- The Politics of Reproductive ViolenceAn Interview with Shana Griffin by Clyde Woods, March 12, 2009
Shana is a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and cofounder and on the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, where she currently serves as the Clinic’s Interim Executive Director in a volunteer capacity. Shana is also the cofounder of the New Orleans Women’s Health and Justice Initiative (WHJI)—a community-based organizing project centered on improving the social and economic health and well-being of women of color and low income women, while mobilizing communities to engage in reproductive and gender justice activism that challenges the violence of poverty, medical experimentation, housing discrimination, forced sterilization, economic exploitation, partner abuse, incarceration, environmental racism, and punitive social policies. She also serves on the board of several organizations including Women with a Vision, Inc., and Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative.
The New Orleans Women of Color Resource & Organizing Center is establishing a radical women of color lending library. Donations should be mailed to the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, c/o WHJI, 1406 Esplanade Ave., New Orleans, LA 70016, firstname.lastname@example.org, 504-524-8626.
Woods: You’ve argued on several occasions that understanding the politics of reproductive violence is essential to understanding how government policies have intensified the suffering of communities after Hurricane Katrina.
Griffin: Yes. For example, Rhonda Y. Williams, associate professor of History at Case Western Reserve University, spoke at a conference I recently attended. Her talk was on the grassroots political activism of low-income Black women in public housing. Dr. Williams spoke about the political agency, urban struggles, triumphs, and marginalization of subsidy-reliant Black women living in public housing, and how their experiences of poverty and the concrete limitations and contradictions of housing policies did not trump their rights as citizens and human beings deserving of help, equality, and dignity. Included in Dr. [End Page 583] Williams’ address were statements made by activist and public housing resident Ms. Sharon Jasper of New Orleans that illustrate the marginalization and demonization of public housing residents seeking to change housing policies and social institutions in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. They were also used to expose how social needs are directly linked to democracy.
During a City Council meeting in December 2007, Ms. Jasper was among hundreds of housing advocates and human rights activists who attempted to voice their concern and opposition to the demolition of four public housing developments. Unfortunately, the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to grant the Housing Authority of New Orleans the permits needed to demolish the four developments despite the fact that one in four residents of New Orleans is homeless and the lack of affordable housing remains one of the most pressing problems facing the recovery effort.
In a video of the proceedings, Ms. Jasper, a Black woman, pleads and argues with a white man in the Council chambers, emotionally stating, “I’m tired of being disrespected . . . I am a Black woman . . . If I got to go to jail, if I got to die for what I believe in, I will not be treated like a slave! I’m a human being. A United States citizen.”
Ms. Jasper’s statements illustrate the citizenship struggles, marginalization, and public demonization of low-income subsidy-reliant Black women and the degree to which their bodies and lives are regarded as disposable commodities and regulated through punitive public policies that legitimize their mistreatment. The demonization and complete disregard for the affordable housing needs of low-income Black women and their families is an example of state sponsored reproductive violence through housing policies. The same women whose fertility and motherhood become routine targets of public debates, state legislation, and policy mandates are also falsely accused of being economic burdens on the state and punished, through government funded programs, for being poor. Black women thus become disproportionately subjected to gender related poverty, violence, discrimination, and displacement.
So, when I’m talking about the politics of reproductive violence, I’m describing the ways in which interlocking policies, institutions, and systems of oppression operate to control and...