Why the South Carolina Shooting is a Reproductive Justice Issue

By Elizabeth Borngraber

Whether or not you want to believe it, gun violence in America is heavily influenced by race. According to The Washington Post, homicide gun deaths among black Americans are five times greater than among their white counterparts. (Interestingly, white Americans are five times more likely to commit gun related suicide than black Americans.) While it may be easier and more comfortable to brush off the recent news coverage of police brutality and black deaths as something sensationalized by the media, the truth of the matter is that for black Americans homicide is the eighth most common cause of death. For other minority groups and white Americans, homicide doesn’t even make it onto the list of top ten leading causes.

The recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina is just another example of the racism woven into the fiber of our country. On June 17, ten people were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study session. When we live in a place where sacred spaces are no longer safe, where black men and women feel threatened when walking down the street, or encountering police officers, or simply within their own homes, it’s naïve to think our country has recovered from the sins of our past. For people like myself who benefit from the privilege of a light skin color, the amount of fear and mourning experienced by the black community was never realized until recently.

If we as social workers fight for reproductive rights, we must first fight to combat forces that cause the dampening of those rights. To do anything else would mean abandoning our role as agents of change and instead allowing discrimination to continue. While racism in America runs deep, it is our responsibility to stand for the rights of all at every level of practice.

As an organization for women of color, SisterSong saw the inherent connection between the injustices they faced and reproductive rights. This intersectional approach calls for conditions in which parents can raise their children in healthy and safe environments, where mothers do not fear their children will become a target of violence due to prejudice. One professor of mine told a story of a black adolescent who attended a summer camp in Detroit and was stopped by the police after wandering off. Luckily, nothing bad happened during their encounter, however, he told my professor it was good he had his camp shirt on, otherwise the police might have given him a hard time. We should not live in a society that disenfranchises an entire population by requiring them to legitimize themselves through alliance with a white sanctioned person or thing. Black parents should not have to teach their young children how to avoid police brutality or discrimination from others. It simply should not happen. Reproductive justice cannot be achieved if hundreds of years of injustices are allowed to continue and parents fear for the lives of their children the moment they are born.

Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.