Our Tools To Create A More Equitable System After Roe v. Wade: Accountability, Fear, Anger, And Hope

Anger and fear is just as important in this time as facing accountability and America's bloody history of female trauma. (Canva/Getty Images Signature)

Anger and fear is just as important in this time as facing accountability and America’s bloody history of female trauma. (Canva/Getty Images Signature)

“Here’s what I think,” I told my mom the day Roe v. Wade was ruled unconstitutional.

“I think that even though we’re all feeling a lot of turmoil and I’m angry, that this is setting the stage for something bigger,” I said. “This is showing us how broken the systems were that we thought we could depend on. Roe v. Wade is something that we were able to depend on, but it still wasn’t doing enough. What’s happening is that we’ve seen how everything needs to start over from the top-down, scorched-earth style.”

“Scorched earth was used in battle, like during the Civil War, but it’s also used in responsible forestry,” I continued. “When you burn some parts of the forest, newer, stronger trees can grow. I think that’s what is happening now–the Republicans don’t realize it, but while they think they’re keepoing power and winning, what they’re actually doing is scorching the earth for a newer, better society to spring forth.”

She agreed with what I had to say, and I felt better for having said it. Granted, this was after several hours of feeling sad, crying, expressing anger, and battling feelings of hoplessness and helplessness.

I’ll be honest and say that reading about the decision on the right to abortion broke me Friday. On a personal level, I’d already been dealing with helplessness after the death of my father last year, something I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around. What American society doesn’t realize is that people need time to heal from trauma, and I’ve been fighting wounded ever since April 21, 2021, with no time to properly heal–how can I heal when civil liberties are being threatened everyday and the cost of living is ever-increasing? I have to make time to grieve while I still try to figure out how to live in an increasingly-unsustainable world.

But Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court is very nearly my breaking point. There are so many things to fight against, so many things to keep hope for, that to add one more thing to the list is too much to ask of any person, much less an entire community still reeling from the effects and loss of the pandemic (a trauma the country has yet to heal from, mostly because our “work first, feel never” culture won’t allow us to). When I already feel helpless–when I already live my own personal apocalypse–how can I dare to look forward and say I won’t feel helpless about the state of our country? As much as I want to tell people through my writing not to lose hope, how can I tell myself that first?

So I expressed my emotions. I cried for myself, for my family, for our loss, for our collective frustration at our lives being changed forever. I cried for the country, for the people who feel saddened and angered and betrayed. I cried out of anger at the institutions that are supposed to protect all of us. I cried at my own naivete that the Supreme Court wouldn’t touch Roe v. Wade, and I cried at my fear of what else could happen now that they have essentially repealed it. After which–and after my “scorched earth” speech to my mom–I began thinking about the historical precedent America had already set when it came to women’s autonomy. I also thought about what it will take to recreate America in our image–the image of those of us who have been marginalized by this country.

Here are some things I want to leave you with regarding what this moment includes, what it requires, and where we need to go from here. There are a lot of part of American history that have led up to this moment, and it’s important for us to square with the truth of this country before we can honestly talk about how to remake the law that positively affects everyone’s autonomy over their bodies. If we are to rebuild after the Republicans’ scorched-earth defensive–if we are to get to the America I feel is coming and talked about with my mom–then we must take a look at what’s fueling their fire.

The Supreme Court has failed us before.

Online, I’ve read a lot of handwringing over how this could have happened in America. But what too many people still don’t recognize is that this stuff has always happened in America. It just wasn’t affecting white people before.

The Supreme Court has ruled against basic human rights for decades. Take Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. According to Oyez, Scott was seen as a slave in Missouri. But when his owner moved to Illinois and later to the Louisiana Territory, Scott was technically free by the state and territory laws. As such, Scott took his case to court in Missouri, and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. However, they ruled in favor of his owner in a 7-2 decision.

The majority opinion, written by Roger B. Taney, argued that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves” were not American citizens regardless of where they lived and therefore had no legal rights to sue for their freedom. He also argued that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional and said Congress shouldn’t seek to free slaves from Federal territories. Taney’s opinion stated that under the Fifth Amendment, any law that could make a slave free was unconstitutional.

Social Security, a program we probably take for granted as being a (potentially) codified part of American law, was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. However, the Supreme Court was initially against it. According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) literature on the case surrounding its formation, “Generally, the Court had for several decades subscribed to a view of constitutional federalism that involved a very narrow reading of the powers of Congress under the Constitution so that Federal legislation would not interfere with areas of regulation held to be the exclusive province of States.” In other words, the Supreme Court felt like such an expansive program should be left for individual states to enact instead of being enacted as a nationwide mandate.

“The early signs were not encouraging,” wrote the SSA about the Court’s initial reaction to Social Security. “From 1935 to 1937, the Supreme Court invalidated a number of President Roosevelt’s legislative programs, finding that the enactment of these programs exceeded Congress’ limited powers and invaded the rights of States. As a result, doubt about the constitutionality of the Social Security Act had turned into pessimism by early 1937, when the Supreme Court was scheduled to decide the question.”

But then Roosevelt said he would expand the courts, which the literature calls “President Roosevelt’s Court-packing plan,” making the Supreme Court change its tune about Social Security, leading to it finally becoming a legalized part of federal politics.

There are plenty more botched decisions made by the Supreme Court where those two came from. Take Takao Ozawa v. United States in 1922 and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind in 1923. Both cases revolved around Asian citizenship in the United States. Ozawa argued that he was a Japanese American who lived in the country for 20 years. As The Asian American Education Project wrote, “He attempted to argue that ‘whiteness’ was a matter of skin color; because his skin was just as pale as white Americans, he should be treated as white and granted citizenship. The Supreme Court unanimously denied him, saying explicitly that whiteness only extended to ‘the Caucasian race.'”

Thind’s case revolved around him saying that he was a member of the Caucasian race, which The Asian American Education Project described as “of or relating to a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia and classified according to physical features.” However, the Court ruled that even if he was Caucasian, he shouldn’t be given naturalization and citizenship (despite him having served in the U.S. Army during WWI and living in the U.S.) The Court argued that the word “whiteness” should “be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man, synonymous with the word ‘Caucasian’ only as that word is popularly understood.” In other words, the Supreme Court made rulings specifically to keep power and privilege within white supremacy and they would do so regardless of any prior rulings they’d made before.

If you take the time to look at each ruling the Supreme Court has made regarding citizenship, rights to privacy, rights to bear arms, rights in general, you will find a smorgasbord of ridiculous, racist, sexist, and inhumane rulings. The idea that a set of human beings can sit on a governing body for their whole lives and create interpretations of law that have unfathomable consequences is now officially an outdated idea. It’s been past time to advocate for Supreme Court justices to have expiring terms. At the very least, it’s time to bring back Roosevelt’s idea of expanding the Court.

This time, the fight for autonomy affects white women, too.

As you’ve seen with these examples, a good chunk of cases revolve around issues involving people of color fighting for inalienable rights. White women have been the subject of Supreme Court cases as well, but for much of America’s history, white women’s plights were seen as entirely different than that of women of color. While women of color have had to endure slavery, genocide, disrupted families, sexual trauma and violence, and incarceration, white women have been able to at least feel protected, even if that protection was a lie.

White women’s bodies have always been a political ground. But it’s been a different kind of fight for the white woman–never had their bodies been made property of the state. Nor had they had a ruling against them that said they couldn’t try their slave owners for rape because they weren’t considered a human being.

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In Missouri v. Celia in 1855, Celia, a slave who killed her owner in self-defense after enduring his sexual violence for years, was found guilty by a jury of 12 white men. According to The Washington Post, the judge told the men these instructions: “If Newsom was in the habit of having intercourse with the defendant who was his slave and went to her cabin on the night he was killed to have intercourse with her or for any other purpose and while he was standing in the floor talking to her she struck him with a stick which was a dangerous weapon and knocked him down, and struck him again after he fell, and killed him by either blow, it is murder in the first degree.”

White women weren’t made to be the subject of sexual trauma for the sake of medical progress. J. Marion Sims conducted numerous experiments on Black women’s bodies, without anesthesia, for the sake of advancing gynecological knowledge. He used enslaved women because he didn’t want to perform the unperfected surgeries on his wealthier white female patients. When the experiments were perfected, he, of course, gave them anesthesia.

Even though white women’s bodies were policed, they clearly had more inherent sexual agency than a Black woman, or any woman of color in the country. In fact, white women had been so misguided as to their own subjugation by white men that they lived happily (or at least comfortably) within the margins set by the white male ruling class. As former slave Harriet Jacobs wrote in her 1861 memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, “Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation; and it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into the slave-trader’s hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of their sight. I am glad to say there are some honorable exceptions.”

The right to abortions, and therefore autonomy, has always been marketed as a right for white women. Indeed, the majority of protestors I’ve seen have been white women. But the fight for autonomy has always existed for women of color, including trans women of color. More trans women are killed than ever before, and Black women die at a rate two to three times higher than white women during childbirth due to medical racism and other stressors. This is on top of women, women of color in particular, being targeted due to toxic masculinity and racist stereotyping, which has resulted in women being killed, not to mention experiencing sexual trauma and psychological damage. Trans men and intersex individuals (particularly those of color) are also included in this fight for autonomy, since they could also bear children, are marginalized, and need support.

I’m glad to see so many women, white or otherwise, fighting for their right to choose. But in the midst of white women’s anger, they must also realize their potential complicity with the status quo before they were affected. They themselves might not have had a hand in how things are (although the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump sure did), but somewhere down the line, there are women who got along to get along without concerning themselves with the rights of women of color. America was set up that way.

The burden isn’t just on white women either–white men, like the ones who governed the courts in the rulings I mentioned above and like Sims, are also complicit.

The outright hording of power has created absolute chaos in this country for generations. Now that the power appears to be shredding away, the white patriarchal conclave are hell bent on doing whatever they can to keep things how they were because in a new paradigm–which is coming, no doubt about it–they won’t have the same access to power they currently do. The conclave realizes it is in its final days of hierarchy.

Which is why so many civil liberties seemed to be rolled back this week, with the right to choose being the cherry on the cake. Keep in mind, the main reasoning for rolling back Roe v. Wade is because of the 2021 census results, which showed how white Americans were not the dominant population for the first time since the nation’s history. In Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, he cited in his footnotes a CDC statistic of a “domestic supply” of infants being “virtually nonexistent” for women wanting to adopt. While he didn’t outright use this in the main text of his opinion, the inclusion of it in the footnotes, plus the worry some white people have about the white population’s decrease, creates a causal link between rolling back abortion rights, which points directly to “white extinction anxiety.”

Carla Bell wrote for Yes! Magazine how many of the anti-abortion bills that have been passed in Republican states are made to combat this supposed threat of white annihilation.

“There indeed appears to be a strong correlation between demographic projections, the fear of White genetic annihilation, and the recent wave of abortion bills,” she wrote. “Antiracism activist and diversity trainer Jane Elliott described it as a fear so great that White people, including political leaders, ‘will do anything to see that doesn’t happen.'”

Bell also quoted Sen. Lindsay Graham, who voiced the quiet part out loud in 2012.

“Sen. Lindsey Graham voiced his concern of a demographic dilution at the 2012 Republican convention when he said, ‘The demographics race we’re losing badly … [Republicans are] not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,'” she wrote.

Historically, white men are used to controlling everyone and their bodies. Historically, white women are used to having certain privileges while living in gilded cages. Both are not used to being held accountable for the entirety of the communities they are a part of–think how white families fled cities en masse in what has now been called “white flight” once segregation was made illegal, or how their newly-created majority-white communities hog local resources, leaving BIPOC communities in food deserts, or near pollution-creating factories. Consider how majority-BIPOC schools can receive less funding and support for their students, while majority-white schools are overflowing in their choice of amenities.

Everybody is worthy, and it’s a shame that a large swath of America is just now fully internalizing this fact. But now is better than never, so it’s time for white America to start being accountable–to themselves and to the community as a whole.

It’s time to think back to the ancestors, especially those of color, and look ahead.

What brings me peace in the midst of this upheaval is the fact that my people have experienced tons of opposition (to understate things) and have survived. Not only that, they have thrived in the face of extreme adversity. If they can do that to the point that I’m allowed to be alive and free during this time, then I can do my part and survive for the next generation.

I’ve seen a lot of doomism on the timeline, and it’s understandable. My generation and those below haven’t lived through the types of challenges our forefathers and mothers did, particularly ancestors of color. If you think about the totality of American history, multiple people of color and LGBTQ people have had to deal with severe strife, discrimination, violence and trauma. But even through the harshness that they lived in, they were able to become pioneers for us, paving the road for us to travel.

Through my emotional grief, I remembered something that remains true, no matter what my ego tells me. People of color in this country have made it through worse. This is bad, make no mistake, but our ancestors have already experienced bad and then some. Their experiences can guide us as to what we should do next and how we should manage ourselves. They were able to still keep hope and faith amid the most impossible odds imaginable. As the Black church is oft to say, they “created a way out of no way.” Therefore, if they turn the impossible toward their advantage, so can we. We must remember their lessons. They were able to create fabulous, creative futures for themselves and with less than we have now. If they could do it, we can too.

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In fact, we already are. People always talk about the future as if the people that will create it aren’t already on this planet. The future is already here. We just need to support it. That means supporting communities you might not ordinarily support, like communities of color, LGBTQ communities, and young people as a whole.

As Lem White and Nwamaka Agbo wrote for Yes! Magazine, the people who are already creating expansive change are the ones facing the brunt of the problems they’re fixing.

“A new economy is slowly emerging, one where historically marginalized communities have self-determination and where we can build regenerative relationships with our planet and each other,” they wrote. “Unsurprisingly, the communities leading this work are those most affected by the challenges of our times. Black, Indigenous, and people of color change-makers are at the forefront of these efforts, addressing climate change, systemic racism, and economic inequities by drawing on our communities’ traditions of cooperation, mutual aid, and sustainability.”

“We see this every day. In cities where developers are trying to gentrify Black neighborhoods, Black-led organizations, such as The Guild in Atlanta, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative in Oakland, and Downtown Crenshaw in Los Angeles, have stepped up to take real estate off the market and maintain community ownership,” they continued. “Black farmers in the South and in urban centers across the country are implementing new farming practices rooted in Afro-Indigenous principles, making agriculture more sustainable and fostering equitable regional food economies. Native groups are winning litigation to assert their rights to reconfigure water management practices in the West. Finally, Black and Brown entrepreneurs are launching worker-owned cooperatives in record numbers, bringing services to neighborhoods abandoned by corporations and disinvested in by the public sector, while building community wealth.”

They wrote that while these groups are redefining what it means to work together and steward the planet, they need constant support. “[B]ecause even though these projects hold incredible promise, existing systems are not designed to support these seemingly unconventional strategies,” they wrote.

“This is because these leaders are not white, do not come from well-resourced communities, and do not have intergenerational wealth; the barriers they face are rooted in the racism that cuts across all systems and financial sectors, from lending to philanthropy,” they continued. “Without access to financial and nonfinancial resources, Black and Brown movement leaders and social entrepreneurs face substantial roadblocks that prevent them from realizing their vision and expanding their work. What’s needed is a massive focus on unlocking capital for their critical work to grow and scale.”

While the article is mainly focusing economic and environmental justice, the same thought applies to restructuring politics, the criminal justice system, and other areas of our legal and social lives that need complete overhauling. The leaders who want to make the impacts we need in our political realm are already here, but too often, they’re seen as too radical and “scary” to older voters.

What’s actually scary isn’t these young people’s politics, but the fear of the unknown. The status quo of the past has worked for older voters, or at the very least, they are used to it. But choosing something different? It’s like going with the devil you don’t know over the devil you do. But that kind of logic clearly has diminishing returns. The leaders of the future are going to look scary to those set in their ways. But these future leaders have politics that meet the coming times. If we’re going to create a new society, we can’t use old rules. We have to use a new playbook. And that means we must nurture and believe in those coming up who are invigorated by change.

These are times of fear and anger. But fear and anger are fuel–use it.

I won’t act like I know what America will look like between now and November, when the midterms roll around. But what I will say is that despite my fear and anger, I’m heartened by the amount of righteous anger I’ve seen. Anger isn’t just fuel, it’s hope. It means that people are awake and aware that things are wrong. Anger is the pent-up energy, held back after waiting and being “non-violent,” “respectable” and “trusting,” finally released and expressed. Righteous anger says, “I have been betrayed by the one I was supposed to trust and have faith in. I was wronged. And now I’ll make you pay.”

I believe (i.e. hope) that the sheer amount of injustices we’ve witnessed over the past few years are in alignment with an idea I and others have–that a cleansing is happening in the country to where the old systems are washed away and replaced with new systems that support everyone. The majority of Americans want these changes. If that’s the case, then that means we are the saviors we’ve been looking for. We don’t need to wait for a politician, or a judge, or anyone who is part of the one percent to get us out of this mess. Yes, we need to vote, but we also need to organize, to mobilize, to raise funds and awareness for community initiatives, support grassroots candidates who are serious about the endgame of a free society for all. We as a collective must move as one if we’re to make the changes we already support become reality. But the first step to that is anger, fear, sadness, and an awakening to the fact that the lullabies and fairytales we were told about our government were simply that–false stories designed to keep us in muddled and in line.

Rebecca Traister wrote in her article for The Cut about the “necessity of hope.” In fact, that’s the name of the piece. She outlines how hope is key to changing communities and, indeed, nations. She goes as far to call despair “a poison.”

“It deadens people when the most important thing they can do is proceed with more drive and force and openness than they have before. Which is why the work ahead is insisting on hope, behaving as if there is reason for hope, even if you feel, based on the ample available evidence, that there is not,” she wrote.

“To be as clear as humanly possible: Insisting on hope does not equal a call to dumb cheer, empty aphorism, and baseless optimism,” she continued. “That is the kind of garbage disregard for reality that landed us here. Fatuous overconfidence is what permitted those in power to tell those with their hair on fire that their fear was theatrical, unhinged, overdramatic. Which is why we must retain the clarity of today’s horror, and never let anyone tell us that things are better than they are. Start with the presumption that your worst fears reflect reality and then learn from those who are already well acquainted with the world we actually live in. There are plenty of people who have not been blind to this country’s long backward motion, to the fact that restrictions have been tightening and rights have been dismantled.”

She quoted Debasri Ghosh, the managing director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, who said that she has been thinking about the BIPOC leaders who have already been hard at work helping their communities amidst fights against body autonomy.

“Beyond abortion, I have been thinking a lot about how so many of us in this movement, particularly Black and brown and Indigenous folks, have ancestries and histories of resistance,” said Ghosh. “We have this lineage of fighting back against hard-won rights being regressed, fighting back against going backwards. It is important for us to be able to tell those stories much more broadly. And we have to look to that ancestral wisdom to be able to find a path forward.” This is the muscle memory of those who have never had the comfort that their rights would remain intact.”

As Traister wrote, “This country’s history has been built on days like today. Bad days. It has shown itself capable of reform. Or rather, its people–those willing to give their lives and every scrap of hope they could muster–have reformed it by force.”

We have no more room to be muddled. It’s time to make those who want to ruin us be scared instead of the other way around. It’s time for us–all of us, not just those who are the face of the movement or those of us who feel left behind–to engage with our anger, our ancestral knowledge, and our personal power to take back the country. It’s time to engage with each other and realize the common enemy is white supremacy, specifically the white patriarchy that will do anything to stay in power. It’s time for white men who want to reject their shackles (because white patriarchy is nothing but a pair of diamond-encrusted shackles) to do so and stand with those who want a fair playing field. It’s time for all of us to remake America into a shining beacon of hope and progress for everyone.

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