The Death of Roe
and the Resurrection of White Men in America
The Supreme Court ruling that unraveled white male domination of women in 1973 is dead. With a 6-to-3 conservative majority, the Supreme Court revoked the rights of more than half the U.S. population; claiming the right of states to exercise agency over women’s lives, families, bodies and futures—especially poor women. It is hard to fathom American women could be forced by the state to birth children in 2022, but this is not new. As a Black evangelical whose family history was shaped by Southern slavocracy and Jim Crow, I know white supremacy always comes hand in hand with its twin: violent white male domination.
Research for my book, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and The World—And How To Repair It All, revealed that my likely 10x great grandmother, Fortune Game Magee, absorbed the wrath of America’s first race laws– laws crafted to exploit women’s bodies for profit. Every generation after that has endured the exploitation of white patriarchy.
In 1662, White male legislators in the colony of Virginia manipulated the citizenship status of the mixed-race progeny of white planters and their enslaved African rape victims. Their mulatto children were barred from citizenship in perpetuity. As non-citizens, they and their descendants were enslavable. In its wake, this first race law left a wide berth of Black women forced to bear white men’s children to increase white profit margins.
Two years later, the laws that ensnared Fortune were crafted in the colony of Maryland. Maryland’s General Assembly banned White women from marrying and having the children of enslaved Black men upon pain of enslavement themselves and the enslavement of their children in perpetuity. White male planters soon capitalized on the law, forcing their indentured white women to marry and bear the children of their enslaved Black men. They leveraged the law to increase their free labor and lift their bottom lines—in perpetuity.
Fortune was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland twenty-three years later. By the time she was hauled to court in 1705, the General Assembly had begged off of enslaving white women, but determined that the guilty women and their progeny would be indentured. Fortune was indentured until the age of 31. Her children and grandchildren were also indentured. Simple DNA matching through Ancestry.com indicates my ancestors were likely raped by the male members of their indenturing families. Each baby born of their violence would equal one more generation of free labor—and increased family profit.
When the Transatlantic Slave Trade was outlawed in 1808, the state of Virginia seized the economic opportunity and drew from its raping roots to make slave-breeding its primary industry. Genteel Virginia businessmen commanded overseers to place bags over the heads of Black women and force Black men who might be the women’s sons, fathers, uncles or brothers to rape and impregnate them. The African-descended progeny of these forced pregnancies were sold down river into the deep South for white men’s profit.
My 5x great grandmother, Leah Ballard, was born in Virginia, 1836. I don’t know if she was the product of a breeding farm. I do know she was moved by her Quaker master deeper South to South Carolina where he could exploit enslaved women outside of Quaker accountability. We believe Leah was forced to bear children to increase her master’s riches.
Whenever white men have controlled women’s bodies on American soil, the men have benefited. Now, on the other side of Roe, it’s clear: the 40-year fight of my white evangelical brothers and sisters to end Roe was not about morality. It was about power. By ending Roe, they get it back.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 enforced the 14th Amendment’s reversal of Virginia’s very first race law granting citizenship to all people born within U.S. borders, regardless of race. The Civil Rights Act of ‘64 led to the demise of America’s race-based immigration policy. It also laid foundations for Roe v Wade’s 14th Amendment affirmation of the right to privacy.
The same year I walked down the aisle and gave my life to Jesus, Southern White evangelical men lost their Supreme Court fight to protect pure white space at Bob Jones University and beat back the gains of the Civil Rights movement. They didn’t grieve long. Rather, they organized and launched a decades-long counter offensive. Conservative political operative Paul Weyrich partnered with televangelist Jerry Falwell and others to call the church to focus on abortion. They called white evangelicals to rise up and flip the court to end Roe. It was genius. By flipping the court on Roe, they would also flip the court on the 14th Amendment, which flips the court on Civil Rights.
It took 40 years, but they did it.
The death of Roe has dislodged a constitutional cornerstone. The 14th Amendment’s protection of privacy provides legal foundation for a series of Civil Rights era rulings including Loving v. Virginia the precedent-setting 1967 Supreme Court ruling that legalized mixed race marriage and placed the final nail in the coffin of Virginia’s 1662 race law.
With last week’s Roe ruling, the Loving v. Virginia coffin is rumbling.
One day in 1989, I stood in a crowd of pro-life protesters on the campus of Rutgers University. I looked across the crowd and thought to myself: “How could anyone not be with us? How could anyone be anything, but “pro-life”?
I believed white evangelical men when they told me the fetus could feel pain in the first trimester. No one mentioned that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it is not possible for a fetus to feel pain until the third trimester—27 weeks when the fetal nervous system begins to develop. Plus, less than 1 percent of all abortions take place after 21 weeks.
I believed them when they told me pro-life was about the sacredness of life. No one mentioned how the same white men voted for people who supported the death penalty. They didn’t mention the gun they own at home or their vote for politicians who cut funding for healthcare and Head Start.
I stood on that square at Rutgers University during one protest—one afternoon in 1989. And now, I regret it. I regret lending my body to that movement—even for one minute.
The truth is… The end of Roe is not about life.
As my evangelical brothers celebrate their win, one thing is clear to me: they used my black woman’s body—once again—to resurrect White power in America.
I feel dirty.
Lisa Sharon Harper is author of critically acclaimed book, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family And The World—And How To Repair It All.