Ever since the Supreme Court draft opinion turning Roe against Wade what leakedBarbara Smith felt like she was living in a time warp.
After all the struggles and victories to ensure federal protection for women, black Americans and gays, lesbians and transgender people, she says, the nation appears to be returning to the repressive days of “Father Knows Best”, when the gender Equality seemed like a fantasy, LGBTQ people were subjected to routine police harassment, and the concept of “separate but equal” was still widely embraced.
As a black man in America, I have always struggled to embrace a country that promotes the ideals of justice and equality but never fully admits its dark history of bigotry, inequality and injustice.
Now, more than ever in recent history, the nation seems divided over this enduring contradiction as we address the gap between aspiration and reality. Join me as I explore the things that bind us, make sense of the things that destroy us, and look for signs of healing. This is part of an ongoing series we call “My Country”.
– Tyrone Beason
An author and editor who has earned recognition for her working life as a black feminist, LGBTQ activist and advocate for safe and legal abortions, Smith personally takes this new blow to women’s rights.
“Once Roe falls, the season will be open on all those other rights that are not written in the Constitution – it’s the domino theory, ”says Smith, 75, speaking on the phone from his home in upstate New York.
“They are trying to cancel the work of an entire generation,” he says. “My generation.”
I contacted Smith, among other LGBTQ experts, because I wanted to know what it was like for those involved in overlapping civil rights struggles to witness the court’s decision on abortion – and because I suspect, how they do it Justice The draft opinion by Samuel A. Alito Jr. taking down Roe against Wade is part of a larger effort to reverse 60 years of multi-pronged social progress.
Smith and millions of Americans, myself included, are left wondering: Will any aspect of our life make us the targets of the next big court challenge?
Although Smith felt exhausted from recent knee surgery, she spoke in a thunderous voice during a long telephone conversation about the implications of the judges’ planned ruling to overturn the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Court action appears to be a threat to everything Smith stands for as a person, especially when leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) support those fears expressing concerns that same-sex marriage and other civil liberties may also fall.
“I wouldn’t put anything beyond them,” Smith says of the conservative majority of the court and its supporters in Congress and in state chambers across the country. “Gay marriages will come after that … I wouldn’t be surprised if they seek civil rights for people of color too.”
A black American who grew up in Cleveland, Smith is old enough to remember the humiliation of racism before the Supreme Court overturned segregation in 1954. And she was just finishing high school and on her way to college when President Johnson signed civil rights. and voting rights laws a decade later.
As a lesbian, Smith knows firsthand the pain that comes from being seen by some of her fellow citizens as a pariah because of those she loves.
Her voice trembled briefly as she recalled having to comfort a struggling graduate school classmate in the late 1960s who had terminated two pregnancies at a time when there was a profound stigma attached to seeking an abortion.
Smith was part of a Collective of black lesbian activists and thinkers in the 1970s which introduced the concept of “identity politics” to describe the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation in discussions of the injustices they faced in a society designed to benefit white and heterosexual men.
She founded Kitchen table press at the urging of her friend and fellow writer Audre Lorde, to show the experiences, history and wisdom of black and brown women, in part because their stories and struggles were often lacking, even within the broader racial justice movements , feminists and queer rights.
“When the vice president [Kamala] Harris says women have done this kind of work for a long time, I’m like, ‘Tell me!’ “Smith says.
Forty years after Smith edited seminal collections such as “Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology,” some Americans dismiss terms like “feminism” and “identity politics” as mere far-left obsessions. But Smith’s raw insights they resonate with me as I try to understand why the abortion sentence seems so disturbing.
“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” says Jennifer Gregg, executive director of the foundation she supports A national archive of gays and lesbians at the USC libraries in Los Angeles, one of the largest archives in the world of documents, photos and other material relating to the LGBTQ community.
Gregg, 49, who is white and a lesbian, believes, like Smith and I, that conservatives want to undermine civil liberties in general, not just on the issue of reproductive health.
He keeps a copy of a photo from the archives on his home wall showing protesters in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles demonstrating against police raids on gay and lesbian establishments in 1967, two years before the Stonewall riot in New York. City launched the modern national gay rights movement.
One of the demonstrators holds a sign in his hand that reads: “No more abuses of our rights and our dignity”.
Smith finds it difficult to accept that judges can so boldly endanger the individual rights and fundamental dignity of Americans from different walks of life with a single majority opinion.
Women of color had a particularly difficult time securing reproductive services and health care in general due to inequality in the medical system when Smith was coming of age. Those difficulties still exist.
Black and Hispanic women account for a disproportionate share of those terminating pregnancy in the U.S. Many of these women live in states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, where Republican lawmakers over the years have imposed onerous restrictions on abortion services, essentially making them impossible for many women to find without traveling great distances.
And black women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term face higher maternal and infant mortality rates than white women due to racial and economic disparities in health care and in society as a whole, a problem that never has. been fully addressed.
Smith was addressing these inequities in his writings, classrooms, and on the streets when Harris, the first female and black woman to become vice president, was still in elementary school in the Bay Area.
Smith’s tone mellowes with nostalgia as she remembers joining a coalition of women from diverse backgrounds to distribute health literature containing information about abortion services to residents of Boston’s predominantly black neighborhood of Roxbury.
“It took so much courage – this was the mid-1970s,” says Smith. “Here we are, these young black women – there were Latinas, a young Asian American woman – on both levels of the station handing out brochures.”
Looking back on her career, Smith seems both proud of everything she has done to bring about a more inclusive and understanding society, and unnerved by the efforts that erode that spirit of compassion.
The pushback against the acceptance of LGBTQ Americans, which arouses particular fear in Smith, has been ongoing for years but feels more serious with the impending court ruling, says attorney Sharon McGowan, chief strategist and chief legal officer of Lambda Legal. , one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organizations.
“When people talk about LGBTQ rights being ‘next’, well, ‘next’ is now,” says McGowan, 48. “Justice Alito has said all the things her draft opinion on Roe v. Wade is saying from the mountaintops every chance she has. Her point of view is that, unless you are someone who has always exercised your full rights and freedoms under the law, you’re out of luck. This is the start of a wake-up call for many who didn’t believe the threat was real. “
Although Smith is shaken by the court’s ruling, she is not necessarily surprised that Americans are so divided. After all, while 81% of Democrats support Washington lawmakers passing legislation to make abortion a national right, only 65% of independents and 30% of Republicans think alike, according to one. new CNN survey conducted by research firm SSRS. Voters remain so entrenched that so far the court ruling does not appear to have changed the dynamics of a mid-term electoral battle in which Republicans are expected to make big gains in Congress.
At the same time, Republican leaders such as the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott attempted to score points with his supporters by supporting fanatical educational measures that fuel resentment towards LGBTQ people, immigrants Other black Americans.
Nobody should be under the illusion that the struggle for equality, mutual respect and the right to privacy ended in the 1960s and 1970s, says Smith, who now spends his time editing manuscripts and serving as a senior advisor to the Women’s March coalition. which rose in response to the election of President Trump in 2016.
As I listen to Smith talk about the nation’s triumphs and setbacks through her personal focus, it is clear that she and her cohorts in the 1970s were right: Recognizing the role identity plays in our politics is key to understand the nations’ fault lines.
What kind of person does a good American make? Who is worthy to enjoy the rights and freedoms of the nation? And who should have the power to decide?
After 246 years, a civil war over slavery, movements against inequality and injustice, and a flourishing of social consciousness ushered in by people like Smith, Americans are no closer to agreeing on answers.