make-it-so-can-I age we’re living in.
White women just don’t live with or carry this burden.
It is neither implied to her nor socialized within her.
Every woman who becomes unexpectedly pregnant probably runs down the shame-filled checklist in her soul and comes to the boxes of reckoning.
However, the decision to parlay and catapult a deeply personal decision into the guiding forces of the ever-volatile abortion debate doesn’t appear on a black woman’s checklist because she is too preoccupied with being labeled a whore, a welfare queen, promiscuous, lazy, irresponsible and a drain on the system, whatever that is.
In all, black abortion is like black depression, which is like black homosexuality.
It is a secret houseguest, a damning scourge.
Add the guilt and subservience of a black woman’s faith and her secret gets buried deeper, still.
In all these ways all women are similar.
Largely, the final decision to abort or not belongs to all women.
It’s the decision after the decision that belongs to only some.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org