Presentation - Dorothy Roberts

Presentation - Dorothy Roberts
Opening Plenary

Biopolitical Story

Tarrytown 2012 Opening Plenary

Dorothy Roberts


Growing up in Hyde Park during 1960s, entire community involved in civil rights and anti war movements; possibility of social change.

Dedicate Fatal Invention; Black mother and white father who were committed to common humanity and equal value of all human beings.

Thought deeply about biopolitics by age 10, when consciously crafted my personal identity to reject a biological definition of myself as biracial or mixed race and made political decision to identify as black; believed that racial identity and solidarity were political commitments not biological imperatives.

One human race but race is a real political system that uses myth of biological race

Fast forward 20 years to late 1980s, In re AC.

Control and exploitation of women’s reproductive labor; excuse to inflict serious harms on women and other devalued groups of people.

First book project, Killing the Black Body, examined intersection of reproductive regulation and racism in lives of black women and way shaped reproductive health policy and meaning of reproductive liberty in America.

Interpreted prosecutions of poor black women for using drugs while pregnant as punishment for having children.

Search for explanation of harm beyond maternal fetal conflict; discovered history of eugenics in US: social order is inherited and therefore immutable, pretend that heredity can explain social inequality.

Disability rights movement; critique of medical model of disabilities paralleled my critique of biological explanations for black people’s subordinated social status.

Biological explanations for social problems

Naturalize unjust social order, medicalize social problems, and justify brutal state practices against socially devalued people.

Recognized immediately huge threat in resurgence of race-based genetic difference

Intersection of systems of oppression and importance of intersectional response by social movements.

Still have hope from 1960s that people from multiple movements sharing common concerns and values can make social change to create a world that truly recognizes and respects our shared humanity.