Recognizing the importance of the African-American vote in recent presidential and congressional elections, conservatives have reverted to an old tactic in an attempt to court our support. It goes like this, take the a limited version of facts, ignore the ones that inconveniently reveal the bigger picture or messy underlying issues; and use jacked up rhetoric to “shock and awe” people’s fears and anger.
That is really the best way to describe the motivation behind legislation being proposed by a white male state senator in Georgia and an offensive ad campaign (also designed by a man) claiming that organizations like Planned Parenthood are engaging in some kind of “black genocide” and target their services to black women. The ad campaign on billboards across Georgia says, “Black children and an endangered species”, and the bill would essentially require doctors to ask their patients why they were seeking an abortion, under the guise of ensuring non- discrimination.
This campaign is a new low even for conservatives who time and again have made it clear they are willing to ignore the truth in service to their ideology. It is cynical and sinister that not only are conservatives attempting to scapegoat black women as part of a larger strategy to erode the rights of all American women, they have so twisted and distorted the facts, the African-American community is actually being seduced into participating in eroding rights we have fought so hard for; thereby denying black women one of our most basic civil rights guaranteed by law as Americans: the right to make decisions about her health care. Why should black women have to explain themselves when exercising their rights?
It’s true that black children are endangered. They are in grave danger due to a lack of access to appropriate health care, nutrition, education and opportunity. I’m all for ending the cycle of poverty and violence that claims the lives of far too many of our children, but that is not what this campaign is about. While it is true that proportionately, African-American women have abortions at a higher rate than their peers, the reasons behind those numbers matter a great deal.
According to research by Guttmacher, women of color who also disproportionately are paid less and therefore more likely to be low-income, are less likely to have health insurance or access to affordable preventive medical care and are less able to afford prescription birth control. As you would expect, African-American women therefore have higher rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. We also have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and still earn less than white women and Americans on the whole. Despite significant improvements over the last 40 years, the truth remains that African-Americans also have higher rates of incarceration, truancy and illiteracy.
WATCH: RACE TAKES CENTER IN THE ABORTION DEBATE
[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”35821864″ id=”msnbc2fd6a6″]
If we are serious about what is happening in the black community, let’s commit ourselves to an agenda that supports every child’s ability to live a healthy life and realize their God-given potential. Instead of voting against them (as Republicans in congress have done time and again), let’s support programs aimed at directly attacking these issues like: maternal child health programs which provide prenatal care and early parenting programs, Job Corps education and training programs for kids who have dropped out of high school, Headstart and Early Pre-K which help ensure a child’s early learning success, Summer Jobs programs and, health care reform which would go a long way to ensuring access to quality, affordable health care services.
I spent my first year out of college working at a residential minimum-security facility for pregnant teenage girls in Los Angeles. At the time the facility was the only place in Los Angeles County where pregnant teens could be in placement with their babies and young children. My students were mostly from South Central LA, Compton, and Watts. They were mostly African American and Hispanic. Most had been abused sexually and physically and had some involvement in gangs. Many of them could not read and one of the few times they’d ever seen a doctor was when their baby was delivered. These were smart young women who did not even believe they had a right to any kind of future outside of their gangs. Despite a coordinated program of education, parenting skills training, therapy and counseling services, in most cases the cycle of poverty and violence was starting to repeat itself right before my eyes.
Message campaigns designed to scapegoat and demonize women of color, rather than help to educate, only serve to further erode our overall understanding and ability to attack the multiple factors that impact our community. These young women not only deserved their right to reproductive choice, they also deserved a chance to change their lives for the better. A fact that can too easily get lost in conservative shock and awe tactics like we are seeing from anti-choice groups in Georgia.