Wednesday, September 17, 2008

White Privilege and Reproductive Justice

Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racism thinker, published an article on white privilege in the election. One line I thought was particularly good was this:
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
This has been something on my mind for a while ever since the Bristol Palin pregnancy story broke. I just finished a review of Jeanne Flavin's Our Bodies, Our Crimes (NYU Press) for Bitch, and a good deal of Flavin's argument is about how race and class determine how supportive of society is of your reproductive decisions. Setting aside the icky eugenics-style past of attempting mass sterilization of women of color, today the stereotypes of "welfare queens" have a lot to do with irresponsible reproduction.

One could well think of this recent story about the Bush administration requiring immigrants to take the HPV vaccine. The traditional conservative mantra on this issue tends to freak out at the idea of putting this vaccine into their daughters -- but these same people are entirely in favor of vaccinating a group of people that tends to be overwhelmingly Hispanic. The underlying assumption here is that our perfect, white daughters are beautiful and pure and don't need to be vaccinated against icky nasty HPV. The implication about immigrants is too nasty to even type. What comes out of this is a paternalistic desire do control women's sexual health. For some it's okay, and for others they are a "burden."

In the end, what it means for me to be pro-choice is to support the reproduction and sexual health of all women, regardless of race or class. Rather than trying to control the reproduction of one set of women and then get very defensive about the "choices" of another, we need to make sure all women have the tools they need to make educated and safe choices about their reproductive health.

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