By Sikivu Hutchinson
The myth of American exceptionalism has always been impervious to data and empirical evidence. Despite being the richest most prolific jailer in the world, the U.S. is fond of favorably comparing itself to Western Europe with its evil big government social welfare safety net and waning capitalist moxie. Despite allowing Christian fascists to control its public policy it is fond of flailing Muslim theocracy while touting its status as a beacon of secular democratic rights. Despite telling American women that they are liberated, post-feminist and beyond all that affirmative action shit, it is beholden to a medievalist court blazing a “new” trail of misogynist jurisprudence.
The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is staggering in its criminal disregard for individual liberty, women’s self-determination and economic justice. It is indicative of how much the political ground has shifted in eight years that the seemingly modest requirement that all employers be mandated to provide birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has emerged as a pitchfork clarion call for the radical right. As commentator Sally Kohn pointed out recently on CNN, the cost of birth control meds like Plan B is prohibitive for women who are making at or below minimum wage (HL apparently funded Plan B and other contraceptives it disingenuously labels “abortifacients” before the passage of the ACA). The absence of this coverage will have an immediate impact on their families and day-to-day livelihoods. But this endorsement of Christian fascists cannot be separated from the broader context of GOP assaults on worker rights and racial justice. In addition to subverting reproductive rights, the GOP has consistently opposed raising the federal minimum wage and fought tooth and nail against minimum wage increases in state legislatures like California. SCOTUS’ ruling against a requirement that home care workers in Illinois pay union dues was another salvo in the radical right’s campaign against public employee unions like SEIU. SEIU’s membership is fifty six percent female and forty percent of color. Nationwide, working class and low income women of color disproportionately rely on public employee unions to fight for benefits and higher wages.
These assaults have particular relevance for black women because women of color have seen their wages plummet, benefits disappear and job prospects shrivel. While there has been much focus on skyrocketing unemployment among black men, black women’s unemployment has increased significantly. As Jenn Jackson writes in Ebony, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) “black women only made up 12.5 percent of all female workers in June of 2009, yet accounted for over 42 percent of job losses for all women between June 2009 and June 2011. Black women’s unemployment rate increased 2.1 percent in the same period—three times the increase of the next highest unemployment rate (black men).” In 2013, “Black women were the only subgroup of women who did not see a decline in unemployment rates. As other racial, ethnic, and gender groups have seen improvements in their employment status, black women continue to lose jobs at disturbing rates.” Similarly, as the lowest paid group of women in the workforce Latinas also have the lowest rates of workforce participation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Latinas make a lowly 61.2% to the dollar of white men while black women make 68.6%.
Just as recent Supreme Court decisions on corporate “personhood”, voting rights and affirmative action have further eroded the right to self-determination for poor and working class people, the Hobby Lobby decision is ultimately about power and authoritarian control over women’s lives, families, destinies and communities. And the only way to beat back the fascist anti-democratic tide is to organize.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars