For better or for worse, television has the power to open our hearts and minds, raise awareness about what’s happening in the world and educate folks on issues that impact our community. But when it comes to scripted and reality television, what are we learning about abortion in communities of color?
Well, sadly, the message television writing rooms has sent us for too long is that this isn’t our issue, a 2015 study suggests.
Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco found that abortion storylines on TV were mostly about middle class white women — a whopping 87 percent of them. Meanwhile, stories about Black women accounted for a measly 5 percent and Latinos zero percent. Yep, zero.
So I can hear you know: “What’s the big deal?”
Well, the big deal is that, whether you like it or not, women of color have abortions. And when it comes to African-American women, we have the highest abortion rates in the country. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while abortion rates are at an all-time low, we bear the largest burden. There are 47.7 abortions per 1,000 Black women between the ages of 15 and 44, compared to 9 per 1,000 white women and 20.3 among Latinas.
And so this discrepancy is a problem, a problem that I understand first exists because there are more white characters on television and, as a result, these types of storylines will cater to white women. But this also transcends the shows themselves and is even in the faces we see that are reproductive justice advocates or who the media chooses to interview for the face of women’s health. Those faces are mostly white.
So what about us?
There is something very powerful about Black women speaking their truth around their circumstances and their emotions around having the procedure done and then having those messages consumed by other Black women sitting on the other side of the television or computer. There is something powerful about humanizing us around this experience and we need more of it.
But there is a glimmer of hope.
In case you haven’t noticed, in the past year, abortion has been front and center among a handful of our favorite scripted and reality characters. Last week on Love and Hip-Hop: New York's reunion special, Amina admitted to having terminated a pregnancy with Peter Gunz (though she is currently pregnant with another one of his children). Before that was K. Michelle on her reality show, admitting that she had an abortion because she wasn't going to have a child with a man who wasn't committed to her for life. And then before that was Olivia Pope's earth-shattering abortion in the Scandal midseason finale last December and we also can't forget Mary Jane Paul's shocking admission on Being Mary Jane.
These examples and their range of complexity begin to chip away at the misconception that this War on Women is just a white thing, because it's not.
Every day, Black women have to make really hard decisions about their lives and their bodies. Every day, Black women have weaker access to quality reproductive health care or less power in determining whether their partners will wear a condom or not. Every day, a Black woman has to look down at the EPT test and come to that realization about what she is going to do for herself and her future.
And none of it's easy, but many of us can relate and many more need to see it, especially as the War Against Women continues to wage on. Every law passed, every restriction and barrier set in place affects us. The more these stories don't reflect how women of color are impacted, the more we are left out of the conversation. So yes, I do hope this influx of Black abortion narratives will continue because, whether we like it or not, until we have greater access to affordable contraception, comprehensive sex ed and a system that empowers us, this will be a constant fixture in our reality. And shouldn't our art reflect that same reality?
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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