Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.


The Post-Roe Police State: Reproductive Justice Demands Freedom

The attack on Roe and reproductive rights is an attack on democracy — connected and not dissimilar to the January 6 riot at the capitol. As all eyes are on the January 6 hearings, I want to connect the assault on women’s bodies, in all their variety, especially Black bodies, as central to the assault on the promise of democracy.

If the January 6 attack on the capitol should have all people who love freedom and equality on high alert, so should the Court’s attack on bodily integrity and the right to determine choices about abortion.

Racism and misogyny are at the helm of this right-wing dismantling of choice and access for people determining their lives. The murder of abortion doctors and clinic health care workers and the bombing of abortion clinics is carried out by the people and forces who wish to destroy any promise of sexual, gender or racial equality.

The right-wing assault on democracy is located both inside and outside the U.S. state — it structures the dysfunction of our government with Republicans obstructing and denying any moves towards democracy and Democrats lacking the courage or commitment to alleviate the suffering of so many of us: houseless people, the uninsured, COVID sufferers, gun violence and climate crisis victims.

Therefore, in the long-term, abolition is the answer.

#BlackWombsMatter

The retraction of Roe is embedded and a spur to our present abortion chaos with its suffering. It is especially a catastrophe for Black women who die at four times the rateof white women while pregnant, which makes it a crisis for democracy. It is a tsunami for women’s — trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, and undocumented — equality and liberation.

Before Roe was gutted, Mississippi was already a wasteland for abortion access. According to writer Michele Goodwin, a Black woman was 118 times more likely to dieby carrying a pregnancy to term than by having an abortion. AND Black women are 2-to-3 times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy. AND about 40% of the women who get abortions are Black. These egregious statistics will now worsen. Black women will be at greater risk of death and increased poverty. It is long known that abortion allows women to maintain jobs and better determine their lives.

In “The Color of Gender” in 1994, I wrote, “starting with pregnant women of color an antiracist diversity must be at the core of equality and democracy. And a revisioning of democracy must start with reproductive rights.” Black women are the canary in the mine, suffering disproportionately and yet at the ready to mobilize against injustice.

The high risk that Black women already face in their pregnancies due to the racist health system puts them in peril; even Serena Williams suffered greatly during her delivery when no one listened to her about her threat of embolisms. Given this, the dismantling of Roe can be said to be a potential death sentence especially for Black women. And the racist misogyny of the Supreme Court could not be clearer.

Racism is unhealthy for Black women; and race and class are not conflatable here. Scholars and activists like Dorothy Roberts (“Killing the Black Body”), Michele Goodwin (“Pregnancy and the New Jane Crow”), and Linda Villarosa (“Under The Skin”), document and indict the racism that structures Black women’s bodies. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks highest among wealthy nations for pregnancy and childbirth deaths even before you control for race.

Tonya Lewis Lee chronicles America’s Black maternal mortality crisis in her new documentary, “Aftershock.” The film tells the stories of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose’s deaths, showing “that a Black woman giving birth can be as dangerous as a Black man at a traffic stop with the police.”

Neither Roe Nor the State Can Free Us

The criminalizing of women’s choices has always been disproportionately the most punishing for women of color, especially poor women, but now add to the mix middle class white women. We are all potentially criminals now, enemies of the state with fewer citizen rights. There is a new possibility for cross-race sharedness that I want to nurture.

Instead of being ready for the right-wing takeover of the Court and the dismissal of Roe, the Democratic party, and especially President Biden, has been flat-footed and lacking.

It is not un-important that Biden said on record in response to Roe in 1974, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” And in 2006: “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe.”

Barack Obama when speaking of the Affordable Care Act said “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with … the Hyde Amendment.” And Nancy Pelosi in 2017: “… let’s not spend too much time [on abortion]. It’s kind of fading as an issue.”

So, when we are told to make sure and vote in 2022 and 2024 and remove the Republicans, I agree. But just make sure you know that this is a necessary, but insufficient (reform) act to move towards democracy, and Democrats are not the answer. Abolition of the racist misogynist state is.

What to do? Do anything to enhance your vote, but what is that “anything” when you are encased in a culture that tells you nothing really matters. Thinking about making something matter even if you know it is too small, too little, not enough, is important. This means support codifying Roe even though it is strategically insufficient to begin with, because it is at present necessary. But then we also need to make something more happen.

So, yes, vote the criminal Republicans out of office and do whatever we can to reinstate Roe, insufficient as it has always been, but also keep imagining abolishing our police state and know that the carceral state can never allow the liberation of any of us. And never get confused to think that the Democrats can ever be enough. We must move forward to the abolition of an unjust state and criminal prison system.

One’s belief in “mass uselessness” is a dangerous political identity, so progressive anti-racist feminists need to create consciousness, imagination, camaraderie every chance we get. Do not let people make you feel that if you are doing something outside the established political arena, you are doing nothing. We need activism everywhere.

When you vote, use your vote to remind yourself that you must also help make a revolution. So, we need abortion and reproductive rights re-instated while we abolish the police/ing state that has criminalized us all.

Policing by the Predator State

The recent Dobbs ruling overturning Roe is a culmination of the police/ing that surrounds and defines too much of everyday life. And, as the welfare state was defunded and destroyed by neoliberal capitalists and misogynist racist capitalists, we are left with a state that primarily polices and incarcerates, rather than enables or enhances.

Borders and labor flows across the globe become a main site of state surveillance of migrants and refugees. As much as 70% of refugees today are women and children escaping wars and climate disaster. Instead of assisting people, this newest state apparatus incarcerates and surveils and defines who is a part of the society, and who is not.

The levels of sexual violence and rape are at increased occurrence especially in these sectors — just as abortion law becomes the newest regulator of who has citizen rights and its protections.

The decision to gut Roe that potentially criminalizes all women was orchestrated by six right-wing zealots who were not even elected in the first place. Instead, three of them were appointed by a sexual predator, former President Trump. And three of these members of the Court have been charged with sexual harassment.

In the U.S., polls show 70% to 80% of people support abortion choice for people seeking one. Denying this reality is not what democracy is supposed to look like. If it has not been clear enough to (white) women when Roe was the law of the land that too many women were criminalized and policed in our carceral culture, it should be clear by now what this means.

As we focus on this dire and threatening situation for all people facing unchosen pregnancy of every kind, and most especially Black and Brown people, we have a new opportunity to organize for women’s — trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, undocumented — liberation in a new cross-racial/class way. We cannot get ahead of history, but we can fall behind if we do not grab the incredible progressive possibilities that now exist. Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Trans. We need to be careful to think about all of us in this newly criminalizing police state and abolish the structures of power suffocating us, and repair and create anew.

Meanwhile, take a small step and vote against the Republicans while dreaming of freedom. And begin to imagine what you and the rest of us will do with that freedom.

Zillah Eisenstein is a noted international feminist writer and activist and Professor Emerita, Political Theory, Ithaca College.  She is the author of many books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Hatreds” (Routledge., 1996), “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998),  “Against Empire” (Zed Press, 2004), and most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).


What to Do? Post-Roe Abortion Syllabus 2.0

What to Do? Post-Roe Abortion Syllabus 2.0

by Zillah Eisenstein and Sarah E. Stumbar | Jul 5, 2022 | Commentary

Many friends and comrades have been asking for info on how to be present, and involved, and to donate money and skills. So it is important for us to find and respect the already established abortion and reproductive justice organizations and communities, and support them with funds and whatever skills you have to offer. I think all this will evolve more clearly in the next few months. But for now….

And because the way we think and what we see and who we see is at the heart of our politics and resistance, I have offered several important pieces for you to read if you want to mobilize your heart and mind once again. The best part of solidarity is that our community grows and deepens and the love we find in that process is what gives us the energy we need to never give up. So read and think and demonstrate and donate and we will win.

Some Things to Think About 
See sites for donation and information below

Abortion activism is already in practice because Roe was never enough and the restrictions put on Roe over the past 50 years have been enormous. There have been fewer clinics, more regulation, and more expense, even before Roe was overruled. Given this limited access to abortion, especially for poor women of all colors, there is already a support network to assist women who need abortions.

But more of everything is needed now so funding and contributions are crucial. Most reproductive justice activists emphasize that solidarity is needed, not charity. Let those already building build further. Assist them with funds so they can do so.

I have been in incredible meetings about abortion/reproductive justice that make it clear how much fight back and organizing already exists given the hard life of Roe for the last decades. I am focusing on the strength of our fightback rather than feeling doomed, even though in my heart it feels so very hard. My daughter Sarah, a social medicine doctor and abortion provider, keeps me close to the everyday part of the struggle. The people closest to the crisis are just in it and working hard — so, so should we.

There is a unique mobilizing moment right now given the extremism of the Court. White middle-class women, many who have been able to enjoy the privileges of legalized abortion given Roe, are now rightly livid that this peaceful life with their citizen rights has just been stolen from them. Black and Brown women and all poor women — trans, cis, non-binary — are enraged, but their rage is not new as they have struggled to get access to abortion even when Roe stood. So this new and old rage and the skills and strategies for dealing with the limits of abortion access, legal or not, are an incredible source of powerful resistance. They should bind us together.

Some white women need to be careful to recognize that they are coming late to this struggle but also utilize their privileged rage to create even more hell. So, there is the possibility of deep and thick camaraderie across class and racial lines in this newest struggle for reproductive justice. The most racially and economically precarious women have always known abortion and reproductive justice is intersectional and endangered, and white women must follow their lead. Many of the sites to follow originate with the work of Black women and other women of color activists.

To Donate

The Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline is staffed by volunteer medical providers who answer questions for people undergoing self-managed abortion at home or experiencing miscarriages. Donations support the hotline’s technological and administrative costs. (Sarah volunteers here!)

The Abortion Freedom Fund funds telehealth abortions, which have traditionally not been covered by more established abortion funds.

The National Network of Abortion Funds focuses on reproductive liberation and reproductive oppression rather than simply abortion. It is very focused on the intersectionality of abortion — poverty, race and gender oppression. They emphasize: LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS A PART OF ACTIVISM. Check out their website and join.

The Brigid Alliance is the NYC-based abortion travel service.

Keep our Clinics provides support to independent abortion clinics and providers, who are facing increased security threats and operating costs.

Sister Song is the largest national multi-ethnic reproductive justice collective.

Indigenous Women Rising supports indigenous women around the world.

The National Birth Equity Collaborative supports reproductive justice as an issue for black women and families.

The Whole Women’s Health Alliance works against abortion stigma in our society.

These articles talk about various abortion funds and organizations supporting urgent and needed care across the U.S.:

Reproductive Justice | Giving Compass

14 Abortion Funds To Support Now That Roe v. Wade Is Overturned—Where To Donate For Abortion Rights” by Sabrina Talbert | Women’s Health

Donate to an Abortion Fund Right Now” by Bridget Read and Claire Lampen | The Cut

To Find Abortion Pills

Plan C lets you put in your state and lists all possible vetted options for buying pills online, including online pharmacies and telehealth options.

Aid Access provides online physician-support medication abortion on a sliding fee scale based on need.

Women on Web provides pills to people outside of the U.S.

M+A Hotline answers medical questions for people undergoing self-managed abortion or experiencing miscarriages at home.

INeedAnA.com helps people across the U.S. locate abortion clinics close to them.

Legal Questions

If/When/How: Reproductive Legal Helpline answers legal questions related to abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights supports reproductive rights and freedom as key human rights in the U.S. and around the world.

Reading to Further Clarify What’s at Stake and What to Do

Watch: “This Is What a Post-Roe Abortion Looks Like” by Ora DeKornfeld, Emily Holzknecht, and Jonah M. Kessel | The New York Times

I reject the US abortion ruling. I vow to defend the sovereignty of women’s bodies” by V (formerly Eve Ensler) | The Guardian

A big concern now is that state laws like Texas’s are going to force Abortion funds themselves to stop their work. Let’s hope this can be averted:

https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=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&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1542280040691507201&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theedgemedia.org%2Fwhat-to-do-post-roe-abortion-resource-list%2F&sessionId=5471f1b5e7f51abcac00d9440bf7ebcf94788784&theme=light&widgetsVersion=b45a03c79d4c1%3A1654150928467&width=550px

Until Black Bodies are Free, None of Us Are Free” by Zillah Eisenstein | The Edge

Tracking the States Where Abortion Is Now Banned” | The New York Times

Meet the Dutch Doctor Helping Expand Abortion Access by Mailing Safe & Legal Pills Worldwide” | Democracy Now!

No, Justice Alito, Reproductive Justice Is in the Constitution” by Michele Goodwin | The New York Times

How to Discipline a Rogue Supreme Court” by Jamelle Bouie | The New York Times

The New Abortion Strategies” | Lux Magazine, Haymarket Books

The African American Policy Forum Statement on Bodily Autonomy

Voting Harder Won’t Bring Back Roe” with Lillian Cicerchia | Jacobin

Mad About Roe? Here’s What to Do Now.” by Robin Marty | The New York Times

Watch: “Resist” by Janis Ian

Watch: “F*** You” by Olivia Rodrigo

Further Reading Prepared by Showing Up For Racial Justice NYC (SURJ )

Abortion’s Racial Gap” by Zoe Dutton | The Atlantic

On Juneteenth weekend, Black activists march for abortion rights” by Sarah McCammon | NPR

Watch: “Mobilizing for Reproductive Justice in the Battle for Bodily Autonomy” | Political Research Associates

Watch: “Feminist Future Series – Feminism Beyond White Supremacy: Where We Have Been and Where We Need to Go” | Women’s March

The Racist History of Abortion and Midwifery Bans” by Michele Goodwin | ACLU

How Texas abortion law is undermining Native American women’s reproductive justice” by Erik Ortiz | ABC News

Watch: “The lesser-known racist history of the so-called pro-life movement” | Showing Up for Racial Justice

Zillah Eisenstein is a noted international feminist writer and activist and professor emerita, political theory, Ithaca College. She is the author of many books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Hatreds” (Routledge., 1996), “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998),  “Against Empire” (Zed Press, 2004), and most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).

Sarah E. Stumbar, M.D., Master of Public Health, oversees a mobile health clinic for undocumented and uninsured people in Miami; is associate professor of medicine at Florida International University Medical School, where she designs anti-racist sex and gender curriculum; and provides abortion access at Miami Planned Parenthood. 


Damn the Court; This is not what Democracy Looks Like

https://www.theedgemedia.org/supreme-court-roe-v-wade-not-democracy/

I could wait to fully try to clear my head and calm my heart but that might not happen soon enough, and this moment “we” are in is urgent. For friends who say they have lost hope I am reminded of what I have said too often in these last few years. Hope is not an abstract idea; it is a practice.  By doing with others, we create the hope we need. 

Neither the January 6th riot/coup—call it what you will– nor overturning Roe can dismantle the amazing progressive forces developed in our anti-racist feminist struggles of the past 50 years. Let us mobilize to end the fallacies of racist misogynist democracy and take our country elsewhere. Misogynist fascism has fully arrived so there is no choice or time left.

I started writing this after the second day of the Congressional hearings investigating January 6th. I was appalled at what the hearings were documenting—the complete lying and deceit and terror inflicted on innocent people by Trump and his entourage. Listening to the stories of Shaye Moss, a Georgia election worker, and her mother Ruby Freeman —black women being threatened with death and lynching, and a full onslaught of terror. Their lives were taken from them. 

Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump are gangsters. What happens when a liar and bully like Trump gets to be heard repeatedly as though it makes the process of evaluating him/them rational? What does it mean to hold hearings about the abuse of power when much of the power and its players are still in place?

And yet, it was not at all clear what was going to be done with this information. Would there be criminal charges? And I wondered, how could there not be? And, to even ask this question is to limit and contain what really had happened.

So, hypocrisy is normalized to the point that we do not even see it. Is this all just a democratic façade? Can these present hearings indict a failed democracy? Can you use the very system to indict itself? I would love a convo with Audre Lorde just about now. Is this too dangerous to both Democrats and Republicans? I fear it is.

Is this why democracy as we know it just does not work so much of the time? Look at the last ½ century of civil rights and women’s rights movement demands—equality and freedom remain elusive. So, we need new strategies for our demands. And, a real democracy that cannot be attained in existing class, race, gender structures. When we are told to vote ourselves out of this dilemma it is both true and false. It might be necessary but not enough. (Let’s not even think about the newest redistricting and gerrymandering.)

AND then, here comes the Court and its heinous decisions. First it undermines the separation of church and state in Maine, and then it invalidates a New York State gun safety law that limits the public carry of firearms. Really? In this country drowning in its own blood? And then it overrules Roe v. Wade as unconstitutional. And why? Because abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution. Are they kidding? This is an old thought that existed beforeRoe was established as the law of the land. And really? The constitution recognizes no bodies, and not women, white or Black or Brown or Yellow. Then why would it mention abortion?

And it is crucial that we also recognize that the initial legal standing of Roe has been whittled away for these last 50 years.  Although abortion was established as a legal right for all women, a series of Court cases have narrowed and limited the scope and access to abortion.  Many counties do not have more than one abortion facility. Although all women have had the legal right to abortion; many, and in most states most women do not have access to them. This whittling away at Roe is endemic and central to the whittling away at democracy in the US—from voting rights to a fuller notion of reproductive justice. Attacks on Roe should have been our canary in the coal mine.

It is the trick of legal rights—there are a series of needs that must be met before a legal right becomes actionable, accessible. This reality of need has already necessitated an incredible network, often underground and unacknowledged, that assists women now. These routes are in place for the resistance that is already building.

#TheMorningAfterRoe. Abortion clinics have closed in states with trigger laws while abortion providers already are working on alternatives and workarounds. While writing this I got a call from my daughter Dr. Sarah that she is on her way to Planned Parenthood in Miami where abortion remains legal for a bit longer. Doctors and providers across the country are both mourning and raging along with the rest of us. The court has made a huge mistake and thinks It can erase 50 years of unbelievable antiracist feminist struggle with one-stroke. They cannot. The issues and their movements that underly Roe are bigger than Roe. The Court says the Constitution cannot grow and adapt beyond its origin BUT WE HAVE.

2/3 of people in the US support the Roe ruling legalizing abortion. 57% support abortion for any reason. Yet 6 elite people, 5 male, 1 female, 2 of whom are known sexual predators, overturned Roe v. Wade.

Anita Hill warned us—Clarence Thomas did not belong on the Court. No one listened. And now this hateful angry man is destroying the self-determination of millions of people.

I have never been a fan of the term democracy. For me, it always needs an adjective—what kind of democracy?  liberal, bourgeois, misogynist, racist? The more I taught and wrote over the past 40 years the more problematic the term became, but maybe never as much as right now, (except for chattel slavery) where I think it may be time to drop the term all together and have a new imagination.

This Court, with its newest readings of the Constitution has fully established a misogynist fascism. Democracy in any of its limited legal forms is done, at least until we recognize that it is fully captured and claim it back. Decades ago, Bertram Gross coined the phrase friendly fascism, the form he said fooled people in the US—it didn’t look like Nazism nor was it violent enough, but this is what white misogynist fascism looks like.

Political language and practice matter because it is through language that we see and think and dream.  It constrains us and it can free us too. It is time to realize that we must take back white misogynist fascism parading as democracy and make it friendly to all bodies of every color. 

Jamelle Bouie suggests that The Constitution provides several paths by which Congress can restrain and discipline a rogue court. It can impeach and remove justices.  It can set up new restrictions that limit their purview.

So let us put pressure on the Democrats to stand up for democracy for women of every sort—color, class, sex, gender, ability. Meanwhile as I learned long ago from Rosa Luxemburg: extra-legal power struggles must also define the day.  Progressive anti-racist feminists of every sort must mobilize our power wherever it already exists. As we strategize our next steps to fight again for our right to abortion and reproductive justice let us use our 50 years of anti-racist feminist struggle and growth to see all the intersections of our lives so we can lift each other up together.  That means seeing abortion and reproductive justice as a fundamental demand for full democracy. There is nothing new here. After the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union East and West Germany had one last issue they could not agree upon: abortion rights.  Women’s bodies—with or without a uterus—are always up for power grabs. In these 50 years of living with Roe women’s struggles and feminist solidarities have morphed, and changed, and been made more inclusive and radical. Black women have led the fight to broaden and encompass the complexity of these needs and demands. The right to abortion is about the right to control our bodies and what they will and won’t do and it is about everything that defines and structures women’s—trans, non-binary, cis, in all colors and abilities– lives.  As Kimberle Crenshaw co-founder of the African American Policy forum reminds us: The consequence of our society’s failure to see coerced pregnancy as a legacy of enslavement has descended once again upon Black women and pregnant people. If the project of liberation from enslavement had been rooted in this recognition, then coerced childbirth would have been prohibited as a foundational principle of freedom. Our bodies are multiple and complex and borderless with the world they inhabit. So, abortion is a specific, but not a single issue. It is central and intimate with its surround. It is why support for it is so deep and wide.

Gun violence, and the war in Ukraine, and Covid and sexual assault and #MeToo, and Afghan women, and the detainees still in Guantanamo is about all our bodies. 

In sum: Roe has been overturned.  Abortion and our reproductive rights have been taken from all of us against our will. But we are stronger than the law that narrows us. And, wehave learned so much. We know how to fight, and together. We have the power of community and camaraderie. And it must be used to deny illegitimate power. It is time to disobey. For a start we must organize to impeach the 3 judges that lied about Roe. And impeach Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment. 

This Court has forced our hand. We are at the point where we have nothing to lose but our chains, and we have the strength to make claim to a revolutionary democracy once and for all. 

We will create sanctuary communities and cities, we will continue the underground networks to transport women to the care they need, we will impeach the judges, we will indict the violators of democracy with refusal to support the regime/s in power through strikes, through continual disruptions of everyday life. We will create democratic chaos. This is already in process, and it will become more visible and more organized and more impactful in the coming weeks and months. And with this process we will make our revolution even if we do not know what it looks like in advance. 

Ending Roe does not end the 50 years of organizing in multiple ways for anti-racist feminist abolition that went along with it. Just because these judges cannot see us does not mean we are not here. So let us all take this knowledge and energy to finally demand the world we must have. This is where our hope lies. 

#AbortTheCourt 

 #AbortionUnapologetically 


#Time2Disobey 


HIS NAME IS GEORGE FLOYD

I just read HIS NAME IS GEORGE FLOYD

His name is George Perry Floyd.

His friends call/ed him Perry.

The world calls him George Floyd.

When he was young, he was kind, present, caring, thoughtfully intelligent, and told his friends he wanted to be somebody, to make a difference. “’Sis, “I don’t want to rule the world; I don’t want to run the world. I just want to touch the world.” (p. 10) He thought maybe he could be a Supreme Court Justice

He grew up in the Cuney Homes housing project in the third ward, in Houston, Texas. The third ward was poor working class. His early life was defined by Reaganomics. George lived most of his life in Texas. Texas has the most mean-spirited laws of any state. No Medicaid assistance.

And Texas laws forbid “former felons” from holding many jobs,

or receiving food assistance like food stamps. (p. 159) Texas insured recidivism. Maybe if he lived in a different state his life would have been different. Maybe.

His arrest record shows over twenty incidents. His first conviction was 1997; he did not get his diploma in 1993 — and maybe that was the beginning of his downturn. As he cycled through the prison system about 1/3 of Black men were part of jail, parole or probation in Texas. (p.105) The penal system is burgeoning alongside his personal life.

People’s stories matter. They tell the particulars of a human being. Structures define us but we are always more than that part of the story.

Which comes first? The person or the structure of racism and/or misogyny and/or class privilege that they are born into? There is no first because the embeddedness of who we are is inseparable from what we might become and that does not negate the fact that there can be huge variety. There are usually constraints, and a little bit of choice, but not always, and often not.

Each of us is a person, and each of us is in a structural system of power beyond our own individual story. The authors of Geroge Floyd, Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, show us that he was “suffocated” by a system in which he could not breathe.

Floyd’s great-great-grandfather was enslaved — Hillery Thomas Stewart — yet amassed wealth and land only to have it stolen through fraud and deception like so many other Black farmers during the early 19th century. Perry died for allegedly using a counterfeit 20-dollar bill.

As a black boy he was always big — ending up at 6’6” — and 225 pounds. His body was a problem especially because he was Black. And his Black body defined his choices. The only work he could get was: manual labor, bodyguard, security. (p. 210) He tried to get jobs and hold onto them but then came Covid and he could find nothing.

He always knew, even as a boy, that people saw him as big and Black so he always tried to soften himself, to let people know he was not his body. He tried to soften himself for others by telling just about everyone that “he loved them”. It was his greeting. He closed phone calls with friends: “I love you”.

He was surrounded in his childhood and beyond by his mother, grandmother, 9 aunts, and two sisters. His last words, the day he was brutally killed was — “Moma I love you”.

George Floyd was committed to being a person that mattered. But he was also Black, so he could never catch a break. As he got older the police were always at the ready. The day Chauvin murdered him was not the first time he had met Chauvin. Rumors said that Chauvin had a beef with Floyd; Floyd’s drug counselor said he had complained about Chauvin for years. (p.298) From 2014–2020 Chauvin had complaints for using neck restraints repeatedly but was never punished. Eight of the people he assaulted survived, the ninth was George Floyd. He did not. (p. 153)

His back pain from football injuries led to opiods and getting hooked on Percocet. His addiction was always in play — he fought it and won and succumbed over and over, like so many.

Drug record. Arrest record. Addiction. In one of his recovery groups the facilitator would have all the men say: “I am loveable! I am important! I am valuable! I am empowered! If only. He said often: “I know these cops just waiting to kill a big Black nigga like me”.

He was claustrophobic so he always had problems in small spaces — police cars, jail cells.

Perry was always at risk. For being Black. For being an addict. For having a police record. He knew he was always at risk and had to manage himself as best he could. Sometimes he ignored the risk just to be able to do the day.

So many Black people on his death day said: he could have been my brother, my father, my son. To know that is to be really close to the pain. And then there were already Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice.

George Floyd’s murder took eight minutes and 46 seconds; then that was reconstructed as nine minutes and 29 seconds. I would say it has been centuries. The whole world has watched his death. It is so important to know a bit of his life so we know more what was lost and what must be found in order to finally abolish racist misogyny. This book brings us all closer to the pain and closer to a damning condemnation of the murderousness of structural racoism.

And, I now want a book that tells the intimate and political story of Sandra Bland and another for Bryonna Taylor. Each were determined and directed in their interesting lives. They died and were killed because of egregious racist misogynistic policing. Tell these stories so that we, especially white people, will no longer need them told. Read, and listen and hear what is being told and begin the abolitionist work needed to free us all.

Thank you for this book.

#BeyondPolicing

#AbolitionDemocracy

#FreeUsAll

#AbolishRacistMisogyny


Until Black Bodies are Free, None of Us Are Free

This speech was given at an abortion rally in Seneca Falls, New York, on May 21, 2022, sponsored by the Geneva Women’s Assembly, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Poor People’s Campaign. It is part of the national “Summer of Rage” protests. Read a previous abortion rally speech given by Zilllah Eisenstein here.

Before I start: This is an incredible moment — both dire and promissory. The right-wing zealots have taken power in the Republican party and the Court and have exposed themselves by doing so. Instead of mystifying their power, they have unveiled it for all to see. This is not smart: the powerful are not supposed to reveal themselves to the rest of us. So we must use their arrogance against them. This should allow us to solidify our coalitions among ourselves.

A few words. My parents were anti-racist communists and my three sisters and myself grew up on civil rights picket lines. We were taught to not open the door when the FBI was knocking. I was in college from 1964–68, so abortion was illegal. I helped find abortions for several of my roommates and friends. For myself, I decided to put off fucking, so to speak, if this is what it could mean.

I wrote “The Female Body and the Law” in 1988. In this book I showed how female bodies were not imagined or conceived in law, so of course there is no mention of abortion in the constitution. I wrote “The Color of Gender” in 1994. Here I end the book: imagine a Black female body that is pregnant and meet all her needs and that would be a good start towards democracy.

Here we are in Seneca Falls — connecting with demonstrations throughout the country, so I want to send a message to the rest of us to and from Seneca Falls — with its history of abolitionism and the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman.

Until Black bodies are free, none of us are free, and we need to remember this when we recognize the most recent carnage in Buffalo, New York.

Black bodies are linked with all women’s bodies — and all women’s bodies are linked with Black bodies of all kinds.

The struggle for freedom is deeply intertwined and connected, and yet distinct. The murderous actions by the white-supremacist right-wing zealots who kill people at abortion clinics and random Black neighborhoods derive from shared racist and misogynist commitments.

The interlocking systems of misogynist Black and Asian racism are rooted in ableism, nationalism, patriarchy, homophobia, antisemitism, and heterosexism. These are distinct but not separate systems of power. Therefore, we must fight them specifically and collectively.

White rage infiltrates and destroys Black people’s everyday life. People are not even safe food shopping; any semblance of control over one’s life is destroyed. Humanity is thrown to the wind. This erasure of selves is at the heart of white supremacy and its intimate connection to misogyny.

By the way, do you know that the electoral college is a leftover of chattel slavery? Southern states wanted to hold onto their power. The filibuster is a racist leftover too.

Why do people own guns? U.S. gun production has tripled since 2000. There are now 400 million guns in this country. Owning a gun should not be a 2nd amendment right. How do you get to own a gun but not have the right to decide what your own body will do, or not do? When your government does not protect you or allow you to thrive, it is your duty to be ungovernable.

When a Court disallows you a right to control your body, you have a duty to disobey. When violence is used to destroy you like in Buffalo or Tulsa you fight back. Meanwhile, remember the murder of the abortion doctor Barnett Slepian and his assistants was also in Buffalo. It is not good enough that President Biden says that white supremacy is a poison — poison kills, so get rid of it.

It is time for abolition — to abolish white supremacy and to end murderous plunder and killing. And it means an end to the control of all women’s bodies — whatever form or identity it may have. And it is time for reparations. Repair the wounds of our Black sisters, and we will become free with them.

Women of all colors have no standing with the radical anti-abortionists. Anti abortionists are keenly pre-occupied with white babies; they must not be aborted if the nation is to remain predominantly white. Anything that decreases the white birth rate is forbidden. It is why white supremacists hate feminism and abortion and people of color. White feminists are their enemy; Black women are simply invisible. If you are made invisible you have no standing.

The radical white supremacist zealots yell “You will not replace us!” So they will kill those they fear with the police, with guns, and with control of white women’s bodies. White women must band with women of all other colors to say that no one controls our bodies but us — by either forcing laws on our bodies or sterilizing them.

The struggles for racial and sexual equality are under attack in new virulent forms given the radicalization and mainstreaming of much of the white-supremacist right-wing zealots. And they are embedded in each other — I must fight to find my freedom as I come to fight for people of every color and gender, trans and non-binary and disabled and undocumented alike. This is a borderless struggle in a bordered world.

We need to honor grief and rage and therefore the need for rebellion and revolution. As we go forward do not assume the answers will come easily, or that you will know what a revolution looks like. We must make that happen.

We need power, and power is never given. If you are ever given anything know it is not power. Power is taken.

THESE ARE OUR BODIES. They are Black and Brown and Asian. NO ONE ELSE CAN CONTROL THEM. No one is allowed to injure or kill them.

If you cannot hear us, if you cannot see us, WE WILL TAKE THE POWER YOU HAVE FROM YOU.

WE WILL NOT GO BACK. We will not stand still. We will only go forward even if we are not sure exactly what comes next.

WE WILL NEVER GO BACK.

When you leave here today you have work to do — learn more, think more, know more and ACT on it — individually and collectively. We are a movement that is evolving and growing. We will not stop.


Our Bodies/Our Lives, With and Beyond the Law

https://www.theedgemedia.org/our-bodies-our-lives-abortion-law/

This speech was written for the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in Ithaca, New York, as part of the abortion rallies called for throughout the U.S., on Saturday, May 14, “Summer of Rage.”

Alert: This is a moment of crisis. The right wing in this country is radically trying to solidify its power. The Supreme Court is now a site for this takeover. It is why these judges decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt, once and for all, to decimate Roe. They are leading the charge against racial, sexual, and gender equality and freedom. THIS IS A WAR.

There is too much to say — 50 years’ worth — and so much more to think about and imagine in this crucial time. Right wing zealots are busy trying to dominate this country. A problem is that too many of us are slow to really believe this. Much of the U.S. thinks of itself as more democratic than it is, and exceptionally so. We are less so than we think. As the U.S. supports democracy in Ukraine, there is less clarity here about how abortion is necessary to democracy — for our bodies and the planet.

Roe v. Wade grew out of the “women’s liberation movement” of the 1970s. We need a radical movement again. Why? Because Roe has been undermined already: there are as many as 1,300 restrictions on Roe that have been passed by states, and 80% of U.S. counties do not have abortion clinics. We have nothing to lose but our chains now.

You should not take something away, especially a law, that has existed for 50 years unless there is a new reason that something has changed. But Alito and his right-wing cabal have no new reasons. Nothing has changed except their positioning on the Court. They now have enough votes on the Court to dictate their vision for the country even though 70% of the country does not agree. So we must disobey them. They have no credibility — they were unjustly nominated and then they lied to us in their confirmation hearings.

RIGHT WING ZEALOTS HAVE OVERSTEPPED AND TAKEN OVER THE COURT — WE WON’T LET THEM TAKE OVER THE COUNTRY.

Alito has written a rant against women — all of us, of every color, trans, non-binary, undocumented, disabled. His rant is not just against abortion; it is against people’s equality and freedom. For him, women are reduced to abortionists. He quotes 17th century law and jurists who disavowed the idea of marital rape. Kavanaugh and Thomas are known sexual predators, not to mention the president who nominated them. Amy Comey Barrett is a fanatic of the Christian Right movement. She believes in safe haven laws — that a woman can birth a child and abandon it with no repercussions. As such she separates pregnancy from parenthood; parenthood is burdensome, but not pregnancy. She has seven children. I won’t say anything further.

The well-respected medical journal The Lancet writes this week that “women will die” if Roe is overturned and that the Court will have this blood on its hands, given that there are already worldwide 120 million unintended pregnancies annually. The Alito rendering is “shocking.”

To fully understand the 50-year struggle to overturn Roe v. Wade one must understand this: the female body is at the center of all politics — always has been and always will be until patriarchy and its racist formation is overturned. It is at the center of U.S. history as the black female enslaved body that during chattel slavery was raped and forced to reproduce — she had no legal status. These rapes were foundational to existing white supremacist patriarchal society.

There is nothing more political — power-filled — than our bodies. Women’s bodies — trans, cis, disabled — are the most contentious political site for any political regime. That is why AT&T, Citibank, Coca-Cola, Google, Walmart, and Verizon have all donated millions of dollars to sponsor anti-abortion actions and legislation.

Abortion is always about so much more than abortion, and is also exactly about that: controlling the female body and what it can and cannot do. And the female body is always ensconced in other systems of power and oppression, so know that when they come for us that they will be coming for you next.

Why do you think rape is always a part of war? Because patriarchy and the control of women’s bodies underwrites the nation and nationalism. There cannot be democracy without women of every sort controlling their bodies. Abortion is necessary for this control and freedom. An end to domestic abuse, an end to hunger, an end to exploitive work conditions, and protection from COVID are necessary as well. Abortion in this moment is our defensive rallying cry. Abortion is the trigger that mobilizes the right wing — so we will defend against this trigger and move outwards in other directions — towards our liberation.

WE NEED A REBELLION… and now, because the problem is bigger than the Court.

The Senate failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would federalize protections for reproductive rights. Nancy Pelosi is supporting an anti-abortion Democrat. This is a failed, ineffective state. IT IS TIME TO DISOBEY. IT IS OUR OBLIGATION.

The U.S. made women’s rights a rallying cry for the Afghan war and the Taliban has just re-imposed the burqa on Afghan women, with no choice. NO ENFORCED BURQAS. NO BANS ON OUR BODIES.

We need to remember that women in our inclusive camaraderie have fought to imagine and demand what reproductive justice must mean: the right to access to contraception and abortion, an end to sterilization abuse. Abortion encompasses and allows for sexual equality, sexual difference, sexual freedoms. It is why it remains so controversial.

I remember going to a meeting of East/West feminists shortly after the Soviet Union fell in 1989. Meeting with Russian women there, I was speaking about abortion rights in the U.S. and they responded: “We have plenty of abortion here, too much, it is used instead of contraception. What we want is actual contraception. We want access to contraception.” It was a formative moment for me: the many necessities of reproductive control and the necessity but insufficiency of abortion.

We must be careful that, as we fight to keep abortion legal, we remember Roe was never enough. It made the right to choose an abortion legal; but it never made the access to abortion a mandate. So today with all the rollbacks and cutbacks on Roe, it is not enough — it has become too hard to get an abortion for too many women. Eighty percent of the counties in this country have no abortion clinic. Yet, because Roe is all we have we must insure it remains.

As voting rights are under attack; as trans children are said to be the new enemy; when books are being banned; we can no longer pretend that we can depend on reforms of this state. The state is in crisis so we must take to the streets and let them know that we know. Our rights to our bodies will not be taken away. Our demands will not be contained with anything less than our full freedom — Black, white, Yellow, trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, undocumented — all of us together.

I thought the work of my daughter — who is a doctor in Miami Florida and started her education at BJM elementary school and then Ithaca High — might be of particular interest to us here. She runs a mobile health clinic for uninsured and undocumented people. She hit up a wealthy Ithaca donor to fund IUDs for her clinic. She says more women than she can count have thanked her in Spanish, Farsi, Hindi, Creole — for saving their lives with IUDs. She works at Planned Parenthood on her Saturdays off to make abortion available. She covers the Abortion Hot Line to answer queries and assist people in medical abortions. She says she will never stop doing so.

For now we must direct all of our energy in pushing back against this assault on Roe and also demand more. There is no end to this struggle in this moment so focus on continuous mobilization. We need multiple venues — local and national, individual and collective — to get people to do whatever they can because we cannot know in advance what we might accomplish.

Oh, and did I say that UNTIL YOU HAVE BEEN RAPED DO NOT DARE TO THINK YOU CAN TELL ANY OF US WHO HAVE BEEN WHAT TO DO WITH OUR BODIES IF WE CHOOSE ABORTION.

And those of you who remain unvaccinated BECAUSE NO ONE CAN TELL YOU WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BODY, I DARE YOU TO SAY ONE MORE WORD ABOUT ABORTION.

We need to be rebellious, reformist, and revolutionary. We need to speak out and be courageous. Join the existing racial and gender and trans justice movements. Be a part of creating a radical reproductive justice agenda that connects abortion to an inclusive framework along with access to health care, access to day care, access to a livable wage. The fight for our bodies requires us to be vigilant against all forms of hatred: racisms, sexisms, homophobias, and ableism.

We need to be tactical, strategic, reformist, rebellious, revolutionary, all at the same time. When called upon, choose whatever you can do and do it. Join a demonstration. When called upon get in the streets and stop traffic. Strike when we call for one. Give money to abortion hotlines. This struggle to keep abortion legal is about abortion and so much more. It is about fighting for all our lives and our right to thrive: to imagine and re-imagine ourselves in the fabulousness of radical anti-racist feminist democracy. We will all have to make the rebellious revolution that we need.

THESE ARE OUR BODIES. NO ONE ELSE CAN CONTROL THEM.

WE WILL NOT GO BACK.

NEVER.


My love letter to Richard and our Comrades; The Personal and Political, about Death and Living

Personal stories matter but especially when they expose a particular site that is bigger than the specific — when they elucidate a huge versality, even if in partial fragments. The fragments follow.

But as I write this morning, I listen to news of Congo and the deaths and starvation there; and the war in Yemen; and the Tulsa massacre of 1921; and France admitting its complicity in the genocide in Rwanda. And I think about the privilege to just think about one death. And because suffering is so immense, I hesitate that I might cause someone else pain as I share this telling with you.

Maybe this is not the right time. But as you read you will see why I have written this anyhow. Because choice and choosing is always about living a life without ever fully knowing anything for sure. Richard’s death is so big/profound, and also so intimate. It is about everything, and also little somethings. I wrote and sent this letter to friends just after Richard’s death day:

to my/our dear friends — some of you knew him completely, others knew me more, many of you knew and loved both of us

I am sending this message to ease the aching of losing Richard, yesterday, April 13

Richard has ended his glorious life and his hard struggle with his “mental chaos” — he says if you need to package the multiple processes of knowing, remembering, thinking, connecting, finding — call it Alzheimer’s or what you wish.

But he knew that he wanted to end his life while he still was able to love and care for the those he loved. And, so he did. He told Sarah and me shortly before he took his life: “I am a scientist at heart, and this experiment is done”.

He should be remembered for his extraordinary commitment to every kind of justice. He did not have a hierarchical bone in his body. He fought early on to get an elevator installed in the Ithaca Court House and make it accessible; fought one of the earliest fights against sex discrimination for women coaches at Cornell and won; was one of the lead attorneys to bring sex equality in marriage for gays in NY state, and lost, (to later be corrected) and fought for fairness in neighborhood housing. Just ask any of his pro-bono clients how much they adore him. There are so very many of them.

And, he taught Sarah and me to always look at the sky and find the moon…

And read the trees for what they were saying….

Most of all he was the kindest, sweetest, most generous soulmate on the planet.

When we are able to, we will organize a shared communal time together and also write a more coherent testament of all he is/was.

Meanwhile, being with Richard each day for the last year, and especially the last four months we absolutely know the urgency of now, or as Martin Luther King said: “tomorrow is today”. Fear nothing, not even death.

He felt so very loved by so many of you in the last weeks. Sarah, Lunan and I are so grateful.

with excruciating loss

and immense love,

zillah, sarah and lunan (and richard too)

— Richard was declining and we were preparing alongside, within, underneath and on top of living during the Covid pandemic. Death, and I will say criminal death, was a part of life with a despot running our country — in denial of the pandemic while articulating the racist misogyny that allowed it to flourish.

— There is nowhere to begin this story of Richard’s decline because we never really know, until we do. Exactly what happens when we let ourselves see, I mean really see? What was I doing when I was not letting myself know that Richard was losing himself? What was Richard doing? After not seeing/knowing, how do you now know if and what you see and what it means?

What is this process? To see someone changing, slightly, unclearly, and yet not really wonder? Why is it important to wonder, and to know more? And to wonder in the present and not fear about the future. I think it is all about forcing ourselves to find courage in the mess of the present. And, I do not have the language I want or need. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, cognitive decline — none of them help. They are words that evade and pretend to have more knowledge than they do. And they become hurdles.

— Maybe this started six years ago. Probably it did. He seemed more quiet than usual. Maybe distracted. Sarah asked me if something might be wrong — was dad depressed, worried about a case, or? But, then about 2 years ago, just before the pandemic lock down came, he seemed to have memory lapses, but not all that worrying. And, then Richard became more confused, absent, repetitive, forgetting, but only sometimes. He also was his extraordinary loving, caring self. He was working so hard at helping me, knowing that I was working hard to complete what he could not do. Nothing was obvious.

I remember one day thinking that Richard was losing a sense of time. And then I realized that you have to remember time passing to know that it has. So an hour could feel like 10 minutes to him. And he would have to navigate amidst this loss. And so would I.

I asked constantly what is it feeling like? What does it feel like to lose a memory? He says he keeps looking for it. When he is quiet he is looking to see if he can find a fragment and then connect it. He says his mind is often in chaos. He looks to calm his thoughts or organize them, and he cannot.

Did I say that Sarah is a social medicine doctor? That she works out of a mobile health unit to offer medical care to undocumented and uninsured patients in Miami, Florida? That on weekends she provides abortions at Planned Parenthood because she believes deeply in a woman’s right to choose about her body and her health care. That she believes deeply in narrative medicine — that the stories people tell her allow her to treat their illness more fully than any medical test can?

Richard tells his law partners and para-legals that he is having trouble remembering so that they don’t have to wonder; and to tell them that he needs them to be watchful for him. (Of course, they already knew in some vague way). That he is sorry about his memory; about losing things and his disorganization. But he also wonders: and what is memory anyhow? It is not a thing. It feels like a process of seeing and connecting that he is losing. His honesty opens the door for amazing collaboration. Colleagues came close to assist.

But nothing was clear. Everything was not clear. We scheduled a brain scan and it showed shrinkage of the brain and in memory areas. We waited for an appointment with the neurologist for 8 months and by time it came we did not really need to go. But Rich wanted to, he ached for some clarity, so we did. He still retains so much of his brilliance that the neurologist made sense of nothing. But we knew.

Richard continues to work, but much less…and all the while he remains my loving supportive companion. But more and more is being lost. I do not have the words I want to describe the simultaneous normalcy and sense of agony I feel. I remind myself that I am very committed to honesty and deep conversation to find whatever of Richard there is to find in this journey. And then, we will figure out what comes next.

The next hurdle emerged. Richard needed to really see himself, not as having small memory lapses but as losing himself, as having his personhood slip away. He needed to accept what was happening and I needed to make sure that he did not feel alone. The loneliness was real for me, as I began losing Richard more. But I had to show him that he was not alone. That we were together. Sarah was not sure this was possible given his brain loss, but I was determined.

I pushed every day for Richard to absorb what was happening so we could share it rather than be isolated by it. I was the only one who could do this. Richard was amazing in that he let go of his fear and shared it with me. Always telling me how the connection let him love the life he had lived. I fought to have us share our two different worlds — his with little ability to remember, but with amazing ability to still love, and me with my memory and a renewed energy from his struggle.

I spent a lot of time terrified — how long would it take him to die after he took the pills? Research, but mainly many phone calls to doctor friends helped me figure out most things. And, but my/our greatest fear: what if he does not die? What then?

He asks me how I think he will know when it is time to die? I say that if he is asking this, that the time is probably anytime. About a week later he says that he thinks he is getting ready, and that he wants Sarah to come one more time, around her birthday, and then after she leaves he will end his life. Her birthday is April 5 so she came and stayed the week, and said goodbye, and left on Sunday and cried. She and Lunan had a lonely plane trip home. Richard ended his life on the following Tuesday. And I am not free to share anything more about this day.

— There are so many kinds of death that are criminal. The Covid deaths due to political neglect; the deaths due to brutality in chattel slavery; the deaths of freedom fighters in Myanmar and Columbia and Chile and Argentina; the deaths from police killings of Black and Brown people. They are wrongful deaths, and yet normalized and ignored. But Richard’s choice to end his life and allow others to help him? This should not be criminal. A death chosen by someone who is ready to die is freedom.

Richard said to me: do not call my death a suicide. It is not an act of desperation, but an act of love, for himself, his friends, and the planet. He walked through the door to death courageously and with intention. And wanted to make sure that at the end he could feel this peace. I will never ever forget that he was able to do this.

— Death should not be thought about in a contained, careful way. It is and should be tied to and a part of living and one’s life.

Until life is understood as intimately connected to death neither can fully express themselves.

— There is so much happening always at the same time. Until fear does not rule us, racist patriarchy can never be abolished. Politics — specifically imperial and colonial politics mystifies its violence and murder and installs it as democracy. I think of James Baldwin. Especially as Covid inequities and the Black Lives Matter activism against white supremacy became intertwined I thought more about how white people had the privilege — if they chose to — to protect themselves and live inwardly and selfishly. But if I think racism is as treacherous as Covid, which clearly it is for Black and Brown people, then choice is different.

I have been an anti-racist since childhood — by no choice of my own, but rather my parents. When I met Richard he joined me in this struggle. Eddie Glaude asks us to begin again today with James Baldwin. We were ready. Bryan Stevenson asks us to learn and see and feel the lynching and incarceration and murderous deeds as part of one horrific slog through history. We must.

Baldwin says: “We must tell the truth till we can no longer bear it”.

“Bear Witness to the truth” when the biggest lie that is covered and hidden is that whites matter more, than Black lives matter.

The lie that keeps being covered over: “the innocence of white privilege”. It is like Germans saying that they did not know. If they did not know they did not want to know. So, think more about the comparison of the atrocity of Nazism and the concentration camps and the similarities to chattel slavery. All of this helps me grieve.

I was raised with a critical consciousness about Nazism and anti-Semitism and WWII, and none of this was ever referred to as the holocaust. My father said that there has been more than one holocaust. Richard grew up a coal miner’s son in Pennsylvania. He was raised Catholic and was an alter boy but left the Church at 13. He hated the hypocrisy of the priests with all their wealth and fancy rings, while the nuns who had little did all of the work. But, and, then the teachings about masturbation pushed him over the edge. We built our anti-racist feminist life together with and through our histories.

We are implicated in white supremacy by simply living as white.

It is not about what we have done in any origin sense, but rather what we have not done enough to change it. It is important to see the past, and not as an ending, but as how it remains present, and it is in this presence that we are culpable. Baldwin demands accountability by whites for “willful blindness”. Shatter our innocence and what do we see.

Baldwin says that if we are scared to death, to walk towards it. So, Richard and I walked towards it. Baldwin says whiteness is a choice — choose differently and make it matter. Face death. So we did.

Death is always present even if totally silenced. Youth in some sense, if you do not live in Palestine or Syria or fear getting shot by police — is supposedly free of the fear of death and dying. It is probably why youth is so romanticized in our culture; even though suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 14–24.

My own encounter with death is part of Richard’s story to understand because I am the woman he met and crafted life with. Before I met Richard, when I was 21 I was in a car crash. My skull was fractured, my brain swelled, and traumatized my pituitary gland. I have diabetes insipidus as a result. The recovery was almost unbearable, and the pituitary never reversed. In that time, I wondered if I wanted to continue to live — breathing was too encumbered, and the pain extreme.

The randomness of the car crash and my daily limits made everything too tenuous. Some way, I kept pushing and writing (my dissertation) and I stopped worrying about when my life might be smashed again. My mother assured me that this was all there was: living with a knowledge of death. All this was before I knew Richard, but he lived daily, every day, with my diabetes insipidus.

My beloved sister Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24. She died when she was 30, and I was 28. Giah was diagnosed during this same time. She then died of ovarian cancer when she was 42. Sarah died before I met Richard. He knew and loved Giah.

I too have had breast cancer. Sixteen years later I had an undiagnosable cancer tumor that the doctors at Sloane Kettering named “ovarian-like”. I have the BRCA-1 mutation. Everything prophylactic had been done to avoid this, but I was now facing probable death. I readied myself but Sarah and Richard begged for me to do one more surgery, and one more, last round of chemo. I couldn’t not do what they asked; even though I was ready to stop.

My story was Richard’s story. He was by my side through every cancer cutting, every vomiting, every healing, every everything. We both knew how to fight to live. And all along we expected that it might be me who would need to choose a death.

I also have spent most of my life as part of anti-racist and feminist social struggle, that Richard entered when we met. All my friends and comrades always loved the way he was so present, but quietly, not taking room from other women.

My parents were communists and my sisters and me were too — what else are children of communists to do. We picketed Woolworth’s and found much of our youth defined by the civil rights struggles of the day. It helped to be brave — against the police on horseback or the bullies at school. Being brave means simply that you do not let your fear dominate you.

So life and death and the civil rights struggles for and by and with Black people have always been messily mixed up and with each other for me, and with Rich. My mother Fannie Price Eisenstein was a communist starting in her youth. Actually the well known film, The Way We Were with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford was based on my mother when she was at Cornell University and founded the first chapter of the Young Communist League while there. Richard loved Fannie. She and he shared close bonds. She was brilliant and poor and attended Cornell on total scholarship, just like Richard did.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 1st year of college — 1964 — we all thought she would die. Back then cancer meant death more than it does today. We lived in Atlanta Georgia then, my dad taught at the Black graduate center, Atlanta University. Mom asked Dr. Yancey, a Black surgeon and her friend and comrade in the civil rights movement there to do her surgery. He said he could not operate in the White hospital. So mom had her surgery done in the Black hospital. I think it was called Grady hospital then.

White supremacy and death are always connected — through brutal racism and white people’s fear. Baldwin, in “A Letter From a Region in my Mind” in The Fire Next Time says: “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.” And, “White people were and are astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether Black people were astounded — at least, in the same way.” How could they be given their own history of massacre and death.

Baldwin continues: “It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life”. For the sake of those coming after we need to embrace death so life can be lived honestly. “But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them”. “To liberate white people you must liberate blacks, “so dare everything”.

— The police called today to say that the investigation into Richard’s “unaccompanied death” has been closed. When they came to take Richard’s body after I called 911, they wanted to know if I had known Richard was thinking about taking his life. And I said, that I absolutely knew. I am his partner; how could I not know? And, then there was the letter Richard had written to all of us: that clarified that he had taken his own life, that he was ending his life while he still could, and that he was at peace.

Now that their investigation was completed, whatever this means to them, they said I should come get his letter. I said I would not come to the station because we didn’t think an investigation was needed, when a choice by Richard had been clearly made. The officer said I needed to come and sign papers saying I received the letter, and then the case could be closed. He said he would call me back in a week and maybe by then I would agree to do so.

— Near the end, Richard struggled to be himself, to find himself daily, hourly, all the time. Yet, as I have repeatedly said, he was still loving and caring and present and smart. So, he was still himself, and also not. Both. All of it. I knew we had to find a way to speak and embrace this heartache together.

I tried to ease the anxiety and sadness. I helped keeping him calm when his mind failed him and made him anxious. I assisted when he became repetitive. He could see the repetition but sometimes not. He still wanted to be my soulmate so he tried to do everything he used to do easily. And when he couldn’t, he still tried. He became a master of all things small: the dishwasher, recycle, simple errands, washing the car. And now each time I do these chores I feel him. A bit of me breaks.

— Richard was a gardener. He loved the dirt. He would pick out the rocks and fertilize the soil. He would check all the trees and cut down the vines that were strangling them. He planted every season and loved to watch the growth. Old trees were cared for by him, rather than abandoned. He loved seeing the splints on trees in the Japanese gardens in Tokyo; helping them survive.

Our friends and neighbors connected to and loved Richard as a gardener more than as an attorney, even though he was always helping with everyday legal issues. His quiet and kindness and nurture were ablaze in his spring flowers. Everyone stopped and chatted with him when he was in the garden. Friends now say they see him in the garden, still. Chandra’s peonies which he planted for her, will bloom soon this spring, and she will have his presence. Uma says that when she looks out of her window towards the mailbox garden she sees him there. His garden nourished the ground and the people on it.

— He loved to feed Sarah when she was an infant. He loved the softness and warmth of her skin and her body. He would make her bottles daily to supplement my breast milk. His favorite time was when she rested in his shoulder and sucked away at her bottle. Just him and her. Her needing him. Richard was actually the first person to feed Sarah. I felt that she already knew me having been inside my body for nine months. I thought it key that he feed her first and have that early unconscious bond. The nurses said it should not be done. That I would ruin my chances for sufficient breast milk. But Richard fed her first, and it was all fine.

Toni knew that although Richard missed me when I was off lecturing or doing political work he loved having Sarah all to himself. He was always so generous in knowing that Sarah’s first choice would be me; but never giving up the struggle to be totally and completely there for her. It would have been so easy for him to retreat. But he never did.

I have written about Richard as a gardener, and also how much he loved feeding Sarah her bottle — to show how deeply connected he was to giving life to living things, and this is the person who also chose death while loving life. And, Richard was the one to decide that our baby’s name was to be Sarah as she was being birthed. I couldn’t decide whether choosing my sister Sarah’s name would be a burden for a young child to have; but as Richard saw her pushing out of me he just said: “Sarah is here”.

— Only if you made yesterday count can you say goodbye or give up tomorrow. So, life is to be lived urgently, today is everything. Richard was content. It gave him the courage to act before he had to, when he still could. There is never a perfect moment. The time is never right. You can never know anything for sure. But do it anyhow. Whatever it is. Life and death merge with each other here — decide and do in order to know.

— On grieving. I think Richard and I often grieved together while he was still alive. Sometimes we just held each other. Many times we went for long walks and looked at the trees, and listened to the birds, and wondered about the sky. Now, I find myself walking and feeling his presence. When I look at some of the oldest trees I hear his breathing. Some days I feel his presence and am comforted. Other days I am frightened that I do not really believe he is gone. My grieving is not all sadness.

I think of PK and Tilu and Aai with Covid ravaging Mumbai where loved ones are in total crisis; where whole families are dying in the rural areas. I take a long walk with Raza who came to the US as a refugee fleeing his own death in Pakistan. I spend lots of time just wanting to think and be quiet so I can feel Richard. He took his life one month ago.

— Richard and I together have often had to be ready before we were, for life’s challenges. Each historical period has its new challenges and today maybe the real challenge is not to live forever but to know when life should end; medicine does not help us here, it is always ready to extend life. Maybe the real challenge of our time: is not to live longer, but to live with the limits of the planet — the planet that Richard loved.

Helping Richard die has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but it has also made me truly fearless, even if a bit broken. It was a gorgeous day today so I walked with a friend in the late morning and then I walked with Richard just now. I am surrounded with such love and admiration for Richard that I try to share it.

— The decision to take one’s life while fully loving one’s life stands in stark horrible contrast to all the lives that are brutalized by poverty, sexual violence, hunger, disease, war, and racism. I take the love and camaraderie that Richard’s life has created in order to work against racist misogyny and its death making.

It is never a good thing to stand against the right to choose or the right to decide a chosen death. Instead, stand against the murderous tendencies of a selfish capitalist racist patriarchy that pollutes the globe and kills innocents. Use our energy to overthrow the likes of Trump and Duterte, and Bolsonaro.

When death is an act of freedom, death opens up the meaning of a liberatory life. There is no universal answer for everyone. There are many configurations of choice and freedom. But if we are going to save ourselves and the planet we can fear nothing. Reckoning with death opens us up to freedom, if we can let it.

Until the right to choose death and the right to live full lives without racist misogyny and ableism and capitalist constraints are both embraced, we will never be free.

If this telling seems jagged, fragmentary, partial, too much, not enough, out of order, confusing and heartfelt, it is. Maybe I was not ready to write this; but I promised Richard I would even if I was not.

This was my first holiday weekend without Richard. I chose to not fill the void he leaves but rather to find myself in this new absence I feel. When I am by myself I am able to imagine his peacefulness amidst the trees and flowers. This is my new solitude.

I love that Sarah and I released Richard’s ashes over a favorite stream and the surrounding earth and he spread all over my shoes and flew into the sky. And I can find him anywhere when I need to, because he was still alive when he died.


The Future has to be anti-racist, feminist and RED—Covid Says So

The Future has to be anti-racist, feminist and RED—Covid Says So

January 6, 2021 | nyupressblog | current eventshealth and medicinewomen’s studies

—Zillah Eisenstein

A new year is beginning. I am determined to have the US turn a new corner against the pandemic. Because disease never stands apart from our bodies, it is defined with and through white supremacist and capitalist/misogynist toxic individualism.  It is why Black and Brown people are dying at more than 3X the rate of whites and why women of all colors have suffered job loss, new layers of emotional and caring labor, and too often domestic abuse.

So, in order to get control of the Covid pandemic, white supremacy and its cohort racist misogyny and its toxic individualism must be abolished. The vaccine will not be enough.  And yet, the Covid rhetoric chooses age as the decipherable risk factor as though aged bodies do not have a sexual and racial history. But people over 75 are disproportionately white. So, as people are dying, who are we obligated to save first?

Some random and not so random thoughts:

—I am reminded of James Baldwin’s Letter From A Region In My Mind: “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.” And: “White people were and are astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether Black people were astounded—at least, in the same way.”

Covid demands that we see and confront death.  Again, Baldwin: “It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life…but white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them”.

—Covid is the perfect impetus for an anti-racist communism—one which embraces the full nexus of humanity. It proves the difficult truth that we are what Karl Marx called species beings—we only know ourselves fully when we see our connections to others.  Covid is a historical nightmare that I will call a communal disease—it infects anyone and they may not know, so each individual can impact the whole, knowingly or not.  This means any individual has the power to inflict pain, or wellness for the whole.  All for one, and one for all.  To cure the whole, each individual person must be seen and loved. There is no individual life without our connections to humanity, and with it the planet.

So, we must share vaccines fairly and justly among ourselves and with the globe and the globe with us to heal us all.  And individuals must defer their doubts about vaccination and take part to protect and heal all of us. Selfishness and profits cannot be the guide.

—I am feeling heartbroken and lonely for my darling daughter Sarah.  It is the holiday. She is in Miami—of all places, ruined by DeSantis and Trump while people infect each other with abandon.  Meanwhile doctors and nurses suffer the impact of this.  Beloved Sarah is a community/public health doctor.  She works out of a mobile health clinic seeing uninsured and undocumented people. She helped houseless Covid people find housing and care with her medical students. She was not on the priority list for a vaccine—that was saved for hospital affiliated doctors and nurses. The vaccine fiasco is repeated throughout the country.

I was infuriated when Pence got vaccinated, as though that would mobilize people to want to do so themselves. I guess this is what  propaganda looks like.  People, like me/us are asked to forget that Pence has exacerbated the pandemic.  He walks around without a mask, says Covid is no worry, and then protects himself and his wife first.  Please!!!

The roll-out of the vaccine is as compromised as the entire lack of response to Covid was to begin with. There is no vision of collectivity.  There is no commitment to a public health that includes the most vulnerable and essential, alongside incarcerated people. By the way, Seoul, South Korea which had a successful response to the early pandemic has recently suffered a terrible new outbreak that started in a prison, via staff.  There is nowhere to hide from this pandemic.

We, the big, huge, inclusive we are in this catastrophe together.  This is not to ignore the incredible inequities that exist—racist, misogynist, capitalist, ableist, etc. that define our health with all kinds of environmental degradations that invade our bodies. The “together” so-to-speak is not egalitarian, but it is real none the less. There is no re-creation of a life with freedom of choices without a global, universal plan to vaccinate all of us and protect the planet too.

—There is so much death—too much death with over 340 thousand in the US dead.  Yet, our country does not seem to be grieving enough.  There are few publicized obituaries; little talk of the dead; almost no photographic coverage of the dying; no recognition that we are no longer in a crisis but a tsunami. How is it possible that so many appear un-deterred? inured by it? untouched by it? Is this the effect of being a warrior nation? That the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria have distanced too many of us—especially white people—from the real consequences of death.

Black and Brown people live closer to death either from environmental racist diseases, or the barrel of a police man’s gun. They have little choice but to live with more courage.

Eddie Glaude asks us to begin again with Baldwin in mind. “We must tell the truth till we can no longer bear it.”  I am ready.  Bryan Stevenson asks us to learn and see and feel the lynchings and incarceration and murderous deeds as part of one horrific slog through history. I am ready.

“Bear Witness to the truth” when the biggest lie that is covered and hidden is that white lives matter more, than Black lives matter. The lie that keeps being covered over: the innocence of white privilege.  It is like Germans saying that they did not know.  If they did not know they did not want to know.  So, think more about the comparison of the atrocity of Nazism and the concentration camps and the similarities to chattel slavery. 

—I feel both overfull with love and friendship and camaraderie, and also lonely for a world I want to live in this Covid time.  I am missing my Sarah and Lunan and friends terribly as I abide the collective responsibility to not travel.

Sarah and I were both broken hearted when I cancelled my flight to Miami made months ago at the behest of the public health plea for people to stay home. BUT millions ignored the plea and flew anyway. If Covid can teach us anything it has to be that we need a robust public commitment to the health of us all, especially those most injured by inequities in our country. Why else are Cuba, Kerala, Kenya, and Vietnam doing so much better than we are with the virus?

Trump has been a colossal failure but our rampant individualism will be the death of us yet. #KeralaCommunism#CovidCamaraderie Oh and did I mention that Dr. Sarah decided to spend the day I was to arrive—at Planned Parenthood doing abortions. #ReproductiveJustice#SexualHealth4All

—White people are allowed more individualism than people of color. Blacks and LatinX, and Asians experience the racism that disallows being seen as an individual and instead being dismissed as a member of a group. So it is disproportionately white people that bear the responsibility of capitalist individualism and its selfishness—not wearing masks, not social distancing, traveling that spreads Covid in its deadly pattern.

It is important to see the past, and not as an ending, but as how it remains present, and it is in this presence that I am culpable. Baldwin demands accountability by whites for “willful blindness”.  Shatter my innocence and what do I see.

I have spent most of my life as part of anti-racist and feminist social struggle.  My parents were communists and my sisters and me were too—what else are children of communists to do? We picketed Woolworth’s and found much of our youth defined by the civil rights struggles of the day.  It helped to be brave—against the police on horseback or the bullies at school.  Being brave is much more liberating than fear.

So life and death and the civil rights struggles for and by and with Black people have always been messily mixed up and with each other for me.  My mother Fannie Price Eisenstein was a communist starting in her youth.  The well known film, The Way We Were with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford was based on her radical story when she was at Cornell University and founded  the first chapter of the Young Communist League while there.  She was poor and on total scholarship.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 1st year of college—1964—we all thought she would die.  Back then cancer meant death more than it does today.  We lived in Atlanta Georgia, and my dad taught at the Black graduate center, Atlanta University.  Mom asked Dr. Yancey, a Black surgeon and her friend and comrade in the civil rights movement to do her surgery. He said he could not operate in the White hospital.  So mom had her surgery done in the Black hospital. I think it was called Grady hospital then. Her FBI file says she was Black; Black hospital, Black woman.

—Baldwin says that if I am scared to death, to walk towards it. So, I am walking. Embracing.  He says whiteness is a choice—choose differently and make it matter. So, yes, here I am with the new year beginning. 

I am 72 years old, so these next years of struggle are not about me.  It is about all the people I spectacularly love like Sarah and Lunan and Rebecca, and Leah, and Meredith, and Nia, and Aishah and Tamura, and Uma, and Brittney.

Covid has put the challenge in the bold. This next life MUST be communal—caring about each one of us and the planet. There can be no other choice.

So, finally, let us make the future red—it is time to carve a communal life that sees each one of us devoid of white supremacist individualist misogyny. This is the only true way to survive Covid and bring spring.


Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

A noted feminist writer and activist, Zillah Eisenstein is Professor Emerita at Ithaca College. She is the author of twelve books, among them The Female Body and the Law, which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics, and, more recently, The Color of Gender: Reimaging Democracy and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century. Her book Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution is available from Monthly Review Press. Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


An Offering to our Asian Sisters

April 2, 2021 | nyupressblog | asian american studiescurrent events

—Zillah Eisenstein

Lunan Ji is my son by marriage to my daughter Sarah.  He knows the facial structures and the sounds that differentiate Vietnamese from Chinese that I do not. But I have been learning.  And I hold onto my body and feel the assault as I see Asian women attacked and told to go back from where they came.

The women who were killed are named:

Xiaojie Tan, 50

Daoyon Feng, 44

Yong Ae Yue, 63

Hyun Jung Grant 51

Soon Chung Park, 74

Suncha Kim 69

I have carried the 6 Asian women who were shot dead where they worked with me since their horrific murders. They were hard working mothers, immigrants, low wage workers. They moved here for jobs—the kind of jobs that keep everything flowing, low-wage working class jobs. The kind that require you to work many many hours, and often need 2 or 3 of them to earn enough to support your family. Arthur Tam in the Washington Post describes these women as “hard working women matriarchs and providers”; they represent “immigrant grit”.  Instead they were assumed to be, and denigrated as sex workers. One of these victims hardly saw her sons because she was always working, for them. This was her American Dream—to improve her children’s opportunities.

The American Dream is not dreamlike for those who are struggling within it.  Opportunities are unequal and punishing. These women were loved deeply by their children who respected how hard they worked to make a life for them. They worked at the Golden Spa and Young’s Asian Massage but did not advertise it because of the stigma.

After reading last night about the Filipino woman walking down a Manhattan street who was struck and punched and stomped on the head while others watched and did nothing I sat down to write. (The details of the perpetrator are irrelevant) Inaction is more brutal than the act. Avoidance and silence should not be allowed.

This is a historical moment to take note. There is little new to Asian racism in the US and yet Covid has given it a new license, a new virulence, a new exposure.  As well, much of the criticism of Chinese authoritarianism, well deserved, in terms of its anti-democratic stance towards Hong Kong, and its genocidal treatment of Ughyurs, fuels anti-China rhetoric. But do not collapse critique of China with Asian racism.

It is the unacceptable and irrational Covid-related newness that we must register and mobilize against. I will call some of my Asian friends today and ask if they want me to walk with them wherever they might have to go.

Asian—is already a problematic generalized term of ignorance. Which Asian am I speaking of: Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese?

National Geographic lists the following countries in Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, North Korea, Oman.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (Take note that women in these countries have been and are some of the fiercest fighters for freedom: in Vietnam, Iran, Myanmar, and so on.)

Asian racism needs no knowledge of these specificities.  In this moment it is the physicality of the face, the eyes, the nose, the hair, the body, the walk that defines a person as Asian.  The specifics are ignored because that is what racism does. Hatred does not need clarity or knowledge. I wrote in my book HATREDS that women’s bodies are overdetermined with racist misogynist meanings, they are always a site of political struggle to define the nation, and who is a part of it. Nationalism is always written with the phantasms of hatred on women’s bodies.

Because I am a white anti-racist feminist writer and activist I am compelled to envision a radicalized inclusive vision of racisms that recognizes Asian women’s specificity. One that pushes out from and with the recognition of victims of chattel slavery to accountings of colonialism and imperialism. Only white supremacists could wonder if this slaughter was racist or a hate crime. It was even more. It is a crime of racist-capitalist-misogyny.

My use of the term women is inclusive of trans, gender-variant, queer, disabled, nonbinary identities.  I wish to embrace the specificity and differences that clarify that we share the punishing system of racist misogyny, but differently.  We are similar but not the same.  United but not one.

Racism is structural and systemic and personal and individual. Until it is abolished there can be no meaningful freedom. People must be changed, and whether they want to or not. This newest iteration demands a recognition and naming and seeing of Anti-Asian hatred and violence.

If systems of oppression are always negotiating and renegotiating their privilege just maybe these horrific set of murders of Asian women alongside the thousands of anti-Asian racist acts, allows white anti-racist feminists to rethink and really see how sex, race and gender are always refining their relationship to each other. Maybe this moment of violence against Asian women clarifies the harm to all of us newly. These atrocities should become a new visor for the complexity and universality of women’s exploitation and oppression.

There is a particular depiction/oppression that defines Asian women as a sexual object, hypersexualized, as lotus blossoms and dragon ladies. The history is complex. One cannot understand this particular history and presence of Asian women—especially from Korea and Vietnam without recognizing the militarist/imperialist connection between the US and the sex work industry. Prostitution and sex work is imbricated in warfare and military bases established in war and post-war zones. The hyper-sexualization of Asian women has particular definition in terms of war-rape and the war-economies. And also parades as a kind of religiosity and Christian Puritanism that targets Asian women as temptress.

Constructed ideas about Asian women are usually wrapped at some point to a notion of servicing American servicemen, especially in Philippines, Thailand, Korea and Vietnam. As early as 1875 the Page Act banned importation of Chinese women to the US for prostitution. The fetishization of Asian women as docile and submissive trails this history of this militarization. (This is part of the initial silenced story of the recent killings by the news media needing to tease out sex workers from workers who clean the floors, manage the doors, and prepare food.)

Asian women have been constructed as exotic sex objects—the exoticism is racial and imperial and white supremacist.  It gets formulated in specific class terms—the more privileged the Asian woman, the less exotic given a distancing from explicit sex work. But as all women—white, Black, Asian, LatinX—no female is completely severed from her exploitative objectification.

I am writing to further correct my mind’s eye and white-anti-racist feminism—to recognize Asian women in their complexity at the center for seeing all women, alongside Black and Brown and LatinX, because they have been sidelined and marginalized. 

So I am moving forward with a newer theorized recognition of Asian women and the many racial/racist iterations of misogyny. By understanding these specificities I can, as a white anti-racist socialist feminist envision and fight for a more inclusive and richly complex notion of humanity.

Do not be a bystander.

Do not be silent.

Given our masks, when you pass an Asian on the street, speak a welcome to them. And, then, join the Anti-Racist marches in the streets, and stand up for structural revolutionary anti-racist socialist feminism.


Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

A noted feminist writer and activist, Zillah Eisenstein is Professor Emerita at Ithaca College. She is the author of twelve books, among them The Female Body and the Law, which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics, and, more recently, The Color of Gender: Reimaging Democracy and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century. Her book Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution is available from Monthly Review Press.