The crosshairs of extremism
Not too long ago, I had the honor of hearing Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, speak about his highly acclaimed book, “Just Mercy.” If you’re not familiar with Stevenson, one of his most notable accomplishments was his initiation of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice; in Montgomery, Ala. — which honors the over 4,000 African-Americans lynched in the twelve states of the South from 1877 to 1950.
It seems only fitting that Stevenson should be talking about this painful part of American history, since, as a nation, we are at a crossroads and in the crosshairs of the kind of country we need to be. One only look at the constant barrage of messages that are unleashed from the Trump administration — from attacks on democratic lawmakers, immigrants to seemingly sexist and demeaning language towards women.
While white supremacy today looks different than it did 150 years ago, but it sounds eerily similar. Just as the evangelical anti-choice movement, white supremacy has long been the projection of social conservative fears about what changes to the traditional family structure will bring. Anti-choice fervor and white supremacy stem from the same place — the idea, need and want to control and preserve a Christian patriarchal order.
White supremacy and evangelical supremacy have led us to the political crisis we face today. Evangelical Christianity in the United States always has privileged whiteness above all else, to justify the divinely-sanctioned use of bodies of others.
Supremacy in America seemingly views white male bodies as free, and all others as divinely created for a purpose they must fulfill, regardless of their wishes. Those bodies are the ones to be controlled, while male bodies remain free. There is a clear line between racism and anti-choice extremism, and it is the inherent belief that our bodies are not inherently imbued with the same levels of freedom.
The historic institutions founded from these supremacist views have spread that same line of reasoning throughout the centuries, and have become ingrained in our society. Historically, the value of a woman’s body, a person of color’s body, is not the equal value as a white man’s body. A female body can reproduce and therefore must be regulated, for her to fulfill her “purpose” in the theological sense.
Dr. David Gunn, the first known abortion provider to be murdered for his life’s work, was assassinated by a man who had been radicalized by John Burt, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. My boss and mentor, Dr. Tiller, was murdered by a man who was involved with the anti-government “Christian Patriot movement” group. These same radicals even spurned the extremist anti-choice groups to issue their justification for their murders. Dr. Gunn and Dr. Tiller routinely exposed and discussed the lies of the anti-choice movement.
The crosshairs of white supremacy and male supremacy have long gone unchecked. This ideology was front and center at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing when Sen Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked the Supreme Court nominee if he could identify any current laws “that the government has power to make over the male body.” Judge Kavanaugh couldn’t name a single one.
Race and gender are forever encircling each other within the supremacist world view. Access to abortion subverts supremacy by empowering the individual’s hopes, needs, and aspirations, rather than kowtowing to systems of oppression. As a people, we must actively reject white nationalist power in all its forms.
Abortion is an act of freedom. Women will not be told what to do, or by whom, but who know themselves and their lives. It is a decision to trust oneself above all others. Though the anti-choice movement has tried to distance itself from its roots of racism, it cannot. Supremacy is supremacy, and we are here to reject notions of superiority.
Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.