I’ve never been much of a chess player. To be good at it, you have to seek out the emotional and intellectual weakness of your opponent, anticipate when she or he will fail, wield your queen as a weapon and sacrifice pawns. The whole game pivots on protecting or destroying the king, the most important figure on the board. That figure doesn’t have much power—until the rooks, bishops, knights and queens take one another out. I find a game like this to be stressful.
As much as I dislike playing chess, I think it’s a useful metaphor for the recent, multi-pronged assault on the reproductive healthcare and rights of women. The politically motivated Susan G. Komen debacle that’s been dominating the news cycle lately is just one round of this game. And predictably, the pawns are the poor women and women of color who rely on the low-cost or free breast screening, care and services that Komen’s grants may or may not continue to support.
I haven’t nailed down where the spokespeople and leaders of the racialized anti-choice movement fall on a game board littered with tea-stained anti-choice legislators, Personhood flacks, Republican presidential candidates, anti-contraception Catholic Church figures and other assorted opponents of equitable health care and women’s self-determination. I’m going to be studying that very closely through 2012. Who will lie at the center of my research and thinking, though, will be women of color and poor women who bear the brunt of all of the gamesmanship. Karen Handel is going to be all right. So will Nancy Brinker, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Kathleen Sebelius, Barack Obama, Cecile Richards and all of the other boldface names media focus on.
Yesterday, in a remarkably measured piece, Kavita Das, former program director for the Greater NYC Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, explained how people who are (rightfully) angry about the national organization’s disastrous moves should evaluate what their local Komen affiliates are actually doing for poor women and women of color in their communities before they swear off Komen forever. Kavita’s piece isn’t sexy; it doesn’t feed or fuel the righteous indignation so many of us are feeling. But I think her approach is vital. Because at the end of this particularly nasty round of chess, and at the beginning of the next, poor women and women of color will still be the pawns.