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Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  3,050 ratings  ·  146 reviews
This is a no-holds-barred response to the liberal and conservative retreat from an assertive, activist, and socially transformative civil rights agenda of recent years--using a black feminist lens and the issue of  the impact of recent legislation, social policy, and welfare "reform" on black women's--especially poor black women's--control over their bodies' autonomy and t ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Vintage (first published September 16th 1997)
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Mario the lone bookwolf

Selective perception of history and its denial leads to a continuation of the abuses in new forms.

As if the past horrors were not enough. The unrecovered and hushed up crimes of the past which are combined with a lack of reparations. Historical revisionism is one thing. But further suppression of the problem is only a reason for more shame and an even more devastating judgment in the distant future.

At the time of slavery, the power of control on births was subject to simple market laws.
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
A powerful and comprehensive book about the misogynoir and classism faced by Black women throughout the history of the United States in regard to their bodily autonomy. Killing the Black Body covers several topics related to Black women’s health, including the forced sterilization of Black women amidst the birth control movement, the racist criminalization of Black women using drugs, the stigmatization of Black women on welfare, and the extent to which reproductive technologies favor wealthy whi ...more
Dan Sharber
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
simialar to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, this book uses the existing racial caste system and social dynamics of poverty to look at reproductive questions - both abortion as well as ivf and other fertility treatments. the author does a fantastic job with that. the only drawback for me was there was too much time spent discussing constitutional theory, specifically whether a liberty based view or an equality based view is better. while i suppose that is import ...more
Mar 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I first read this book it was sophomore year of College, and it was assigned for one of the most enlightening courses offered - Prisons, Punishment, and Democracy. Recently I wanted to revisit the horrible truths revealed/explored in the texts assigned in the course. "Killing The Black Body" is certainly not a light read, but if you're looking for honest information about shocking political policies, Black history, the truth about the exploitation of Black women and the forced control of th ...more
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: white, middle-class, pro-choice feminists
Important book. I'm just being smarmy with the recommendation: this is essential reading for anyone who wishes to clarify her or his perspective on reproductive rights.

Roberts is good: even if you're no beginner when it comes to understanding how oppression of some groups contributes in less-than-obvious ways to the oppression of others, and how the interests of some relatively privileged women have not just eclipsed but seriously undermined the interests of less-privileged others, this book wil
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
"A broader understanding of reproductive freedom does not reject abortion rights in favor of a right to procreate. Rather, it sees the right to terminate a pregnancy as one part of a broader right to autonomy over ones body and ones reproductive decisionmaking."

This is a thoughtful and meticulously documented treatise on reproductive freedom, which Roberts defines as distinct from conventional notions of "choice." Roberts places black women's reproductive self-determination at the center of her
Jun 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
A very important book on the history of medical abuse meted out upon women of color and how this practice, rooted in racism and the epitome of objectification, unfortunately still continues today. While Dorothy (whose other writings on bioethics I've enjoyed) lays an important outline of oppression and abuse of (mostly) black women medically, she mentions-- but doesn't much chronicle-- their resistance to these practices leaving the reader unsatisfied. Stories of resistance are just as important ...more
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2-star
2.5. I found the first half of the book, including the Norplant and birth control vaccine debate, to be very engaging and historically important. The second half of the book, however, was difficult to get through. Some of Roberts' arguments -- such her claim in "The Welfare Debate" that black women are being punished for having children -- are a bit of an intellectual leap. Instinctively, I feel that her belief is right; academically, I wanted to see that connection made concretely in the text. ...more
Although Dorothy Roberts may have written this analysis of challenges for black women's reproductive rights in the late 1990s, it is, if anything, even more depressingly relevant today. Many white feminists get a bad rap for focusing on abortion rights to the exclusion of all else in the world of reproductive politics, and Roberts incisively highlights this by raising the issues of coercing long-acting contraception through public programs and punishments mothers on welfare receive for their sti ...more
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
When people try to argue that racism and/or sexism are over in America, they should be required to read this book. When they use phrases like "two-term Black president" or "men's rights" they should try to see what the fuck is actually going on in this country.

I read this book in 2006. It's stuck with me. But at the end of the day I know I experienced it from a position of white privilege and all I can be is horrified.

Sep 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
This was really an excelent book if you'd like to learn about the ways our society has consistantly discriminated against Black/poor women's reproductive rights.

My problem was that it felt like she was ignoring the class issues to focus on the race issues, or she acted as if they were somehow one in the same. As if all poor people are Black. Umm, no.
absolutely essential, want to hoist upon everyone i know
Adrian Chiem
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is required reading — certainly as someone who is hoping to be an OB/GYN, and who is working towards a better understanding of what it means to fight for equity and positive liberty — but for anyone who is trying to understand the greater context of our current fight for reproductive rights.

It is not enough to learn of Sims' cruelty in learning about gynecology; it is not enough to learn about Margaret Sanger and the history of Planned Parenthood. It is the BARE MINIMUM to understand that f
Abby Russo
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book provided a thorough and extensive background on how black motherhood has systemically been devalued in American Society and gave new ideas about how reproductive liberty should be viewed to make a more just society. Essential reading for a better understanding of race in the US as well as intersectional identities of black women. The historical background gave a lot of context to how the reproductive policies in the country have developed as well as the laws that ground them.
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: activists, historians, feminists
Recommended to Ashley by: Twitter
This is one of those fantastic books that is desperately in need of a revised or second edition. Roberts analysis is as insightful and powerful as ever, yet many of the examples that figure prominently in "Killing the Black Body" date from the Clinton years. While they remain useful, an updated version would extend these into the contemporary "War on Women" setting. I particularly appreciated the final chapter on the meaning of reproductive liberty v. equality.

This is an excellent book for anyon
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I learned a ton from this book. Killing the Black Body opened my eyes to an experience with reproduction rights that looks very different from my own. Roberts provides an in-depth look at the ways our views of reproduction freedom have failed Black women, historically and, unfortunately, today. Though a bit dense, this is well worth the read!
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Its a very college level book so as a highschooler i found it hard to understand at some times. It was very straight forward and hit very intresting points that i think some people are scared to talk about. Race. It shows how black women are shown as welfare rats and have no goal or anything. I think everyone should read this. Everyone.
Patrice Jones
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an eye-opener, but near the end became just too much. Overkill and repetition really bogged the book down. Dorothy Roberts really did her research, and I can see why this is a useful tool for so many people.
Apart from the opinionated parts, I can see chapters of this book being used in the African American Studies classroom.
Apr 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Dense and exhaustive, the case Roberts makes is rock solid. If reproductive rights for black women simply means access to birth control and abortion to you, then you are the target audience for this book.
Donald Allen
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Everyone out there should read this book. I stumbled upon this book when I was doing some research about poor black women and how the government controls their homes, bodies and who stays with them in a home.
Morgan Dhu
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, by law professor Dorothy Roberts, was first published in 1997, but the topic it addresses, the relationship between race and concepts of reproductive freedom, are no less fraught today than they were 20 years ago - in fact, these issues, in the era of Black Lives Matter, may be even more crucial now.

White feminism has long framed reproductive freedom as the freedom not to bear children, and advocated for access to birth con
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An incredibly insightful book about the relationship between racism and reproductive rights, if also slightly ableist.
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was first introduced to this book via excerpts that were assigned in college courses on race and reproductive health. The excerpts alone were very fascinating, but I do believe that this is a book that should be consumed in its entirety. Dorothy Roberts' argument, that Black women have long been denied reproductive autonomy (and worse, that this structural denial of reproductive justice threatens the liberty of all women and all Black people), is thoroughly researched and documented. I challen ...more
Kate Savage
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Reading this book, I felt like I wanted to create the opposite of an inspirational calendar, for white people to read. Those who benefit from a system of White Supremacy could have daily historical reminders culled from this book, like:

-When enslaved children died because of poor conditions, coroners would usually blame the mother for smothering the child in her sleep.
-Raping enslaved people, including children, was not considered a crime. The only time it would be considered in the courts was a
Dec 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredibly dense and, I think, shocks out with hard logic any malingering subtle racisms of even the most "evolved" white reader. As a frequent reader of race theory I can say positively that I have not been, adjusted for learning, by any other work so confronted with what I can but hope is the last of my racism; I traditionally have some eco-fascist sympathies and prior to this monumental work I must say that I was a decently hardcore nonracial eugenics-supporter, but Roberts taugh ...more
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is a comprehensive argument at how historically and currently black women have been denied autonomy over their procreative decisions. Starting with slavery where black female slaves were either impregnated by their white masters or other male black slaves, usually not of their choosing, in order to create a larger labor force and increased wealth for white plantation owners. We also see how the eugenics movement, the feminist movement, the antiabortion movement, and even political libe ...more
ONTD Feminism
Apr 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: people-of-color
LJ user littlemousling :

Professor Roberts chronicles the American history of white control over black female reproduction from colonialism and slavery up through the present. She covers everything you've heard of ("At no time in America was it illegal to rape a slave," Mississippi appendectomies, Margaret Sanger) and more that you haven't. It made me cry, a lot, and I've had occasion to reference it about a kajillion times since I read it. It's comprehensive, and it's fantastic.
Wow. This is one of the best books I've read in a while. Granted, I just finished it five minutes ago, so I'm aware that I'll be able to write about it more coherently later, once I've had time to let it settle into my system. But I couldn't put this down (except for the times when the stuff addressed made me throw it across the room and scream at it).

Basically, if you care about reproductive issues, this is a must-read. It was published fourteen years ago. Shame on me for not reading it sooner
May 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone interested in reproductive rights. Roberts makes an important intervention in what have often been treated as "white women's issues," shifting the conversation surrounding birth control, abortion, and reproductive freedom from individual liberty to social justice.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really great book on how social policy has been enacted in extreme ways to control the reproductive rights of black women from historical American slavery to current welfare policy. Well-written and accessible, though a bit dated since its publication in the mid 1990s.
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Offred's Revoluti...: Killing the Black Body Discussion Thread 12 29 Jun 05, 2020 01:12AM  
Offred's Revoluti...: Meetup time? 1 9 Aug 19, 2013 10:10AM  
RJ Reads (Reprodu...: Making Reproduction a Crime 2 34 Jul 07, 2013 02:35AM  
RJ Reads (Reprodu...: From Norplant to the Contraceptive Vaccine 2 17 Jul 07, 2013 02:22AM  
RJ Reads (Reprodu...: The Dark Side of Birth Control 2 30 Jul 07, 2013 02:08AM  
RJ Reads (Reprodu...: Reproduction in Bondage 2 31 Jul 07, 2013 01:48AM  
RJ Reads (Reprodu...: The Meaning of Liberty 1 13 Jun 19, 2013 08:44AM  

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Dorothy Roberts is a scholar, professor, author and social justice advocate, and currently the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She has published a range of groundbreaking articles and books analyzing issues of law, race, gender, health, class and social inequality, including Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Libert ...more

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“Blaming Black mothers, then, is a way of subjugating the Black race as a whole. At the same time, devaluing motherhood is particularly damaging to Black women.” 3 likes
“The theme of willful self-creation is especially strong in the writings of Black women.80 The fiction of authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker revolves around Black female characters who learn to invent themselves after breaking out of the confines of racist and sexist expectations. Black women’s autobiographical accounts also describe the process of self-creation, exemplified by Patricia Williams’s statement, “I am brown by my own invention.… One day I will give birth to myself, lonely but possessed.”81” 3 likes
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