I looked down and saw a small brown hand rubbing the back of my hand. His thumb kept rubbing. Then he said, “You have dirt on the back of your hand. I can’t get it off.”
He was trying to remove my freckles, a part of my identity. My family of five redheaded siblings took pride in our complexion and hair color. I was a bit shocked that someone would think my skin was dirty. I hadn’t thought it mattered that I was the only White person in the room with a dozen or so African-American/Black kindergartners. [Personal disclosure: I am a White, middle class 85-year old grandmother].
Being White, it was easy for me to brush off that accusation of dirtiness. In all honesty, I forgot the conversation with this student until much later. I was unaware my ease came from being a White woman in a society where my skin color made me privileged. I did not see what people of color must deal with every day. In the North where I grew up in the early 1950s, we thought racism only existed in the Jim Crow South.
Ten years later, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique sparked the second wave of American feminism. The use of contraceptives by unmarried women and men became legal, as did abortion in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. But few White middle class women realized that African-American/Black women had been fighting for bodily autonomy since the days of slavery.
Sexual violence against African-American/Black women is often ignored, especially when the perpetrator is a white male. Because of her work with survivors of sexual violence, in 2007 Tarana Burke quietly placed “Me Too” on Twitter. There it lay for several years, until Alyssa Milano, a White actress used the words after the exposure of Harvey Weinstein. She didn’t realize an African-American/Black woman had used the phrase years before.
The marginalized voices of African-American/Black women have been on the lead in portraying the wider picture. Women of color have always recognized the intersectionality of racism, sexism, and classism in their lives.
They have helped others, especially White middle class women, understand this intersectionality. SisterSong, a Southern-based national membership organization, has been on the cutting edge of this work. They campaign for reproductive justice- “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” free from violence and pollution.
Today, the battle for reproductive justice is fierce. State and federal laws and regulations are choking access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion. Women, particularly women of color, are even being criminalized for having miscarriages. Let us join hands regardless of our race, class, and gender to fight for reproductive justice. We will fight together for every girl and boy, every woman and man across the country, across the globe!
NOW IS THE TIME! Will you join us?