Until Black Bodies are Free, None of Us Are Free

by | May 25, 2022 | Commentary

This speech was given at an abortion rally in Seneca Falls, New York, on May 21, 2022, sponsored by the Geneva Women’s Assembly, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Poor People’s Campaign. It is part of the national “Summer of Rage” protests. Read a previous abortion rally speech given by Zilllah Eisenstein here.

 

Before I start: This is an incredible moment — both dire and promissory. The right-wing zealots have taken power in the Republican party and the Court and have exposed themselves by doing so. Instead of mystifying their power, they have unveiled it for all to see. This is not smart: the powerful are not supposed to reveal themselves to the rest of us. So we must use their arrogance against them. This should allow us to solidify our coalitions among ourselves.

A few words. My parents were anti-racist communists and my three sisters and myself grew up on civil rights picket lines. We were taught to not open the door when the FBI was knocking. I was in college from 1964–68, so abortion was illegal. I helped find abortions for several of my roommates and friends. For myself, I decided to put off fucking, so to speak, if this is what it could mean.

I wrote “The Female Body and the Law” in 1988. In this book I showed how female bodies were not imagined or conceived in law, so of course there is no mention of abortion in the constitution. I wrote “The Color of Gender” in 1994. Here I end the book: imagine a Black female body that is pregnant and meet all her needs and that would be a good start towards democracy.

Here we are in Seneca Falls — connecting with demonstrations throughout the country, so I want to send a message to the rest of us to and from Seneca Falls — with its history of abolitionism and the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman.

Until Black bodies are free, none of us are free, and we need to remember this when we recognize the most recent carnage in Buffalo, New York.

Black bodies are linked with all women’s bodies — and all women’s bodies are linked with Black bodies of all kinds.

The struggle for freedom is deeply intertwined and connected, and yet distinct. The murderous actions by the white-supremacist right-wing zealots who kill people at abortion clinics and random Black neighborhoods derive from shared racist and misogynist commitments.

The interlocking systems of misogynist Black and Asian racism are rooted in ableism, nationalism, patriarchy, homophobia, antisemitism, and heterosexism. These are distinct but not separate systems of power. Therefore, we must fight them specifically and collectively.

White rage infiltrates and destroys Black people’s everyday life. People are not even safe food shopping; any semblance of control over one’s life is destroyed. Humanity is thrown to the wind. This erasure of selves is at the heart of white supremacy and its intimate connection to misogyny.

By the way, do you know that the electoral college is a leftover of chattel slavery? Southern states wanted to hold onto their power. The filibuster is a racist leftover too.

Why do people own guns? U.S. gun production has tripled since 2000. There are now 400 million guns in this country. Owning a gun should not be a 2nd amendment right. How do you get to own a gun but not have the right to decide what your own body will do, or not do? When your government does not protect you or allow you to thrive, it is your duty to be ungovernable.

When a Court disallows you a right to control your body, you have a duty to disobey. When violence is used to destroy you like in Buffalo or Tulsa you fight back. Meanwhile, remember the murder of the abortion doctor Barnett Slepian and his assistants was also in Buffalo. It is not good enough that President Biden says that white supremacy is a poison — poison kills, so get rid of it.

It is time for abolition — to abolish white supremacy and to end murderous plunder and killing. And it means an end to the control of all women’s bodies — whatever form or identity it may have. And it is time for reparations. Repair the wounds of our Black sisters, and we will become free with them.

Women of all colors have no standing with the radical anti-abortionists. Anti abortionists are keenly pre-occupied with white babies; they must not be aborted if the nation is to remain predominantly white. Anything that decreases the white birth rate is forbidden. It is why white supremacists hate feminism and abortion and people of color. White feminists are their enemy; Black women are simply invisible. If you are made invisible you have no standing.

The radical white supremacist zealots yell “You will not replace us!” So they will kill those they fear with the police, with guns, and with control of white women’s bodies. White women must band with women of all other colors to say that no one controls our bodies but us — by either forcing laws on our bodies or sterilizing them.

The struggles for racial and sexual equality are under attack in new virulent forms given the radicalization and mainstreaming of much of the white-supremacist right-wing zealots. And they are embedded in each other — I must fight to find my freedom as I come to fight for people of every color and gender, trans and non-binary and disabled and undocumented alike. This is a borderless struggle in a bordered world.

We need to honor grief and rage and therefore the need for rebellion and revolution. As we go forward do not assume the answers will come easily, or that you will know what a revolution looks like. We must make that happen.

We need power, and power is never given. If you are ever given anything know it is not power. Power is taken.

THESE ARE OUR BODIES. They are Black and Brown and Asian. NO ONE ELSE CAN CONTROL THEM. No one is allowed to injure or kill them.

If you cannot hear us, if you cannot see us, WE WILL TAKE THE POWER YOU HAVE FROM YOU.

WE WILL NOT GO BACK. We will not stand still. We will only go forward even if we are not sure exactly what comes next.

WE WILL NEVER GO BACK.

When you leave here today you have work to do — learn more, think more, know more and ACT on it — individually and collectively. We are a movement that is evolving and growing. We will not stop.

 

Zillah Eisenstein is a noted international feminist writer and activist and Professor Emerita, Political Theory, Ithaca College.  She is the author of many books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Hatreds” (Routledge., 1996), “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998),  “Against Empire” (Zed Press, 2004), and most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).

 

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