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a photo of Dorothy Roberts in front of a building with her arms crossed

One day in 2006, Dorothy Roberts went in for a conference with her youngest son’s teacher. The boy, said the teacher, had too many unexplained absences from his public kindergarten in Evanston, Illinois, most egregiously missing the class’s Thanksgiving activities. “All the other children made Indian headbands out of paper and feathers,” the teacher chided, according to Roberts. “Before I could respond, the teacher gave me a strict warning: ‘If your son continues to miss school, I’m going to call a truancy officer to visit your home.’”

Roberts’s son, her fourth child, had actually been accompanying his mother — a law professor and public intellectual who has helped provide the theoretical and historical backbone of the reproductive-justice movement — to a lecture she was giving in England. Five years earlier, Roberts had published the first of two books arguing that what she calls family policing, more commonly known as the child-welfare system, singles out Black mothers for investigation, sanction, and separation. At their next meeting, Roberts told me, the teacher’s suspicion, even contempt, had disappeared: “She must have looked me... see more