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Alice Clifton and control over one's body

Sarah's picture

The story of Alice Clifton was hard for me to read.  I felt myself physically squirm at both the graphic descriptions (of cutting the child’s throat) and knowing the absolute lack of control Alice Clifton had over her life and the life of her child.  It is not clear whether or not she wanted to keep that baby, but it does seem the Shaffer (the father) may have persuaded her to kill the child or make it look as though she did.  It seemed bizarre how little Shaffer is involved in the trial, but of course as I continued reading I learned that crimes against black woman, even as severe as rape, were not acknowledged.  Gross writes “Clifton sought to escape slavery by slashing her infant’s throat and as a consequence found herself tried by a justice system that allowed for her enslavement even as it dismantled slavery for other blacks” (page 26).  Even though slavery was being dismantled, had the child lived, I doubt he or she would have had a happy life given how long and slow the process was (is? we might not have slavery, but racism is alive and well...look how many schools are segregated...).

In thinking about this, I wonder how much things have changed in terms of women having control over their own bodies.  My first reaction is that I feel there is no comparison to the lack of rights Alice Clifton had as a black domestic servant in the late 1700s, and that we are much better off today.  But is that true? Is it ludicrous to even ask?

I write carefully here, as I do not know all the facts (feel free to correct me!).   What I am thinking of as I write this is the higher rate of abortion for women of color due to lack of access to contraceptives and lack of access to sexual education (note: I'm not trying to take a political stance on abortion, but am more focused on unwanted pregnancies).  If you don’t have access to these things, how much control do you have over your life?  When we (as a society) don’t provide people (oppressed groups? women of color?) will the knowledge or agency they need, and then they get stuck in very tricky situations.  I don’t know exactly what I am trying to get at here, just that it deeply saddens me how many problems “of the past” are still very present today.