My Grandma left her home in the rural South in the early 1950s. Grandma was part of the flood of Black Mississippians’ who poured North during the Great Migration. She initially settled in Illinois, where she met a fellow Mississippi migrant named Willie. Grandma and Willie would have three children, two girls, and one boy. The oldest girl would become my mother.
Mama spent her early childhood in Illinois before the family moved to Indiana. While Grandma’s younger children were growing up in the Midwest, some relatives decided to migrate again. Grandma’s sister and two eldest daughters were the first to move to Seattle, WA, in the 1960s. In the second wave of the Great Migration, rivers of Black Southerners poured out to the West. Part of that river diverted to a stream settling in the remote outpost of Seattle. Lured by jobs with Boeing and the City of Seattle, they were open to giving the Emerald City a shot. Like previous Black American migrants, they knew the land they were headed to also had racial issues. But even with its flaws, the Pacific Northwest beckoned. It was still better than Mississippi, many migrants reasoned. So, they came, settled, and built lives outside their birthplace a second time. By1980, Grandma would join them, completing her furthest and final migration to Seattle, Washington. When my mother’s due date approached in July 1980, she left her naval base in Southern Cali and came north to Seattle, where she could give birth to me with the support of her mother and maternal family.
That is the story of how my family ended up in Seattle and why I was born there. When I tell people I was born and raised in Seattle, I’ve often been met with shock. Some Americans cannot wrap their minds around the fact that there are Black people in the Pacific Northwest. But yes, the Great Migration brought us there too! The accident of my birth in Seattle is something I have pondered throughout my life. I have reflected more on the Supreme Court’s decision to kick abortion back to the states. Based on the comments from Justice Thomas, the court may also review previous rulings on contraception access. This troubles me, and I fear American women will lose all access to contraception.
Growing up in Washington state and Seattle specifically, I did not face certain issues that young women in more conservative regions live with. Because Seattle is firmly progressive, I had access to comprehensive sex education and contraception. When I was coming of age in the early 90s, the Seattle School District made condoms available in local high schools. This policy seemed rational and prudent to me. Statistically, it was a fact that teenagers were having sex. But you didn’t have to be a researcher to know this. In my community, all you had to do was look around. ‘Babies having babies, the elders would say, clutching their pearls and sucking their teeth in disdain at the number of young, unmarried women having children before they could drink legally.
I vividly remember watching KIRO5 News run a story on condom access and sex ed in high schools. I remember my elders rolling their eyes in disgust. They complained the schools had no right to do this, that they shouldn’t be making condoms available to teenagers, and that the schools were usurping parents’ rights.
But these same elders, who wanted teenagers ignorant of their bodies and sexuality, were shocked and scandalized when teen girls and young women who did NOT receive sex ed and contraception info became pregnant. They were so shocked and scandalized by an outcome that should have been obvious. I wondered how so many of my elders couldn’t make the connection. They couldn’t see their role in creating a situation they resented; that their stance on sex ed & contraceptive access led to consequences they feared.
By the time I entered high school in the mid-90s, sex ed and contraception access were a settled matter locally. In my sophomore year of high school, a teen health clinic was opened at my school. Students were able to go there and get medical advice and treatment. Representatives from Planned Parenthood came once a year to discuss birth control, reproductive health, and STDs.
At the time, I took this environment for granted. At sixteen years old, I didn’t consider that teens and young adults in other states didn’t have this privilege. I didn’t realize it was a privilege. Because it was my norm, I assumed everyone had it like that. In later years, however, I became more aware of how fortunate I’d been. Now, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its potential impact on contraception access, I ponder the effects of location on access to sex ed and contraception.
Now, the simple-minded will say: “well, if you don’t like the laws in your state, just move to another!” But those of us with a lick of sense know that just getting up and relocating is not a quick nor easy process. It is not easy or convenient for the average 21-year-old girl with no education, no skills, and no family wealth to up and leave her rural town. And frankly, why should she have to?
I have trouble accepting a status quo where an American woman’s reproductive choices are based on where she was born or currently lives. It chills me to think of how different my reproductive rights would be had Grandma remained in Mississippi and I been born there instead. I believe every woman in the United States should have access to the same education and contraception that I did as a teenager and should have the ability to make informed decisions with it. The accident of one’s birth should not deprive a woman of this fundamental right.