Killing the Black Body: Review

book review
Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
Words - Maura Cheney
Illustration - Emily Fender

Killing The Black Body: Race, Reproduction, And The Meaning Of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts is a powerful insight into the reproductive history of Black women in America.

Since slavery, the bodies of Black women have been controlled, coerced, and abused by the state. Roberts challenges the common conclusion that having the “right to choose” is enough to ensure reproductive freedom through analysis of political policy and historical accounts. Roberts asserts that the broader narrative of reproductive justice is incomplete without focusing on the unique experiences of Black women, particularly poor Black women.  

From coercive reproduction during slavery, forced sterilization in the 1900s, racist welfare policy and drug criminalization in the 1980s, and questionable reproductive technology today, Roberts argues that the state has perpetuated repressive policies that have effectively punished Black women for reproducing. Reading the book today, more than 20 years after it was originally published in 1998, highlights how little progress we have made in the fight for racial equality, and urges us to challenge our current expectations of liberty. By highlighting the history of Black reproduction from slavery to welfare, contraceptives to criminalization, Roberts exposes the cruel history of United States’ interference in Black reproductive freedom.