That first cry, that first breath taken independently, is a critical moment for every infant leaving the womb, which gave shelter and nourishment for nine months. That first step without support, followed by more steps by the toddler, is another marker point of increasing independence. That first day of school is one more step towards independence. How that child experiences these and later markers of independence is deeply affected by the color of the child’s skin.
This year’s Independence Day will be different because of Covid-19. It is a good time to contemplate how the color of people’s skin affects their experience of independence. How does racism affect their “unalienable rights…to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” What do our grandchildren face as they take their first breath, their first steps, the first day of school, their 18th birthday? So much depends on the color of their skin.
Turning inward, looking at ourselves as women of a certain age, what independence have we known over our lives? How has our independence been impacted by our access or lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion? We may have the “unalienable rights” declared in the Declaration of Independence, but how has the color of our skin or the place where we live affect our ability to exercise those rights?
All women have the right to bodily autonomy, to have a child or not to have a child, and to raise that child in a safe and sustainable community. But systemic racism has restricted reproductive justice for Black and brown women. Their reproductive freedom is limited, not only by the denial of access to safe abortions but also by the lack of resources necessary to ensure a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum care.
When there is reproductive justice for all, regardless of skin color, then we will be able to fully celebrate Independence Day. We will celebrate a child’s first breath of independence without racism as a shadow over that child’s future. We will celebrate the mother’s freedom to raise her child in a safe and healthy environment.