by Asam Ahmad
It’s January 2nd, 2018. I’m speaking with Loretta Ross on reproductive justice and what that means in 2018. So Loretta, I guess I’ll start simply by asking you just that: Where are things at with reproductive justice in 2018, and where do we need to go from here?
LR: I think we are in a very good place, because we are more determined, we are more
visionary, we are more focused. So that’s always good. Now what we’re up against is a neo- fascist president in Donald Trump. We are facing incredible rates of maternal and infant mortality in communities of colour. Some of us are still in mourning because people are dying at very young ages. Erica Garner just died, very young, 27 years old, with a young child. So we’re up against repression but at the same time we are fierce and focused and determined. We are also kind of surprised, because the reproductive justice movement has not only built a movement of women of colour in the United States, but that it has travelled globally so that people are using the human rights framework for laying claim to bodily autonomy, freedom to determine their sexuality, if and when they’ll have children, how they’ll have those children, and claiming the rights to raise those children in safe and healthy environments. And so I keep getting astonished by the power and the reach of the RJ framework.
Definitely. Here in Canada as well it has been taken up a lot, especially by Indigenous women, and there has been a lot of organizing happening around reproductive justice and land sovereignty. You brought up Erica Garner. Can you speak more to how you consider her death an issue of reproductive justice?
LR: Well, first of all the fact that her father was brutally murdered by New York City police and did not receive justice, meant that she dedicated her life to making sure that somebody atoned for her father’s murder. That had to have had an impact on her as she dealt with her pregnancy and her other health conditions. And then there is the real question of whether or not she was able to really take care of herself post-partum. Was she able to get the adequate post-partum care that she deserved? 27 years old is too young to die. I guess any age is too young but as a new mother it is especially painful. And so I don’t have any facts but I have my suspicions about whether she was able to take care of herself and receive the care that she deserved. But I don’t have any suspicions about… I know for a fact, that the stress of losing her father to police
brutality had to have had an impact on her life and her pregnancy.
You spoke recently with The Nation magazine, and you stated that “when we created reproductive justice in 1994, it was for this political moment.” And you just spoke a little bit about the neo-fascist onslaught we’re facing right now. Can you expand on that a little bit?
LR: Well, RJ was created because Black women felt that any analysis of reproductive politics that didn’t include an analysis of white supremacy was inadequate and impoverished. So, given that we’re at this moment where white supremacy is a lot more visible to a lot more people than it has been in recent history, I think that’s part of the attractiveness of the RJ framework, because it looks unflinchingly at white supremacy and. We look at neoliberalism, at misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, we can make the list. But every marginalized social location doesn’t have an adequate analysis of white supremacy, and that I think is one of the strengths of this framework because we look explicitly at whose bodies are privileged and whose bodies are disadvantaged and why.
Right. Thank you. One of the things we’ve spoken about in the past is the difficulty of building solidarity across difference. Here in Canada there is beginning to be more of a focus on violence against Black people and also the violence that Indigenous women face on this continent. Often times, however, people consider those to be two separate issues. I guess I’m wondering how you feel about building solidarity across that kind of difference where both issues are so urgent and so pertinent but people can’t always see the interconnectedness.
LR: Well to answer, I’d probably have to start by looking at identity politics. Identity politics was a framework created in 1977 by the Combahee River Collective that was supposed to be used to determine what identities each person possesses. And how those identities are threatened by structures of oppression. Unfortunately, identity politics has become misused so that people think it’s just a statement of their identity and that they don’t have to pay attention to the structures of oppression that not only affect their identities but other identities. That is not the role of identity politics. You’re supposed to find out who you are and – now that you know – figure out what you’re going to do about it in terms of ending the entire matrix of oppressions. And so, I think it’s taken a bad turn into people finding and seizing on their identities as if their identities are the only ones that matter. One of the things I’m working on in collaboration with
you and others, like Alicia Garza, and others is trying to create a calling-in culture so that we understand that we cannot build a united human rights movement if we are busily micro- dividing ourselves in the face of fascism. The fascists don’t care about our micro-divisions except for how they benefit their intent to oppress and in many ways wipe us out.
I think that it’s really important for us to really be self-critical of where we’ve let identity politics create movement silos. And why these silos will not serve us to create a united movement against fascism.
Do you feel that identity politics is still a useful framework for moving forward?
LR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You need to know who you are otherwise you bring your
confusion to the movement. So yes you need to know who you are and you’re own social locations and the oppressions that affect you. But that is just the beginning step, that is not the end of the process and the problem is people see the process as the destination. The destination is full human rights for everyone, but in the process you have to find out who you are and have an assessment of what you bring to a multi-vocal and multi-identity struggle.
You also have a book that was recently published. Do you want to big that up?
LR: Haha yes. In November 2017 I published a book with Feminist Press called Radical
Reproductive Justice and it’s about how we can use the RJ framework in radically new ways to critique white supremacy and neoliberalism. It is an anthology with more than 20 authors and co-editors, and we talk about RJ through a lot of lenses, through the lens of trans issues, through the lens of indigenous issues, as well as African-American, AAPI, Latinx, on and on, so we show the elasticity of the RJ framework. It is available from Feminist Press in November 2017.
Thank you so much for making the time to speak with me, Loretta.
LR: Thank you.
Asam Ahmad is a poor, working-class writer, poet, and community organizer. His writing tackles issues of power, race, queerness, masculinity, and trauma. His writing and poetry have appeared in CounterPunch, Black Girl Dangerous, Briarpatch, Youngist, and Colorlines. His poem “Remembering How to Grieve” can be found in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.
Loretta J. Ross is a co-founder and the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, a network founded in 1997 of women of colour and allied organizations that organize women of