Why pro-choice activists must fight with #BlackLivesMatter

CW: racism, murder, police violence

On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year old black man, was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white, Minneapolis police officer. Floyd was not the first person of colour to be killed by state police on the basis of race, and sadly he will not be the last. But with the the moments of his death captured on video, his final moments spread around the world, inciting global pain, anger and outrage, and prompting wide-scale protests across the US. On Twitter, #BlackLivesMatter has been trending most of the week.

As pro-choice individuals committed to liberation, the Black Lives Matter movement is crucially important – many of us will already be ardent supporters and committed activists to the cause. However, all too often, the discourse can find itself centred around white bodies and channelled through a white feminist lens, thereby erasing black and indigenous people of colour. This silence has deadly ramifications, and pro-choice activism must do more to ensure that the movement is actively fighting against racism, violence, and systems of oppression.

The intersection of pro-choice activism and anti-racism is articulated in the idea of “reproductive justice”, a term created by the Combahee River Collective in 1994. SisterSong defines this idea of reproductive justice as a human right to maintain personal, bodily autonomy. It is the right to have children if and when one chooses to; the right to not have children, by means of birth control, abstinence or abortion; and most importantly, it is the right to parent one’s children and live in safe and sustainable communities, free from institutionalised violence.

However, for black and indigenous people of colour, this “institutionalised violence” continues to manifest itself in a multitude of ways. In the US, black people are more likely to be arrested for both possession and distribution of drugs, although white people use and distribute at the same rate. Half of all black people in the US say they have been unfairly stopped by the police force – the same police force that have shot and killed about twice as many black people as white people since 2015.

In the UK, over 75,000 race-related hate crimes were recorded in 2018-19. Black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system at every level, from arrests to stop and search, to imprisonment, to deaths in custody. Indeed, police violence is not exclusive to the US; statistics demonstrate the fact that force is used disproportionately against people of colour, and there have been over 1500 deaths of black people in British police custody.

As pro-choice activists, bodily autonomy is something sacred. But white supremacy continues to undermine the bodily autonomy of black and indigenous people of colour, time after time after time. George Floyd did not choose death, and nor did the countless other individuals whose lives were cut short by racist, violent practice. We must remember that just as the right to bodily autonomy does not end with pregnancy, it must not be dependent on race either. We must fight to ensure that the right to bodily autonomy and integrity is enjoyed by all.

Fighting for abortion rights is vital work for all people and races, but pro-choice movements must go further. As Loretta J. Ross makes clear, “for black and indigenous people of colour, abortion advocacy alone fails to address the intersectional oppressions of white supremacy, misogyny, and neoliberalism.” If we are to build a truly intersectional pro-choice movement, it is vital that we use the framework of reproductive justice to direct our politics, and stand unified in opposition to institutionalised, racist practises. And for white individuals, this means that we must do the work to fight the violent systems of white supremacy that threaten the lives and rights of black and indigenous people of colour.

Our activism must uplift and fight for all people. None of us are free until we are all free.

What can I do to help?

Take time to educate yourself fully. It is your responsibility, and NOT that of your black or indigenous friends.

  • A long list of resources, including books, websites, podcasts, TV shows, and articles are available on both this document and this one.
  • More lists of books are available here, here, and here.
  • For books specific to the UK, you might want to start with BRIT(ish) by Afua Hirsch, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, How To Argue With A Racist by Adam Rutherford, and Natives by Akala (taken from this tweet by @ObiomaUgoala on Twitter).
  • Fiction books and poetry can, and indeed should, also be part of this learning journey. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Angie Thomas, Candice Carty-Williams, Helen Oyeyemi and Bernardine Evaristo are excellent starting points.
  • Read news written by bipoc, gal-dem is an excellent place to start.
  • Take online courses when you can – this Open Yale course on African American History: From Emancipation to the Present is currently free.
  • Follow bipoc journalists, organisations and activists on Twitter, for this is an easy way to listen and learn from them.
  • Follow activist Instagram accounts and engage appropriately in those communities. Accounts such as @rachel.cargyle, @iamrachelricketts, @laylafsaad, @ckyourprivilege and @austinchanning are just some examples.
  • More resources are available here, including useful Twitter threads, compiled by @dehyedration on Twitter.
  • Ensure that this learning does not stop when this topic is no longer trending.

Sign petitions and write to your officials. This is easy, quick, and has proven to be effective.

  • A list of petitions is available on this document and this document (created by @botanicaldyke on Twitter) relating to George Floyd.
  • There are a list of petitions here, compiled by @dehyedration on Twitter.
  • If you do not live in the US, you can sign petitions using these Zip Codes: 90015 – Los Angeles, California, 10001 – New York City, New York, 75001 – Dallas, Texas.

Donate if and when you are financially able. When you are not able, platform these causes to the best of your ability.

Protect black and indigenous people of colour

  • Consistently and loudly call out racial injustice when you see it and it is safe to do so, even if it is uncomfortable.
  • Listen to bipoc and amplify their voices! Do not speak over them, do not speak on behalf of them, and do not perform your activism to them. Consider how you can help, as opposed to what you can say. (@Dr_Ronx on Twitter).
  • Do not share violent images and videos – this can be immensely triggering for bipoc and is focused around the white gaze. Centre bipoc’s emotional wellbeing in your activism, and ask permission before you bring up news of this violence to your bipoc friends. (@Dr_Ronx on Twitter). This article from gal-dem is extremely informative also in regard to how these videos should be treated.
  • If your safety is not directly at risk, consider fully whether you need to call the police. This tweet has a helpful guide. (@yngtini on Twitter).
  • Reach out to white family and friends and help educate them. If they believe that this is not their problem, show them that it is.
  • Make sure you are not only supporting black and indigenous people in their death. Buy from their businesses, read their books, purchase their art, listen to their music, celebrate their lives.

Are there resources or advice you think we should add? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you – get in contact with us here.