We’ve still got a dog in the fight
Posted by Shakristal W
January 23, 2024
In the fight for reproductive justice, don’t be so quick to dismiss the South.
I was born and raised in the South. My memories are filled with mocking and berating of our culture and upbringing, contempt poorly disguised as curiosity, jokes made at our expense constantly. The South looms large in the general public’s mind as racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, and to some—rightfully so given its history and role in racial violence. For America, the South exists as an unsalvageable cesspit filled with illiterate and poor ne’er do wells who ruin the reputation of the United States; to many, the South is firmly lodged in its horrific past and has no place in America’s “progressive” future. We’re backwoods, backwards people who don’t know any better and prefer to shoot ourselves in the foot constantly.
Opposition over Florida’s new education laws has inspired multiple memes with the solution of just getting rid of the state; a popular response on social media featured a gif of Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes sawing off Florida.
When many Texans were suffering in the wake of a devastatingly cold winter with the power grid shut off, people went, “oh well! That’s what they get for voting red.” Why has it become the norm for people outside the region to paint the South with such a broad brush of the most powerful and awful people that live there and justify their suffering? Why do people assume that we don’t know any better especially when we are the ones being impacted? The South is hardly monolithic, and frankly, it is insulting to be constantly dunked upon and written off as a lost cause when the South has inspired so much change.
The South was the birthplace of the civil rights movements launched by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others.
There is a centuries-long history of labor organizing in the South with regular strikes throughout the 20th century ensuring safe working conditions and fair wages for coal miners and continuing even now with Starbucks employees.
Stacey Abrams, the former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, led a massive voter registration effort that Voting rights helped Democrats gain Georgia in 2020.
The South has a powerful history of activism and fighting for change; there are numerous organizations that intersect gender justice with LGBT rights, racial justice, immigrants rights, etc. It’s time to overcome those internal biases and offer support to those causes rather than writing them off as a lost cause.
Dismissing the South means dismissing the multiple vulnerable groups—black and brown, LGBT, and young people— who live here and already experience significant barriers to health care such as abortion access, access to contraceptives, prenatal care, etc. Post-Roe, abortion is completely banned in 13 states. Nine of those 13 states are in the South; according to the UCLA Williams Institute, 35% of LGBT people live in the South and more than 59% black people and 78% Hispanic people live here as well.
The South is complicated, but it is not a lost cause. It never has been. Radical work has been done and will continue to be done here.
Dr. Heather Skanes of Oasis Family Birthing Center along with Alabama Birth Center Gainesville and ACLU of Alabama brought forward and won a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Public Health’s de facto ban on birthing centers.
Sistersong is a Southern based, national membership whose focus is to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities. Its co-founder and former national coordinator, Loretta Ross, belonged to the group of black women who coined the term reproductive justice. We cannot dismiss the deliberate work by Southern reproductive justice advocates to provide and protect reproductive healthcare.
The South has its ugliness, but we can not allow its past to overwrite its future. It’s easy to scapegoat the South, but continuing to do so denies aid and allyship to the South’s disenfranchised advocates. So why do we dismiss the people who dare to inspire meaningful change? We have fought and will continue to do so. Organize and mobilize to amplify the work that marginalized communities in the South are doing. Move through stereotypes and do the homework to understand the reasons these restrictions that do not reflect the citizens are being passed. Don’t be so quick to throw us away.
Learn More About Groups Supporting Rural and Low Income Communities in the South
Women with a Vision
Feminist Women’s Health Center