Dear White Progressive Women,
By the light of tiki torches, the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., illuminated what was already hidden in plain sight: the sin of racism that has plagued our nation’s soul since its founding.
But for those like me and other people of color, I didn’t need the hoods to come off to know that whiteness reigns supreme in our nation. To know that I am welcome in this country as long as I dare not challenge the model minority myth that pits Asians against other minorities. To know that black and brown bodies threaten the very structures of white power and privilege that serve to colonize others into submission.
So while the violence and hatred in Charlottesville was a shock to many of you, the last Facebook post of Heather Heyer – the young white woman who was terrorized by an Ohio man and subsequently killed during the protest – says it all: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
If you didn’t know that this nation in all its red, white, and blue glory was founded through the blood, sweat, and tears of genocide and slavery, here’s your sign.
If you’re alarmed that racism persists today not only through neo-Nazis but also in the form of police brutality and the ongoing Flint water crisis, here’s your wake up call.
And if you’re still surprised that many white people continue to defend our racist, sexist, transphobic, Muslim-hating, xenophobic president, here’s your chance to do something about it.
So what does this mean for those in the fight for reproductive freedom – a movement that has historically been led by white, cisgender women? In these troubling times, what can you learn from Charlottesville to help develop your moral compass and inform your activism?
It may sound like a paradox, but it’s time for white feminists and progressive supporters to step back and step up for reproductive justice:
- Step back and listen. Take time to listen, learn, and acknowledge the limitations of the pro-choice movement. In the 1990s, a group of black women birthed the term “reproductive justice” to counter the “right to choose” framework, recognizing that poor women, women of color, women subject to violence, and women without access to healthcare really have no “choice” when it comes to their reproductive lives. Broadening the reproductive rights agenda beyond abortion rights, reproductive justice looks at the whole health and well-being of women and their communities. Learn more about reproductive justice, a comprehensive social justice and intersectional movement led by women of color that promotes a person’s right to have children, the right not to have children, and the right to raise children in safe and healthy environments.
- Step back and support leaders of color. Draw the circle wide, share power, and honor the gifts and perspectives of emerging leaders to strengthen our collective movement for reproductive freedom (all without resorting to tokenism or benevolent racism). Check out these groups which center the lives, leadership, and voices of women of color for reproductive justice: New Voices Cleveland, ROOTT, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Native Youth Sexual Health Network, and Sister Song.
- Step up and sit in your discomfort. If all this talk about racism and white supremacy makes you uncomfortable, do not look away or stop listening. Those with darker melanin don’t have that option. Reflect on this powerful visual and take some time to unpack how you have implicitly (or even explicitly) participated in white supremacy and reproductive injustice through word, thought, or deed.
- Step up and speak out. Silence (and ignorance) is violence. Not only is it exhausting for people of color to advocate for themselves, but it’s often burdensome for POC to educate our white counterparts about systemic oppression. If we are to dismantle white supremacy and advance reproductive justice, it must start with white people holding their own accountable and taking risks to create a more just and equal world. Read this article on why white supremacy must be named and addressed by white people.
While this list is just a starting point, I urge you to discern more ways to do the holy and hard work of rooting out white supremacy in your own heart, in your community, in your place of worship (oh yes, even there), and in the wider movement for reproductive health, rights, choice, and justice.
Racial justice is reproductive justice. Criminal justice is reproductive justice. LGBTQ justice is reproductive justice. Economic justice is reproductive justice…and on and on and on.
And it’s time to start paying attention.
Your Asian Sister (aka Elaina Ramsey)