Expanding our vision and our alliances, a review of
Reproductive Justice: An Introduction
Reviewed by Sheila Spear
Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger: Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, University of California Press, Oakland, California 2017
For those who have been in the struggle for reproductive rights for as long as we can remember, it is hard to acknowledge that we excluded African American/Black and Brown women from our campaigns. However hard, it is time to hear from and listen to the voices of those we have neglected, if unwittingly. A good place to begin is with the voices of Loretta J. Ross, a co-founder of SisterSong, and Rickie Solinger, historian, the co-authors of Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. There are many new perspectives, insights, and lessons to be learned.
In Ross and Solinger’s treatment of earlier generations of women, they pay tribute and expose limitations in a way that avoids castigating any one group over another. The authors are critical of what they call “purity politics,” and they warn that we should not expect to feel comfortable within our activism.
I have puzzled over the word “intersectionality,” but the birth of the idea lies in an easily understood metaphor used by Kembalé Williams Crenshaw. She chose a traffic metaphor— the intersection of two streets— to indicate that one can be oppressed in more than one category. Black women, Crenshaw wrote, live at the intersection of Race Street and Gender Street, vulnerable to injury from cars traveling on either axis. Intersectionality is the essence of Sojourner Truth’s cry “Ain’t I a Woman?”, her assertion that she was both Black and a woman, but would be forever recognized only as one and therefore not the other. Today a young, black trans immigrant, for example, lives at the intersection of many such streets as they navigate their way through a society that does not recognize many of their combined realities.
Intersectionality also applies to the relatedness of many sources of injustice. In addition to reproductive and other health issues, these include environmental justice, police brutality, and immigrants’ rights, among others. Reproductive Justice involves drawing attention to the whole social context in which individuals live and make their decisions, including the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. As long as our focus is on “choice,” and “choice” refers to an individual preference unimpeded by actual constraints, all cannot enjoy it. Thus, as long as all cannot enjoy a ‘right,’ it is not effectively a ‘human right.’
There is much more of importance in this book, and this is not a book to race through. I was frequently challenged to absorb paragraphs that turned my implicit understandings upside down. But to continue to work for reproductive justice, I have to do this rethinking.
The final section describes five organizations of people of color who are taking on the full spectrum of issues that shape women’s reproductive choices. These can be our models, and hopefully, we can be allies in the struggle.