Why the Planned Parenthood shooting was always about Black lives

On Thanksgiving evening, I watched the Chicago news with my family as they covered the protests in response to released video footage of police gunning down another Black teenager. The year-old video shows 16 year old LaQuan McDonald being shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. A series of intentional cover ups allowed a year to go by before the dash cam footage was released and for Van Dyke to be subsequently charged with murder. But this narrative was not the topic of the Thanksgiving broadcast. Equipped with my usual bit of skepticism, I rolled my eyes as the reporters replayed footage of a female protester ripping the lights off of a Christmas tree and threw around terms like “vandalism” and “destruction.” But forever a millenial daughter of the digital age, I prefer to get my take on things via social media. I logged onto Facebook and the scene was just as I expected, people were outraged that anyone could shoot a kid 16 times, and a digital chorus of #BlackLivesMatter radiated from my phone screen.

The next afternoon, Black Friday, I flew back to Atlanta. When my flight took off, my preferred news outlets (Facebook and Twitter) appeared the same: support of protesters in Chicago. When I landed less than two hours later, televised news in the airport told me that all hell had broken loose at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado. At around the same time that I was returning my rental car at Midway Airport, Robert Lewis Dear entered the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO with several items, including a gun. In the 5 hours it took to resolve the situation, three people were killed and 11 others injured. Just like the night before, I checked social media to follow up. There was a similar amount of fear and outrage that sexist, anti-choice extremism had claimed the lives of multiple people. But this outpour was from a completely different group of people; folks who were silent the night before as a nation mourned the death of another Black person. And from the #BlackLivesMatter camp of my increasingly binary social media feed, #NotOneDime was still in full force with only passing mentions of the shooting that had just taken place. The great liberal divide had reared it’s ugly head yet again. You were either #teamantiracist or #teamantisexist.

I craved an intersectional framework that acknowledged a linkage between these incidents. When it was reported that Dear had been taken into police custody alive – a harsh juxtaposition to the way McDonald and so many other Black people like him have been killed by police authorities almost on sight – a connection was made: in an anti-Black nation, white privilege and power dictates who lives and who dies. This is a necessary connection that cannot be understated. But it is an observation that reroutes us back to a discourse of Black Lives Matter that does not consider how an attack on Planned Parenthood is always also an attack on Black lives.

The history of the problematic divides between race activism and gender activism, particularly the fight for access to reproductive health, is just as rich as the history of said movements themselves. It is no secret that despite the contributions of women and queer folks to strengthen their reach and impact, prominent racial justice movements – including the Abolitionist, Civil Rights, and Black Power movements – maintained male-dominated leadership structures and recognition. And even more disturbing, cases of sexual violence and assault against Black women have also been documented within those movements. From Clarence Thomas to Bill Cosby to R. Kelly, Black leadership and iconicity are continuously sheathed in male privilege and dominance, often at the expense of Black women. Even in the midst of the Chicago protests against the murder of McDonald, several Black women activists were physically and verbally assaulted by Black male elders and activists.

Along a similar vein, eugenics supporter Margaret Sanger has left a nasty stain on the legacy of Planned Parenthood. It’s a stain that Planned Parenthood has let settle and concretize by failing to address how this history has residually lingered. Cecile Richards, a liberal white woman, is the current president and public face of Planned Parenthood. But Richards’ individuality aside, the political face of Planned Parenthood has also always been that of white, liberal femaleness. Creating a narrative that protects the reproductive rights of liberal, white women has often resulted in the erasure of the experiences, labor, and activism of the poor people of color that need the affordable services of Planned Parenthood the most. As a former patient, clinic escort, and employee of Planned Parenthood, I know firsthand just how alienating, discouraging, and violent this history can be for Black women attempting to do intersectional reproductive justice work.

Intersectionality mattered then and it matters now. When we talk about Black lives mattering we are talking about the right and access of all of us (women, queer, and trans Black folks included) to seek the health treatment and care that determines whether or not we survive. When we talk about reproductive rights, we are talking about providing access and resources to those most economically and politically marginalized. So an act of domestic terrorism against an organization that provides reproductive health care services to economically disadvantaged communities is absolutely an attack on Black lives. If you think there can be a movement for Black lives while not supporting reproductive rights, you’ve missed the mark. If you think you can advocate for reproductive rights without a framework that prioritizes Black women, you have missed the mark.

Before we knew that one of the victims was a Black veteran; and before we learned that Dear was given a choice to live – a choice that is too often denied to Black folks – the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was about race.  There’s levels to this shit and we have to engage them all.

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Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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