Op-EdOpinion

HOWELL: The ‘Black RJ Policy Agenda’ Will Turn Racism Upside Down

As the U.S. Supreme Court reviews abortion cases that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, there is a lot of attention being paid to abortion rights — but not enough emphasis on the full range of reproductive health and rights issues.

Every pregnant Black person faces systemic racism that makes us ” three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.” When our children are born, we face the everyday reality of battling racism and the toll it takes on Black lives. This past year, the deadly impact of racial discrimination couldn’t have been more evident as the pandemic devastated our communities, with Black and Latinx people accounting for nearly 43 percent of COVID-19 deaths. As if that’s not bad enough, Black and Latinx women have paid the economic price for the pandemic, bearing the brunt of the “shecession.”

That’s why more than 30 Black women’s organizations and Reproductive Justice activists created the ” Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda” — innovative, proactive solutions to address the disparities and discrimination faced by Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals. The “Black Reproductive Policy Agenda” is a comprehensive policy approach to the systemic racism that threatens our lives.

Marcela Howell
Marcela Howell

Now, a lot of people hear “Reproductive Justice” and think birth control and abortion. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Reproductive Justice (RJ) is a collective framework grounded in human rights, social justice and Black Feminist theory that centers the intersectional impact of race, class and gender in one’s ability to live free from oppression — so we can create and nurture the family of our own choosing and achieve optimum mental, physical, community and economic health.

Reproductive Justice was birthed by 12 Black women in 1994, as the U.S. contemplated universal health care without acknowledging or rectifying the health care system in place, which was — and continues to be — riddled with deadly racism. Since then, RJ has grown into a full-fledged movement that fights not only for the right to health care — including full access to birth control and abortion — but also equity in housing, education and employment. RJ doesn’t leave anything — or anyone — behind. It is the comprehensive movement we need to disrupt and dismantle the deeply ingrained, systemic racism that plagues this country.

Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals have been marginalized for far too long. We have been fighting for our survival while others stood by and watched — or worse, while they actively participated in our oppression for their own gain. No more!

We are tired of seeing our children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and loved ones senselessly killed by the very people who are sworn to protect us. We are fed up with not being safe in our homes, neighborhoods and churches. We demand more than one moment of reckoning.

The Black RJ movement has a policy agenda that will hold law enforcement, politicians, corporations, voters and all people living in the U.S. to account. It is an expertly informed compendium of 25 issue areas, each with effective policy recommendations. We believe that the Agenda addresses the social, economic, political and health needs of Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive people — so we can live our lives fully and decide for ourselves if, when and how to have and raise our families.

We hope that Congress will embrace the Black RJ Policy Agenda and work with us to pass it so that Black women, femmes, girls, and gender-expansive people can live in full autonomy, with equality and justice for all. But we know that will only happen if every Black and Brown person demands it. For white people — especially white feminists — who want to be good allies, this is their chance; they too should make implementing the Black RJ Policy Agenda a priority.

The Black RJ movement has a plan to dismantle white supremacy. I challenge and encourage you to join us in demanding that elected officials and policymakers embrace and implement the Black RJ Policy Agenda now.

Marcela Howell is president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. To learn more about the Black RJ Policy agenda, go to blackrj.org.

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