Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

Media Monday

Council on Contemporary Families Releases “Unconventional Wisdom” on Family Diversity

One of the most unconventional findings was that “the darker an African American or Latino student rated his own skin tone, the higher his academic performance, academic confidence, and social acceptance.” This relates directly to the discussion we were just having about colorism, and whether what the teenagers in the video were saying accurately reflected what they thought about skin color and beauty. I’m tempted to want to spin these results to so that they can co-exist with the teenagers reflections being accurate, but I can also see how these can represent conflicting findings.

 

Minority Children Four Times More Likely to Start Poor, Stay Poor

“In Singapore, the government deposits small amounts of money into an account for each child born, Shanks said. That money can be withdrawn to cover costs such as extra tutoring for children or higher education for young adults. Or it can sit, earn interest and become the sort of nest egg or emergency fund the child’s future family may need. As a result, almost all families in Singapore–regardless of income–own their own homes.”

Yet in this country we act as if people with assets – homes, stocks, etc. – aren’t doing the same thing for their children and grandchildren. When you start life off with a nest egg, even a modest one, the monetary laws of compound interest make it so that the money grows, without you doing a single solitary thing to earn it – no bootstrapping necessary. But for poor black children? We act like their situation actually has something to do with their or their parents’ character, not with historical, systematic denial of the opportunity to build wealth according to race.

“Right now, 12 percent of white children live in poverty compared to 33 percent of Latino kids and 36 percent of black children.” And you think we live in a post-racial world?

 

Racial Politics: The “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption

On a related note, over at LIE there is an article about money and black babies and adoption. Black babies usually “cost less” in private adoptions because there are more of them than white babies and they are harder to place than white babies. They are harder to place because there are more white adoptive parents than black adoptive parents, and the norm is to match babies within the race. I say this is related to the post above because, as one commenter says, perhaps much of why there are more black babies is due to the poverty that many black mothers find themselves in when it is time to give birth. In any case, transracial adoption is on the rise, for even at “rates” as low as $4,000 for a black baby, compared to nearly $40,000 for a white baby, getting a black baby is a deal. White adoptive parents come to “prefer” a black baby once they realize how much better the black baby fits into their budget. But its a secondary consideration; the White adoptive parents “settle” for the black baby, only after having taken the price of the child into account. Fucked up, right?

the personal is political

– on the occasion of attending my first Donna Brazile talk and moments before composing tomorrow’s lecture on Sade

In 1988, at the tender age of 9, I campaigned for Jesse Jackson’s Democratic Nomination. My brothers and I, 11 and 7 themselves, went door-to-door in Perth Amboy, New Jersey registering people to vote, and chiefly, amusing the hell out of them. If pre-pubescent little black kids are not enough to convince you to fulfill your civic duty, I don’t know what will.

My son, twenty years later, voted for Barack Obama on nick.com. I must admit that no matter how special I thought it was when Mekhi declared,  “Mom, don’t you think Barack Obama looks like me!”, in the ’08 season, I still have my reservations about our often conservative first gentleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight, Donna Brazile stated that the reason she does not want to run for political office is like the reason why she doesn’t want to be married, because it requires staying in one place. And she likes to be, “on the go!” Though I traditionally do not believe in qualifying oppressions I can’t help but think if I had to choose between working in the white house or working as a house wife, WHICH I, OF COURSE, DO NOT!!!!, give me the suburban soccer mom, every day of the week.

It is so painfully obvious that I am from this country, not only because I am here, with my black family, simultaneously at war and in line with our nation’s political agenda. So many of us, even those not from this country, participate in this American narrative. My children however like to pretend they are from some other place. My oldest in particular has no clue he is “African-American.” I like to blame this on his educational environments and his penchant for White televisual media. In one of his four public schools there was a banner that read, “this is America; everyone reads!,” and in his most recent they celebrated “diversity,” with the book (and participating feast) “Everybody Cooks Rice.” For the latter he brought in rice pudding which I had to convince him was his great-great-grandmother’s dish.

Today, I am feeling particularly angry about not only the post-racial politics of today’s presidential aura, I am also frequently miffed at the government control over our bodies and families. The first time I almost wrote off Barack Obama was following his problematic “Father’s Day” speech in Chicago. Now, with the inability to promote national legislation legalizing gay marriage, the still-inadequate health insurance and the lack of access to safe abortions and contraception, etc., I am wondering where all my Cocoamamas stand. Granted we chose a right to have at least one child. However; I know that does not “safely” box us into right hetero-normative agendas?

 

 

I Forgot To Pray For Good Health For All Babies

Recently my family has been challenged by health issues. My oldest son has an “undiagnosed” learning disability that is once again being “discovered” by a new school. This is a hard thing for me to handle. Education has always come easy for me. However, with all my degrees and experience, not being able to figure out how best to help my son learn is very much a crisis for me and has been for some time.

My daughter is nine-months and she weighs 11 pounds. I have taken her to CHOP, supposedly the best in the area, and her liver and kidney are fine. However three months later, she has lost an ounce. She will start at a Grow Clinic at St. Christopher’s Hospital this month.

I have been praying a lot these past months and I am so grateful that my children are here with me each new day. I trust that with God’s help, we will figure out how to overcome our health issues soon.

This weekend however I learned that a dear couple friend lost their child to SIDS. I have since sent them my love and prayers but I can’t help feeling like I should have stopped to pray for all the babies in my life recently, to pray for the health of all children.

I became an educator years before the birth of my oldest child. Teaching children has inspired me to think broadly about family and my door is pretty wide open. My mom is another important model for this. I joke that there was always someone else at my house for Thanksgiving. I have a whole “Play” family. Play cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. that adopted my family when my parents moved as a young couple with kids into my hometown.

I thank God for all my extended family. I pray that this new year brings good health to everyone. I encourage others to think broadly about family and to protect children in service somehow as well as with prayer.

Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.