Not surprisingly, in a city like New York, a counter-campaign went viral, and within 48 hours, the offending sign was taken down. We might have joyously embraced the victory if we didn't know the tally of our losses and the measure of the work that lies ahead. Across the black belt South and in other states, not only do these billboards continue to scream shame at us, but there is a fairly well-organized movement that is playing on us in one of our most vulnerable places: Our ability to mother our children, to make the sort of decisions for them and ourselves that will see them into maturity. Motherhood is a place more vulnerable for us than others in this country because they do not have the history of their children being stolen, sold away, lynched and targeted by police and the prison system.
Unlike us, white women en masse are not placed on a public dais and ridiculed when we're not completely excoriated as: the fat, dumb "mammy"; the lying, cheating "welfare queen"; the greedy-ass "gold-digger," who tricks men into making her pregnant; the pathetic, amoral "crack ho," who sells her baby for one more get high; the stupid, sneaky "baby mama," who spends the diaper money on acrylic nail tips. Black women have rarely been honored as the mothers so many of us have, as women who did with less yet often gave their children more.
We'll buy our kids clothes we can't afford; work two jobs a day every day; keep pushing; be the can't stop, won't stop in everyone's lives except our own to prove we are worthy of the label: Mommy.
So when the sign goes up that says, again, black mother, you are the danger to your child, I understand why we want to throw our hands up and testify, "No, not me!" I understand why we will do almost anything to throw off the coat someone else sewed for us. And why we do declare ourselves anti-abortion at times. But, more often, on the subject of abortion, we will be silent; our silence on the issue its own false testament to the fact that we love our babies.
But being anti-abortion is not synonymous with loving children. Sometimes the way to show your love is to choose not to have a child you cannot care for -- a factor often forgotten by those who are willing to legislate what to do with a woman's womb, but not willing to legislate affordable and quality housing and daycare; equal pay for equal work; a living wage; universal healthcare; or an educational system that is not a pipeline to prison.
Still, I know abortion is a topic that goes straight to the seat of most of our hearts, which is why the people who rolled out the billboard campaign used as its imagery the picture of an adorable baby girl. Never mind that they never asked the girl's mother permission, and apparently, the mother was incensed when she saw her daughter used in this way. That didn't matter because what was being sought was an emotional reaction, whether or not it was rooted in truth or ethics. It was, in short, a vulgar twist on the personal as political.
At the heart of my own feelings about abortion is my grandmother, who died alone because in the 1930s, abortion was not an option, and in her small town religious world, neither was having a baby in the months after her husband left her for another woman.
In this way, my own mother would become a motherless child at 4 years old, the age she was when my grandmother bled out in someplace now unknown to us, alone and scared. But at the core of my own familial pain is the question I would put to my sisters right now: What does control of our wombs mean in the hands of lawmakers who have not historically shown care for black women or our children? I'd wonder if our wombs, once again subject to production on demand, as they were during slavery, what might that mean, eventually, for the rest of our body?
asha bandele, whose most recent book is 'Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother's Story,' lives, writes and raises her daughter in Brooklyn, N.Y.