Twitter was aflame over the weekend due to this article, detailing how pregnant, incarcerated, predominantly women of colour in California were coerced into being sterilised – for their own good, of course. To save them producing any more little brown burdens on the welfare system. Because they couldn’t be trusted to make their own reproductive decisions.
But amongst the completely understandable outrage, there was another reaction, from the women of colour who I follow: annoyance that white people got to once again clutch their pearls and decry how terrible racism is.
This is racist, of course, and for far deeper, scary, institutional reasons than just the basic facts – because of poverty, because of a judicial system geared against people of colour. That’s not the issue.
The issue is why white people like me get away with continually being surprised by this.
Let’s be fucking angry at this abuse. Let’s be frustrated at how long it’s taken to come to light. Let’s be utterly contemptuous of medical “professionals” who act like it’s no big thing to coerce vulnerable patients into making socially-acceptable medical decisions. Let’s be motivated into action.
But let’s not do that whole “OMG! How can this happen in this day and age?” thing.
Because that’s our privilege talking. Our existence as women-who-will-not-face-this-kind-of-pressure (yes, we’ll face plenty of other pressures, but if you’re a white, middle class, educated cis woman like me it’ll probably go in the complete opposite direction), women who do not deal with this kind of oppression as a fact of our daily lives.
We don’t really have the right to say “how can this happen in the 21st century?” because it’s never stopped for the people who experience it.
The few stories which make it into our awareness aren’t exceptions, except in the fact that they made it into our awareness at all.