Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was first introduced to this book via excerpts that were assigned in college courses on race and reproductive health. The excerpts alone were very fascinating, but I do believe that this is a book that should be consumed in its entirety. Dorothy Roberts' argument, that Black women have long been denied reproductive autonomy (and worse, that this structural denial of reproductive justice threatens the liberty of all women and all Black people), is thoroughly researched and documented. I challenge anyone to come up with an equally researched counterargument. Dorothy Roberts scarcely makes a claim that isn't backed up with ample proof, making it quite difficult to refute her argument.
That all being said, this is not an easy read, particularly if you are a woman, but especially if you are a Black woman. This book is a thorough accounting of the ways that the U.S. (government officials, medical institutions and private citizens alike) have sought to control the reproductive lives, and subsequently the bodies of Black women. From rape and forced breeding during slavery to eugenics, forced sterilization and the coerced use of birth control to the denial of assistance for fertility issues, the details are stomach-churning, frightening, and angering. Roberts proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the preservation and perpetuation of white genetic lineage has taken precedence over ensuring the liberty of Black women.
This is a hefty read. With the academic language and heavy subject matter, this isn't a book that you'd want to read in one sitting. I took the book chapter by chapter, and each took time to reflect upon and digest. However, this is a book that is worth the effort. Though it was written in 1997, it has particular relevance in today's atmosphere of Black Lives Matter & the renewed struggle for reproductive justice.
The best part about this book, in my opinion, is that unlike many similar Sociological works, Roberts doesn't simply lay out the problem, she also provides a solution. She provides a good argument for centering race not only in feminist movements, but also in constitutional interpretations of liberty. I love a thorough read, and Dorothy Roberts more than delivered on that front. I doubt that anyone could read this book and not be convinced by Roberts' argument.
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Niv Mullings is a writer, poet, and plant-based health coach hailing from The Boogie Down Bronx.