By: Renee Bracey Sherman, fellowship alum
At our first CoreAlign Generative Fellows retreat a question was posed to CoreAlign co-founders Sujatha Jesudason and Tracy Weitz: When did you fall in love?
It was the beginning of our conversation about race, intersectional work, and falling in love with our movements. Since then I’ve been asking myself that same question: When did I fall in love with the reproductive justice movement? I’d been racking my brain hard trying to think of a moment when I knew I was in love with this work, and then I realized…
I fell in love when all of me, all of who we are, was accepted. But in order to fall in love, I had to break up with the mainstream.
Marginalized groups have long had a conversation with mainstream feminism about privilege, intersectionality, and racism. Most recently, women of color on Twitter have been highlighting their frustrations with mainstream feminism using the hash tag ‘#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen’. Now, I am definitely not the best representative to explain the background of the hash tag, and I think it’s most eloquently explained in this Huffington Post Live interview with the hash tag’s creator Mikki Kendall. My friend and fellow CoreAlign Generative Fellow Shanelle Matthews also penned a great piece about the story behind the hash tag and challenges that women of color are finding in feminist spaces. Many White feminists took notice and started checking their own privilege, while others disregarded the thread as “infighting” and “women of color biting the hand that feeds them.”
Those on the margins of gender identity have also raised concerns. Lauren Rankin wrote a piece about intersectionality within the reproductive rights movement to ensure the inclusion of trans* and gender nonconforming folks in abortion access, not just cisgender women. And after that piece, there was much push back arguing “we are having a hard enough time getting abortion rights as it is, we don’t have time to fight for them too.”
Even those of us simply telling our stories have felt pushed out by mainstream feminism – a recent experience for me occurred during a seemingly friendly interview with the BBC World Newshour about abortion story sharing. My description of the healing I and others had gotten out of sharing our stories was dismissed as a “trend” that was ultimately bad messaging by my fellow guest. My comrade turned critic thought I was indulging in activism’s shiny new object instead of releasing the silence and stigma that were eating me up inside. The place I had initially turned for acceptance, rejected me.
I asked myself and others with whom I was working alongside: Is our movement not based on ensuring that everyone has the ability to live their most authentic lives with the families and friends they love? Are we not fighting to ensure that everyone is protected from discrimination, has economic security, and bodily autonomy? Are we not fighting for, in the words of Sujatha Jesudason, “the resources, rights, and respect to have all the love, sex, family, and community” we desire? I came to the conclusion that if this is not the feminism that we are fighting for, then I wanted no part of the revolution.
So what does this have to do with falling in love? Sometimes you have to know what you don’t want before you find what you do…
And that’s when it all came together: I am truly, madly, deeply in love with reproductive justice. Through all of my challenges, reproductive justice was there to hear my story, give me space to be angry and scream, to cry and heal, to learn and innovate. It challenged me to use each and every experience to build a foundation for change – and ensure that those injustices aren’t repeated. If a reproductive justice framework were in place each time someone called out another’s privilege or oppression, there would be no need for “fact finding” or “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of the offense. It wouldn’t allow the injustice to be found legitimate by the oppressor. Reproductive justice knows that if someone has the lived experience of oppression, it is real and it deserves recognition.
Reproductive justice is a more complex analysis of the systems of oppression we live under. It demands that I not only fight the injustices that surround me, but acknowledge and reject the privileges that push me ahead at the expense of others. It requires that when I use my privilege, knowingly or unknowingly, and impact another, that I not only acknowledge and apologize for my actions, but that I examine my movements, change my behavior, and continue to analyze my intent and impact. Because, what’s an apology without behavior change? What’s the point of continuing to do social change work if you are unwilling to analyze the parts of you that are part of the problem?
I love reproductive justice simply for the fact that it doesn’t let me fight for only me – we are all in this struggle together. It challenges me to forge new bonds. It forces me to step out of my comfort zone. When I feel uncomfortable with something being said, it asks me to look internally and ask why am I feeling this way – is it because I genuinely disagree with the statement or is it because it called me out? When I challenge and reject my privilege, I grow just as much as I do when I fight my oppressor. Reproductive justice asks me daily to take off my blinders and fight for those whose paths I may never cross, but know that their justice is deeply embedded with mine.
Reproductive justice would have required Jezebel and mainstream White feminism to step up to the plate, acknowledge their wrongs, and do better. Be better. Reproductive justice challenges me because it loves me deeply and knows I can always be a better ally. I can use my own empowerment to work harder and do more for others. The practice of allyship and activism is never done. As Matthews writes,
“Allyship (being an ally), a subjective concept that plays out differently for everyone, culminates with the act of “showing up.” Showing up means very different things in the contexts of various situations but the general idea is that if shit goes down you have my back… The operative word in yesterday’s hash tag was solidarity, which is the meat and potatoes of being an ally. While it isn’t my responsibility, nor the responsibility of women who look like me, to coach white feminists on how to show up for us, I’ll hint that negligently perpetuating the systems that oppress us and then opting to be silent about your complicities is the opposite of solidarity.”
Right now, feminism doesn’t have my back. Reproductive justice always will.