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E.D Kain and Andrew are batting around abortion again, and an old post of mine got sucked in:

Abortion is a debate between two groups over the ultimate fate of embryos. The Anti-Slavery fight was a violent struggle between two groups over the fate of the enslaved, but with the enslaved as indispensable actors. Unlike embryos, black people were very capable of expressing their thoughts about their own personhood, and never held it in much doubt. Whereas the fight against abortion begins with pro-lifers asserting the rights of embryos, the fight against slavery doesn't begin with the abolitionists, but with the Africans themselves who resisted.

E.D. replies:

Well that's true. Africans were part of the fight against slavery. Especially freed slaves. Indeed, the faculty to fight against slavery increased dramatically for those slaves who escaped or purchased their freedom and went North. Not to stretch this too greatly, but the capacity for those of us who were not aborted also greatly increased after we escaped that fate. What I mean is, we were all embryos once. That was back when we really had no choice in the matter. We were left up to the whims of others. Now that we've been spared a premature exit, we do have the ability to save others - much like freed slaves and African intellectuals and religious figures of the day worked to help the still-enslaved. Yes, I realize the comparison is bulky, awkward, creates more heat than light, etc. But it exists nonetheless.

It is not bulky or awkward, it is just wrong. I thought about writing a long response to this detailing the problems with E.D.'s logic. But to point out the obvious fact that Africans were not "part" of the fight against slavery, but its authors, to again detail how enslaved Africans resisted slavery from the moment they were taken into baracoons, to again show how slaves, themselves, by their own actions, transformed the Civil War into a war of liberation, to argue against the implicitly racist notion that enslaved Africans are somehow the equals, not even of children, but of embryos, to even begin to "escaping" the womb does not make you Frederick Douglass is just too much. It is, to be blunt, beneath me.

This is not a matter of being pro-choice or pro-life. This is a matter of living in a country that is more fascinated with the machinations of Stonewall Jackson, than Sojourner Truth. One reason that black people grimace at invocations of their history to justify the struggle du jour, is because, very often, the invokers really don't know what the fuck they are talking about. Put bluntly they have no deep knowledge of the black struggle, and are not seeking any. For them, black history is a rhetorical device, employed to pummel their ideological foes, and then promptly discarded for more appropriate instruments.

I would never argue that history is the property of specific groups. I would not even argue that history is the property of my allies.  But I would argue that those who invoke it should regard history--all history--as something more than a rhetorical device. If you're going to claim that Susan B. Anthony was pro-life feminist, have your fucking facts straight. If you're going to compare abortion and slavery, then, by God, understand that whereas mothers choose every day whether to bring children to term, no slave-master ever chose to have his slave escape. (To say nothing of comparing mothers with slave-masters!! Fuck, my brain is hurting.)

It is not a very good analogy. And I think E.D., whose work I greatly respect, knows it.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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