I was insulted, to say the least, when Missouri Right to Life had the gall to put up billboards in black neighborhoods with offensive and blatantly racist messages.
The wholly unsubstantiated claim made on these billboards is that black women kill their babies, perpetuating the racist stereotype of black women as unfit mothers.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue of abortion, I believe that the overwhelming number of Americans would agree that this type of reprehensible rhetoric crosses a line that should not be crossed and has no place in the debate.
These are questions everyone supporting racists billboards should be able to answer.
Black mothers and our families deserve better than billboards exploiting the social determinants perpetuated by white male supremacy that has created the various hostile environments in which we live and parent.
UPDATE, May 19, 1:00 p.m.: SisterReach has reported that as of Friday evening the three billboards have come down.
It was 2010 when anti-choice groups erected the first anti-woman, “pro-life” billboards in Atlanta, Georgia. The billboards stated that Black children were an “endangered species.” Iterations of that same message said that Black mothers’ wombs were unsafe, Black children were unwanted, Black women had been betrayed by “abortionists,” and that Black mothers were aborting future leaders like President Obama. When those messages didn’t work, the groups targeted Black mothers again through our men. Those billboards showed a Black man kissing his partner’s belly alongside a message that his fatherhood began in her womb—her unsafe womb.
Fast forward to today in predominantly Black and underserved neighborhoods of Memphis, Tennessee, where Prolife Across America has erected three anti-choice billboards. Prolife Across America’s anti-abortion rhetoric is packaged with pictures of beautiful baby girls with bows on their heads. The billboards represent another attempt by the anti-choice movement to guilt Black mothers about their personal reproductive health-care decisions while pitting Black fathers against us.
The placement of these billboards comes at a time when Black people everywhere are forced to remind the world that Black lives matter, especially the quality of those lives. Our communities are still laden with economic disinvestment, gentrification, joblessness, under-employment, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual assault, domestic violence, and struggling schools. In the Deep South, our opportunity at healthier bodies has been compromised as many southern states refuse to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid while failing to implement state-funded health plans. Medicaid expansion would ensure that thousands of people, despite their employment status, could access the health care they need—which covers all preventive services for women, including reproductive health care.
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Unfortunately, these anti-woman, anti-choice supporters are nowhere to be found when advocates are working to change the lived conditions of Black communities. They are not coordinating job fairs or fighting for low-income housing. They aren’t investing in community gardens or fighting to ensure proper grocery stores in food deserts. They did not stand with Trayvon Martin’s mother or Eric Garner’s wife. They didn’t fight to ensure Marissa Alexander’s freedom or the custody of her children. They were silent as Black lives were lost during and after Hurricane Katrina and remained silent while Black families searched for a new start. Instead, they erect inflammatory, shaming billboards.
The money invested in anti-abortion billboards alone could help poor Black families in Detroit pay their delinquent water bills or seed the movement to fight mass incarceration. Did I miss their parade championing Toya Graham’s action of desperation and parenthood as her child’s “unsafe place” proved to be the streets of Baltimore instead of her womb? Somehow, “pro-life” activists are only present to shame Black mothers, manipulate Black fathers, and exploit Black babies with campaigns that are egregious, racist, and divisive.
Their interposing actions in Black communities disguised as “help” only add to the harmful and traumatic experiences of Black women, men, and children. They are not invested in our long-term well-being. Their temporary concern for the little Black “princess” on the billboard will cease the moment she is of child-bearing age and eligible to become a “welfare queen.”
These heinous attacks on Black families are unfruitful and unwelcome, especially in the city where one of the Black leaders they care so much about, Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered in cold blood just under 50 years ago. There was no billboard erected in honor of his life. There has not been any justice for his death, as sanitation workers in Memphis still fight for fair wages and the lived conditions of Black lives still do not matter in America.
It is not coincidental that “pro-life” groups forgo consulting Black communities about what we need in terms of support or resources to change the daily conditions of our lives. That trend of disregarding us is directly connected to the constant dehumanization of Black people in this country—a trend that dates as far back as slavery. The recent poll, African-American Voices on Sexual Health, released in June 2013, demonstrates that Black Americans across multiple generations trust Black women, support access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education, and view contraception as fundamental health care.
Black Americans overwhelmingly support abortion—in fact, 80 percent of Black Americans believe abortion should remain legal regardless of their personal feelings. This vast majority holds true with those identifying as conservative (74 percent) and those identifying as religious (76 percent). SisterReach’s report called, Our Voices and Experiences Matter: The Need for Comprehensive Sex Education Among Young People of Color in the South, offers insight into one of the strategies to ensure Black families’ success—access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education.
Black mothers and our families deserve better than billboards exploiting the social determinants perpetuated by white male supremacy that has created the various hostile environments in which we live and parent. Environments that are unfit for ourselves, let alone the potential babies we may bear. Environments where the murder rate for Black Americans isfour times the national average. That murder isn’t happening in abortion clinics. That murder isn’t happening at the hands or in the wombs of Black women. Black mothers aren’t crafting policies limiting our access to contraception, sex education, or health care. Black mothers aren’t championing gun access policies or limiting access to government safety net programs.
Our opportunity to realize reproductive justice as the Black family will continue to be thwarted if the insistence of these insidious anti-woman, anti-choice tactics targeting our communities are not stopped.
The agenda of Prolife Across America and other organizations like it is not in the best interest of Black women, men, and our families. These groups are seeking to make Memphis the next battleground in their so-called war against abortion, but using Black children as political pawns will not succeed. As reproductive justice activists working on behalf of women of color inTennessee, wewill not be silent about their racialized attacks—be they political, religious, or cultural. Their misguided tactics to divide the Black communities of Memphis through their disingenuous concern for the abortion rate of Black women is an effort ill spent.
If the anti-choice movement is actually concerned about Black lives, they will take the billboards down and instead re-route those resources into productive efforts to achieve the complete health and well-being of Black families in Memphis and throughout the country.
Two women are suing a sperm bank, citing unexpected emotional and financial distress, after they were given the wrong sperm and their daughter was born Black. But society owes all women of Black and brown children reparations for sustaining a reality in which their parenthood is inextricably linked to dealing with extraneous emotional distress.
Briana Dixon is in her third year at Spelman College and is one of Rewire‘s youth voices.
Terrance Parker and Sabrina Kent know the anxieties of raising a Black daughter in our society—their daughters were stigmatized at school for their natural hair. Dominika Stanley and Monica McBride are well acquainted with the worst case scenarios—their daughters were killed by police during an unwarranted raid, and by an armed civil citizen on a front porch, respectively.
We live in a world where blackness and brownness invites oppression, disenfranchisement, dehumanization, and danger. We live in a world where Black girls cannot wear their hair to school in its natural state without it being against a dress code. We live in a world where Black girls are shot down in the middle of the night for no good reason at all. As a result, the parents of Black and brown children live in a reality of fear and constant negotiation with the racist world around them in order to ensure their children’s well-being.
Jennifer Cramblett and her domestic partner, Amanda Zinkon, were thrust into this reality when the Midwest Sperm Bank in Cook County, Illinois, carelessly gave them the sperm of donor 330, an African-American man, instead of donor 380, the white man they had selected in 2011. With the birth of their biracial daughter, they suddenly joined the legions of women who feared for their Black children, compromised for their Black children, moved neighborhoods for their Black children, got in arguments with the prejudiced people close to them for their Black children, and loved their Black children throughout it all. They became mothers of a biracial child, a Black child, and they took on the emotional duress that comes with that.
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But Cramblett and her partner experienced a compounding of their white privilege in that they had a unique opportunity to attempt to be compensated for the harsh, unfair, and emotionally difficult reality of parenting a biracial child. They are currently suing the Midwest Sperm Bank for upwards of $50,000 in damages for emotional distress, pain, suffering, and other economic and non-economic losses for now and in the future. Because the blackness of a beautiful two-year-old was an accident, they can seek reparations.
There are many moral dilemmas here, including what this suit will mean for Cramblett and Zinkon’s daughter when she is older. Certainly it is worrying to consider how their child will process being regarded as a “wrongful birth” in the court of law, even with her parent’s assurances that they love her.
Wrongful birth lawsuits are often used to sue medical practitioners for failing to inform parents that their children would have severe birth defects until it was too late for the mother to decide whether or not she wanted to carry the child to term. Since treating and/or caring for children with these conditions can be very expensive and very emotionally draining, this type of lawsuit allows the parents to sue for the unexpected emotional and financial expense. It is important to keep in mind that “wrongful birth” lawsuits claim the negligence of the medical practitioner caused their distress, not the birth of the child itself. In this instance, the negligence led to the birth of a child made with sperm that the couple did not choose.
But in order to prove that damage has been done to Cramblett and her partner, this lawsuit focuses on the losses caused by the anxieties that have resulted from their child being biracial in our racist society. This links their distress to their daughter’s blackness in ways that are not as simple to clarify once one steps out of the courtroom. It could lead to perceived stigmatization of their child’s blackness, both in the public mind, but more importantly, in the mind of the child herself. The legal case blames the medical practitioners but there is no guarantee that the child will fully understand that in the future, and I warrant it would be hard to explain satisfactorily.
But the moral dilemma is not limited to this. It is important to grapple with the fact that the lawsuit directly references common struggles of raising a Black child—difficulties in doing her hair, fear of racial prejudice, having to deal with white privilege, seeking inclusive spaces—as instances of emotional distress and that, on some level, it makes sense for them to do so. Though many would assert that we live in a post-racial era, institutionalized racism still flourishes in our society. There should not be more emotional distress, pain, suffering, economic and non-economic loss to raising a brown child than there is to raising a white one. But there is. There is no denying this, there is no ignoring this, and there is no brushing this aside.
There are two truths I know beyond a doubt, as an African-American woman: Living our lives is complicated every moment by the racist realities of our world, and raising our children is complicated every moment by those same realities. This is emotionally distressing. This is painful. This often results in economic losses, such as the cost of switching neighborhoods in order to find a more inclusive space for your children, and non-economic loss, such as anxiety around how prejudiced friends or family will affect the emotional state of your children.
The ultimate goal of reproductive justice is that every woman should be able to have or not have a child without unjust obstacles hindering her decision and to raise the children they have in “safe and healthy environments.” The very real fear of our racist society is a constant hindrance for parents of Black and brown children, both in deciding to have them and in raising them each day.
Society owes all women of Black and brown children reparations for sustaining a reality in which their parenthood is inextricably linked to dealing with extraneous emotional distress.
But more, society owes women of Black and brown children a better society, one free of racism, sexism, and oppression in general. Imagine if the day you were attacked by your white peers for being “hypersensitive” when you pointed out how racism plays a part in our economic system, your parents could sue. Imagine if the first time you got teased for your afro-puffs as you walked down a sidewalk, your mother could get compensation for your tears. Imagine if your father could get upwards of $50,000 for the countless nights he stayed awake, worrying about your future amidst news stories of Black girls your age dying for knocking on the wrong door in the middle of the night. Jennifer Cramblett and her partner have found a way to do this and if that way is problematic because they are the white parents of a Black girl, the inspiration behind it is at least understandable.
If Cramblett and her partner should be censured for anything it is for intimating, purposely or not, that it is because of their daughter’s blackness they must endure this new reality. To be clear, it is not their daughter’s blackness that has caused their struggles, but rather a society that abhors, demonizes, and attacks blackness at near every turn. It is not Black people’s blackness that creates racism or sparks it in others, but rather institutionalized oppression and internalized prejudice that leads to persecution of people of color. Blackness is not the problem: Society is.
Their daughter’s blackness didn’t mandate that Cramblett and her partner move to a more racially inclusive neighborhood, find a more inclusive school, and strategize on how to deal with racially insensitive family members. All those things are the fault of a racist society that makes such actions necessary for their child’s well-being.
Cramblett and her partner have a solid case against a racist society but that case will not be won in the courts but rather in our activism, in the change of our culture and in the change of our laws. Only by creating a culture in which diversity is valued and people of color are consistently and undeniably treated with dignity and respect can we hope to make our society an inclusive one. Only by ensuring our laws protect everyone, equally, no matter their race, can we be sure that each one of our citizens are living in a safe environment. Only when we work together to make these ideals a reality will the true problem be addressed.
Cramblett said in an interview that her family hopes to move to a more racially inclusive neighborhood: “This is a life you are creating. You have to make sure you take all the measures possible to make sure that you get it right.” This statement is a little ironic when you consider that her pursuit of this lawsuit could have long-term consequences for her daughter, who may start to feel shame being known as a “wrongful birth,” even though it is the medical establishment in this case that is the cause of distress for her parents, but the sentiment of doing whatever a person can to raise their child to the best of their ability is a good one.
Every day so many of our parents take all the measures possible to make sure they help us get our lives right. They sacrifice for us out of love and devotion. Parenthood is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs our world has to offer, and raising a child of color is to further complicate that with all the hardship of living in a racist world. Yet parents of Black and brown children do this job, often to the best of their ability, and frequently with stunning results.
I’d like to think that Jennifer Cramblett truly doesn’t consider her daughter’s blackness to be a defect. I’d like to think that when she sues this sperm bank for “wrongful birth” it is truly only inspired by her discontent with the negligence of the sperm bank. But I know beyond a doubt that $50,000 is nowhere near enough to compensate for the emotional distress of any parent having to raise a child in a discriminatory society that allows that child’s constant dehumanization.
For most parents of Black, brown, and mixed-race children, there is no lawsuit settlement to acknowledge and compensate them for their fears and anxieties. For them there are no reparations for the difficulties they will face. For them there is only the emotional distress of raising a child in our racist society and the children that make it worth it.