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.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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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.