Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

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Dorothy Roberts' passionate and well-documented book looks at a less-talked about side of the battle for reproductive
rights: the history of the social and governmental control of African American women's bodies.

Roberts, a law professor at Rutgers University, asserts that African American women have been engaged from the start in
an ongoing fight to gain control of their reproductive choice. First, in the early days of American slavery, from
control by white "masters" who forced slaves to produce children to work for them, and now, from government "solutions"
to African American child-bearing like the distribution of the long-term contraceptive Norplant in African American

Roberts also takes the mainstream feminist movement to task for working mostly for the "negative right" of liberty,
that is, the right of women to not have the government involved in their reproductive decision-making. To Roberts this
debate, focused mainly on government non-interference, ignores issues especially important to African American women
such as access to contraception or reproduction technologies. "Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice," she
says, stating further that it is social inequality, more than any legal interference, that severely limits African
American women's ability to choose how and whether to have children. "We need a way of rethinking the meaning of liberty
so that it protects all citizens equally," Roberts writes. "I propose that focusing on the connection between
reproductive rights and racial equality is the place to start." --Maria Dolan