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And Still, I Want Reproductive Justice

In January of 2022, it was announced that author and activist Maya Angelou would be the first Black woman on the quarter and thus the first Black woman on American currency. This news comes six years after it was announced in 2016 that formerly enslaved abolitionist Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. 

Back in 2016, the idea of walking around with a “Tubman” seemed so appealing, knowing everyone would know you meant the $20 bill. Many championed this as a decision that was a long  time coming and a moment of representation for Black Americans. Although the Tubman has yet to go into circulation, the Maya Angelou quarter has generated that same joy and allure. However, I have difficulty joining this moment or simply seeing this as just another quarter coming into circulation. 

America’s history tells us that enslaved Africans were its first form of currency. This became even more evident come January 1, 1808, the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, this law meant nothing in terms of the domestic slave trade that would continue. Without the ability to trade enslaved Africans internationally, that ultimately left one particular group of people left to continue boosting the economy — Black women. Made enemies of their own bodies, the reproductive organs of the Black female body were weaponized against them to aid in the participation of their own oppression. 

Not only as economic property, these same bodies endured unethical, nonconsensual, and violent experiments in the name of reproductive organ knowledge only for a white man to be deemed the “father of modern gynecology”. Thus, leaving out the voices and the literal bodies on the line that contributed to our 21st century understanding of gynecology. It was the Black female body that sustained the lives of slaveholders’ babies as they were forced to breastfeed them before even their own children. Again, these same white children would inherit these bodies as economic property.

As declared by the CDC in 2019, the average infant mortality rate in America was 5.6 deaths for every 1,000 live births. In 2018, a gobsmacking total of 21,000 infant deaths were reported. Delving deeper into these numbers, Black women experienced infant mortality at twice the rate of the national average, compared to the 4.6% from their white counterparts. This vast discrepancy occurs due to disproportionate access to adequate healthcare in America. However, one of the continually prevalent threads in America’s history is the medical field’s inability to believe Black women when they are in pain. So the same individuals that unwillingly financially supported America can’t even see their babies grow into adulthood? 

Coming from a lineage of America’s first currency, when I eventually hold this quarter adoring a Black woman, is this to say that we are back where we belong? We are again objects with a price meant to be traded back and forth? More so, is that price the life of a child, or even mine? 

Maya Angelou wrote the poem “Still I Rise” in 1994 in which she wrote,

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Therefore I dream of material change (no pun intended). Society has to believe Black women when they speak. I dream of Black women living to see their children beyond birth. I hope to live in a world where Black women don’t have to endure trauma from giving birth. I dream of the hope that Black women are granted reproductive justice and not just a quarter to appease us.

Lina Tate

George Mason University '22

Lina is majoring in Government and International Politics with a concentration in Political Behavior & Identity Politics, with a minor in Social Justice and Human Rights. Around campus, you can often find her giving tours to prospective students. She has a knack for music and television. In her free time, she tries to catch-up on the neglected books on her bookshelf!
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