Why We’re Pro-Choice and Voting Against Amendment 1

Dear Dwonna:

What are your views on Amendment 1? I’ve read that it is not an anti-abortion bill and that it will ultimately protect women’s health.




Dear Johnquetta:

Thanks for asking.

On November 4, voters in Tennessee will cast their ballots on “Amendment 1,” which states:

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statues regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Contrary to what supporters of “Amendment 1” are telling their followers, the long-term goal of the amendment is to completely outlaw all abortions in the State of Tennessee. Furthermore, while these “pro-life” folks argue that this law will protect women’s health, notice that this amendment makes NO exceptions for a “pregnancy resulting from rape or incest” or to “save the life of the mother.”

Regardless of what your personal beliefs about abortion are, it is not reasonable to expect every woman to continue a pregnancy if she has been the victim of a rape or incest, nor is it reasonable for Tennessee to pass a law that declares that a fetus is more important than the health and the life of a mother. No woman should be forced to place her long-term health and/or her life in jeopardy simply because someone who has never met her has decided that her fetus is more important than her own existence. Let women make these decisions for themselves, please, and if you are against abortion, just don’t have one. It really is that simple.

Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired Ob/GYN, said last week at a press conference at a Planned Parenthood health center in Nashville that “Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman’s fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care.” Yes, a decision on whether or not to continue a pregnancy should be one that a woman makes with her doctor, her husband or boyfriend (if she has one), her conscience, and her god (if she has a belief in one). I’m bored with the “pro-life” crowd who simply want to make decisions for women they do not know and will probably never know. In fact, it’s quite arrogant for them to think that they unilaterally know what’s in the best interest of that woman and her fetus. I can’t help but wonder if this debate about abortion is not so much about “protecting an innocent baby” but instead is about regulating—and controlling—what women do with their bodies.

For those who want people to vote “Yes” for Amendment 1 under the guise of “protecting the innocent babies,” I have several questions: Why is the fetus more valued and more valuable than the woman? Isn’t the woman who carries this fetus valuable, too? Why do so many “pro-life” folks think of women as incubators who must carry a fetus to term just because abortion goes against their beliefs? Can we please stop with these “personhood” laws that give the fetus more precedence than the woman who carries said fetus? Why can’t people leave these women alone so that they can make an informed choice without any interference from governmental bodies?

No politician—and most especially no male politician—should be working to pass any law that restricts a woman’s right AND access to an abortion. As Wendy Davis said last year during a filibuster of a Texas anti-abortion bill, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business, or go to medical school.” As my students can attest, I often have great difficulty managing my own life, and I am in absolutely no position to tell another woman how she should manage hers. A decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a private one, and it must ultimately remain with the women who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, as only they understand what their long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are. Can the so-called “pro-life” crowd please stop playing OB/GYNs and let women they do not know make whatever decisions are right for them?

I do not presume to know the lives of other women and what is best for them, and I wish others would embrace the fact that most women will make the best choice for their own lives, too. It is a woman’s body, and it should be her choice whether or not to terminate—or continue to full-term—a pregnancy. Unlike the “pro-life” crowd, I trust that women can and will make the choice that is appropriate for her and for her circumstance. To borrow a saying from a 1990s bumper sticker: if you can’t trust her with a choice, how can you trust her with a baby?

Moreover, if these so-called “pro-life” folks really are more than just “pro-birth” (since it seems like they only care about the fetus until a child is born), then they should be working to pass laws that will improve the lives of the children who are already here, too many of whom live in poverty and in dire life circumstances. As former Surgeon General of the United States Joycelyn Elders once said, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

I think George Carlin said it even better:

“Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.”

Listen. Let’s stop trying to regulate what women do with their bodies, and let’s spend more time in loving service to those who need us. Let’s go out into the world and be a blessing to those who are already here. Vote “No” on Amendment 1, and let each woman decide on her own what’s best for her, her body, and her life.


Here’s what Jaya Martin, one of my favorite Austin Peay students, wrote in response to the proposed amendment:

As both a woman and a Christian, I value that everyone has different beliefs and opinions. However, I also value my right as a woman to choose what happens to my own body. In November, citizens will vote on Amendment One, a bill that could eventually lead to the abolishment of all abortions in Tennessee and will make NO EXCEPTIONS in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. This is the main danger of this amendment passing.

Abortion is not an easy subject, and I have struggled to find the courage to voice these words. However, I believe in my heart of hearts that there are instances when a woman should have a choice instead of being forced by the government to have a child she didn’t ask for nor want. I consider myself a protector of women, especially young girls who are victims of rape or incest and who are not physiologically ready to be mothers.

It is vital to remember that every situation is delicate and different. It is also important to keep in mind that if this bill passes, it will not prevent abortions from happening. It will simply get rid of safe, sterile clinics and put women at a greater health risk.

In November I will be voting NO on Amendment One. I highly encourage anyone who is on the fence to thoroughly research the topic and make an educated decision before they vote. Remember, this isn’t about being “pro-choice” or “pro-life”—it’s about defending our right to make private decisions free from government interference. Even if we all don’t agree on abortion, we can all agree that government has no place in our private medical decisions.

old woman

Should I stay with my boyfriend of seven years?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 22-year-old college graduate, and I’m thinking about moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school in another part of the country. I’ve been dating the same guy for seven years, and I’m not sure what to do since he can’t move with me. What do you think I should do?




*Thanks to my pal Cati Montgomery for writing most of this.*

Dear Dina:

First, talk to your boyfriend about what he thinks the future holds for the two of you and whether or not you might want to commit to shifting this to a long-distance relationship. Although long-distance relationships can be very tricky and are oftentimes difficult, today’s technology—the Internet, Skype, and FaceTime, for example—can make them bearable for the times in between visits. Do have a plan for when you will see each other and how—and how often—you will keep in contact while you’re apart. If you do opt for trying the long-distance relationship thing, keep in mind that your interactions will change since you won’t get to see each other daily, but if you put in some extra effort, you just might make it work.

However, since you are moving to a different part of the country, you are bound to meet lots of fun and interesting new people. If you do meet someone in your graduate program who might pique your interest, what will happen to your seven-year relationship? You need to ponder this scenario so that you’re not dishonest with your boyfriend and a future “friend.” Still, don’t cut yourself off from meeting new people while you and your boyfriend are apart. Create and maintain a life that is separate from your boyfriend and then figure out how to merge your two lives when he comes to visit. At the end of the day, you will have to trust your boyfriend and yourself to not stray, and only you know whether you can remain faithful to him and whether he can remain faithful to you.

The second thing to think about is a long-term commitment and/or marriage. If you have already been dating this long and you have not had a serious conversation about your longer-term future together, you may need to pause to reconsider the value of this relationship. Are you holding on to him because he is safe and this relationship is what you have known since you were 15? What common goals and values do you share should you decide to stay together and get married? Does your boyfriend support your educational goals and talk about a future together? You’re only 22, and that’s really young to be getting married to someone you’ve known since you were in 9th or 10th grade. You’re probably too young to make that kind of long-term commitment.

Third, graduate school is a whole different level of commitment—to your work, to the students in your graduate school cohort, and to your professors. It will most likely require a much bigger time investment to study, to produce classwork and papers, and to perform original research. You will be learning about things at a pace you probably did not experience as an undergraduate, and sometimes the coursework and expectations of your professors can be overwhelming.

Graduate school may just be the time that YOU need to discover who you are, exactly, on your own. Your 20s are a time of growth and maturity, and you are just now beginning to evolve into the person you will be in your 30s and beyond. Perhaps you’ll want to take this next two years at grad school just to develop who you are as a person, without depending on the boy you’ve known since you were 15. You may discover some fairly interesting things about yourself.

Good luck!

Cati M

What say you about the ABC show “Black-ish”?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think of the new show “Black-ish”?




Dear Patrick:

Here’s how ABC has described “Black-ish” a new comedy series that airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 eastern time: “Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow, four kids, and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family?” Executive producer Larry Wilmore—who is leaving “Black-ish” to headline a new Comedy Central late-night show that will replace The Colbert Report—says that the show “celebrates black more as a culture than a race” and that “At heart it’s a family show.” “Black-ish” also has a noteworthy and fairly impressive cast—Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross (yes, Diana Ross’s daughter), and Laurence Fishburne, among others.

When I first saw a billboard advertising “Black-ish,” my sometimes (well, oftentimes) hypersensitive racial guard immediately went up, and I have to admit that I was kind of offended. What does it mean to be “black-ish,” I wondered? Who gets to decide who is black and who isn’t? What does it even mean to be black? Why are the television networks producing another “comedy” with a mostly all-black cast whose job it seems is to make white folks laugh at their dumb racial jokes? Isn’t “Black-ish” kind of a racist name for a television show anyway?

When asked about the title of the show, ABC executives have said that the show is “not about race but about class and family.” Laurence Fishburne agreed, telling a reporter that “it’s about the Johnson family, and in that regard, it’s about your family, and my family, and everybody’s family.” I’m not really sure how a television show titled “Black-ish” suggests in any way, shape, or form that it’s about everybody’s family, so I don’t really think they’re telling us the truth. I think ABC just wanted to shock viewers into watching this so-called comedy.

When I goggled “Black-ish” and “commentary,” I stumbled upon this Donald Trump tweet:

Donald Trump

Look. This should not come as a surprise to those who know me, but I’m no Donald Trump fan. I mean, this is a guy with a ludicrous toupee (if that is, in fact, his “real” hair, he should tell people that it is a toupee) who has convinced many a white racist that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim whose Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake. Moreover, Trump’s proclamation that there would be a “furor” over a show named “Whitesh” and that “‘black-ish’” is “racism at [its] highest level” is gibberish. Racism, Mr. Trump, would be you insisting that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim with a fake birth certificate who hates America and who is trying to take away white people’s guns.

Besides, there are lots of “white” shows on network television that seem to celebrate everything about “white” culture—“2 Broke Girls,” “Mike and Molly,” “Nashville,” “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” and “Game of Thrones” come to mind—and few white people seem to find any “furor” over that. White people like Donald Trump kind of need to get over this “reverse racism” claim since there is no show called “Whitesh,” and except for Shonda Rhimes and a few other black writers and producers, white folks are still the ones who frequently decide what’s on network television most of the time.

Nonetheless, Trump is right to question the logic and the rationale of the show’s title, though I largely disagree with his assessment that the title is, in and of itself, racist. “Black-ish” is mostly just offensive, and it trivializes the struggle(s) that many African Americans have faced as they negotiate and navigate their way into the white world while trying not to lose a sense of their black selves. Even Laurence Fishburne thinks that the show’s title is funny, as he told an interviewer: “Our title is a little bit of a wink. It’s a bit of a joke because, ultimately, if you live in America and you’ve been in America, let’s say for the last 10, 15, 20 years, you’re probably a little Black-ish anyway.” Tell that foolishness to the Donald Trumps of the world who interact only with people who look like they do and whose interactions with black folks is usually in a subordinate and/or subservient role. The title just isn’t very funny.

Having grown up in Moline, Illinois—the home of the John Deere Tractor and a predominately white town on the Mississippi River—I can say with much certainty that being one of the few black students at Butterworth Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Junior High, and Moline Senior High School was hardly a laughing matter. There were white teachers who didn’t think I would amount to much simply because of my skin color, and the white students who thought it was funny to call me a Nigger just because they could made me sad, mad, and a few times ashamed of my brown skin and kinky hair. No, Mr. Fishburne—we’re not all a little “Black-ish.” Some of us black folks are just trying to find our way—without losing our sanity or, ironically, our sense of humor—in a sometimes hostile white man’s world.

The day after “Black-ish” made its debut on ABC, I happened to be teaching W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk in my “Critical Studies in African American Literature” class. First published in 1903, DuBois’s book gave me a perfect opportunity to talk about his concept of double consciousness and this foolish show called “Black-ish.” In Chapter 1, titled “Our Spiritual Strivings,” DuBois writes:

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

My students said that they wished that the writers and producers of “Black-ish” had used this show to address DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness” in a more serious and in a more sincere manner, especially now that we have a black president who often finds himself having to negotiate between being an “African American president” and just being the “President of the United States of America.” As more black folks move into the middle and upper class and thus find themselves straddling and engaging with at least two cultures, this notion of double consciousness has become a day-to-day struggle for many of us, and it would have been nice if “Black-ish” had taken the lead in discussing these struggles without the laughter and without the vapid silliness that the title suggests.

In her review of Baratunde Thurston’s 2012 book How to Be Black, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry writes that his book—which she says is “part autobiography, part stand-up routine, [and] part contemporary political analysis—might “do more to expose and explore the shifting dynamics of race in America than all the Pew data of the past decade ever can.” In this very astute and incredibly witty book, Thurston makes his readers “both laugh and weep with poignant recognition.” Few would ever say this about “‘Black-ish,” a show whose only goal seems to be to make its viewers weep with embarrassment and shame at the tomfoolery of the characters and their incessant (and not very funny) jokes about their new life in the ‘burbs.

In his final chapter, “The Future of Blackness,” Thurston writes about a “New Black History Course” that will teach people a “more complete and honest history of black people and, thus, America in far more interesting ways.” A “sampling” of this course, Thurston says, will be a “broader story of the Diaspora with a special focus on the Americanness of black people in America.” “In addition to what we pass on to each generation,” Thurston writes, “it’s also important to change how we teach these lessons.”

“The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992, did a wonderful job of teaching its viewers that a black, upper-class family could peacefully co-exist in (white) American society, and although the show rarely delved into issues of racism or social injustice, it did present two successful black parents (he was an OB/GYN, she was a lawyer) who personified most of our hopes for achieving the American dream for ourselves and for our families. “Black-ish,” on the other hand, is mostly a 30-minute tale of buffoonery that could have used its stature in its prime-time Wednesday night slot to enlighten viewers of all hues that DuBois’s notion of “double consciousness” is a still perpetual reality for those of us who move between two worlds each and every day of our lives.

My hope is that “Black-ish”—in spite of its silly name—will evolve into a show that no longer trivializes the black middle- and upper-class experience in America and instead will expose viewers to the multiplicities of blackness. Baratunde Thurston suggests that he and other African Americans must “discover” their own blackness by “embracing the new, the different, the uncommon, and simply, yourself.” I think the producers and the stars of “Black-ish” attempted to do this, but they failed. If viewers are lucky, ABC will give the show’s writers and producers time to correct this, and the Johnsons will become a family that astutely and cleverly teaches America the joys, the trials, and the tribulations of black life in 2014.

Are leggings pants?

Dear Dwonna:

What does it mean when a guy tells you that “you look pretty…sometimes”?




Dear Cara:

*My pal and former student, Cati Montgomery, has answered this question for me.*

He’s a jerk, and don’t date him. If he can’t see that you are a beautiful PERSON all the time, then he’s not worth looking pretty for any time. Any person in any relationship—straight, gay, whatever—has external (and internal) flaws. Part of being in a relationship is being able to see the person, or the soul, if you will, within, rather than seeing someone through their wig, their Maybelline, their bling, their Jordans, or whatever else….

Dear Dwonna:

Last week, I was sitting on a bench on Austin Peay’s campus in between classes, and a young woman walked by in see-through pink leggings. I could see her polka dot “granny pants” underwear. Should I have said something to her?




Dear Tyler:

Something similar happened to me when I was in my PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin. I had bought this very cute and very short shirt, and I decided to wear it to my study date at the library. I sashayed my way through UT’s campus thinking that I was hot stuff when this young black woman approached me and put her arm around my shoulder.

I can only imagine the perplexed and/or hostile look I gave her as I wondered why this strange woman was so close to me. She then whispered in my ear, “Um, your skirt has come up in the back, and we can all see your underwear.” I smiled, thanked her profusely, moved my skirt down over my big booty and then continued my walk to the library with one hand holding down the back of my skirt.

I still appreciate this young woman telling me this, and I have tried to “pay it forward” when I see other young women who are guilty of similarly embarrassing fashion faux pas. So, I think that you should have said something to this young woman so that she wasn’t walking around campus showing everyone her polka dot “granny pants.”

Ladies, do only wear leggings when you are going to the gym to workout or when you’re wearing a tunic, and in both cases, do make sure that your t-shirt or tunic is long enough to cover your buttocks. Let this story of this student walking around campus in her see-through leggings be a fair warning for all of those who are reading this—LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.