Professor Dorothy E. Roberts’ new book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, was published by Basic Books on April 5.
Roberts, an acclaimed scholar of race, gender, and the law, is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. She is also the founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society in the Center for Africana Studies.
The following is an excerpt of Torn Apart, curated and shared by Mother Jones:
On a summer day in 2017, a Black family was enjoying a picnic in a park in Aurora, Colorado. Among the dozen or so relatives who gathered there was Vanessa Peoples, a 25-year-old nursing student, and her two sons, Malik and Talib, ages two and four. Vanessa had been undergoing tests to see if she had leukemia. She also suffered from asthma and was prone to seizures, and her illnesses had turned her naturally lanky frame rail thin. Vanessa, the boys (whose names have been changed to protect their privacy), and Vanessa’s husband lived with her mother, Patricia Russell, in a modest, single-story brick house on a tree-lined street; all the adults pitched in to care for the rambunctious little boys. That day was supposed to be a relaxing retreat from Vanessa’s exhausting schedule of classes, medical tests, and caregiving.
Instead, the outing led to the most terrifying experience of her life… .
Roberts’ other books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011); Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002), and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997). She also recently penned “Race,” a chapter in The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, focusing on race as a construct and the historical regulation of Black women’s bodies.
Roberts joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology and the Law School. She is the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and book chapters as well as a co-editor of six books on topics such as constitutional law and women and the law.