KILLING THE BLACK BODY by Dorothy Roberts

KILLING THE BLACK BODY

Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Roberts's exploration of the history of African-American women and reproductive rights is brilliant, controversial, and profoundly valuable. The author, a professor of law (Rutgers Univ.), brings forth a view of black women wholly ignored by mainstream America. Beginning with slavery and moving to the present day, she argues that white America has perpetuated a legacy of pathological social violence against black women and their reproductive capabilities. Female slaves, Roberts asserts, were often bought with the express purpose of using them as breeders; white males profited by raping black women and selling their children. Later, in the first half of the 20th century, the eugenics movement turned contraception from a tool of women's liberation into a tool of control to cut birth rates among southern blacks, and as late as the 1970s black women were routinely sterilized by hysterectomies that were not medically necessary. More recently, poor black women living in urban areas have been forced by courts, doctors, and health care organizations to be implanted with the Norplant birth-control device; doctors frequently refuse to remove it on request. Roberts's arguments are especially convincing because they are so well researched and thoroughly dissected. Drawn from documented cases, African-American theorists, and media reports, Roberts's knowledge of her subject is total. Instead of painting black women as passive victims of this reproductive racism, she represents them through the image offered by a former slave, Anna Julia Cooper, who characterizes the black woman fighting to protect the bodies of her daughters as ``an entrapped tigress.'' Roberts outlines an agenda for change in the final chapter, positioning the book as an important stepping-stone toward transforming the way black women and their children are treated in America. ``The denial of Black reproductive autonomy serves the interests of white supremacy,'' Roberts states, and she demands her reader rethink the relationship between race and reproduction.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44226-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997