Thanks, White Dude, For Your Insightful Commentary on Black Women and Abortion

10 May

Men are often, historically and in the history of the present moment, great allies for women’s rights and reproductive justice. White people, men and women alike, have been great allies in the fight against racism. Straight people have been responsible for amazing gains made by the LGBTQ movement. Throughout the discourses around our nation’s most fraught issues, people at the intersection of many identities have commented thoughtfully, opening and expanding the conversation, weaving together the threads of communities to create these fragile but precious things we call “movements.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Dennis Byrne is not one of these people.

Posted on April 25th, Byrne’s article “Exploring blacks’ high rate of abortion” makes a pretty perfect outline for “How Not to Be a White Dude Talkin’ Bout Women and Race,” and how. You probably gathered that from the title, Byrne will be exploring “blacks’” high rate of abortion. Oh yeah. That’s sensitively handled. A good tip is to always try it in reverse, Mr. Byrne. How about “exploring whites’ high rate of abortion?” Oh, something sounds funny about that, doesn’t it? You might not phrase it that way. You might write, “Exploring the high rates of abortion among white women,” or something to that effect, yes? Call me crazy, but jumping off with that title does not suggest good things for the piece to follow. And yes – it does get worse.

According to Byrne,

“The rate of African-American abortions should trouble everyone and call for a calm, intelligent exploration of the causes. Not so was the response of the wedge-driving Planned Parenthood. It called the billboards an ‘offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women while attempting to limit their ability to make private, personal medical decisions.’”

I would argue that Planned Parenthood called the billboards what they are – an offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women. The billboards do not call for a “calm” or “intelligent” exploration – they make black women out to be baby-killers responsible for the extinction of a species (And in a country with a racially loaded history of equating black men and women to animals, that’s definitely not problematic, at all!). In Chicago, they hold black women responsible for aborting “the next world leader” – because the fate of the world hangs on your shoulders, mothers-to-be, since most children who are not aborted go on to be leaders of the free world. Don’t think of it as an unwanted pregnancy that will cost time you don’t have, money you don’t have, an education you can’t provide for it, food you can’t give it, and will require help the father and the government will not be giving you – think of it as the next world leader. Let’s not even address the guilt that might incur if the pregnant woman in question was raped, or if an abortion is a medical necessity.

Byrne goes on to say,

“More thoughtful was the exploration of the issue by the Tribune’s Dawn Turner Trice (“Debate over black abortion disparity,” April 20, 2011).”

It should be duly noted here that the title of Trice’s piece is not, as Byrne’s wrote, “Debate over black abortion disparity.” No. That is neither the title of her piece, nor the point of her piece, which, according the Tribune, is actually called, “Billboards that highlight black abortion disparity spark debate.” (And indeed they do!) He plays quick lip service to the excellent points made by Trice’s article, points that have been made time and again by black women and their allies over the last 6 months, the number one point being that the problem that needs to be addressed amongst all women, black women included, is unintended pregnancies, what with unintended pregnancies being the leading cause of abortions and all.

And then, oh then, quick caveat aside, Byrne’s gets down and racist in the traditional, unexamined sense.

“And here we would wade into what sociologists call ‘multivariate analysis’ of some other factors that are not so easily defined or as clearly measurable as demographics. Like culture, which is defined as the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.”

You know, because we need to just all up and admit that it is black “culture” that is responsible for the high rate of abortions.

Byrne says,

“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 it’s not just liberal “political correctness” that discourages this – culture is NOT the explanation for “violence, ignorance, and other dysfunctions.” Cultural is not a cause, it is an effect. Byrne does not want to examine it that way, because to do so would be to have to hunt for the cause of those effects, the same causes that contribute to high abortion rates – causes like economic depression and a drug war that puts young men in jail for years for offenses that white frat boys walk away from every day (and that drug war has a little something to do with economic depression, too).

Byrne also gets in on the suddenly popular question amongst well-off white dudes who feel the need to police what black women do with their bodies: civil rights.

“The pro-life billboards, as ‘offensive’ as some find them, force us to face an issue that many prefer to ignore: Is the high incidence of abortion in the black community a civil rights issue? Is it a symptom of control and suppression of women that is endemic to the community? And more profoundly: Who ‘deserves’ to live and whether mass extermination of babies in the womb on a scale that is under way in the black community is good for anyone?”

You’re mistaken, Mr. Byrne. The pro-choice community particularly and black women generally are very fucking happy to address those questions. If you’d like to see forums where they do so, try Essense Online, The Root, or the writing of Jamilah Lemieux (they’re so popular and politically correct that, as usual, they are relegated to corners of the internet rather than being given the mainstream media soapbox a white dude like you enjoys).

The “high incidence” of abortion in the black community is disproportionate, but white women still obtain by far the most abortions. It is a “civil rights” issue only in the sense that we have still failed to address so many concerns brought to light by civil rights and we still have poor communities that are overwhelmingly occupied by women of color who need access to affordable contraception and family planning services that they are not being given, which would prevent unintended pregnancies. Every person deserves to live life to the fullest extent, and that includes women who get pregnant and need to terminate that pregnancy for whatever reason. No one has the right to highjack a woman’s life and body in the name of their own myopic moral compass. And instead of worrying about the “mass extermination of babies in the womb on a scale that is under way in the black community” (that’s some neutral language for you there), perhaps Mr. Byrne and others like him could concern themselves with what the problems are, exactly, that cause high rates of unintended pregnancy and create communities and lives where women do not feel they can raise a child.

Rates of abortions – rates of women choosing to end unintended pregnancies because they feel that despite the stigma it is the best choice for them – are NOT “a symptom of control and suppression of women that is endemic to the community.” Articles like the one Mr. Byrne wrote, however, are a symptom of the attempts to control and suppress women’s choices, a symptom endemic in the United States today.

10 Responses to “Thanks, White Dude, For Your Insightful Commentary on Black Women and Abortion”

  1. Jane May 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Great post. The argument that women shouldn’t have abortions because the fetus might become the next world leader is so ridiculous. What are the odds any given baby will become President? And how do they compare to the odds that a woman will die in childbirth? Obviously, the odds that a woman will die are exponentially greater. Which means that no woman should be forced to give birth if she doesn’t want to.

  2. Ivy May 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Great post! Jane, I would have to agree with you. The argument that black women could be aborting the “Next Obama” or “leader of the free world” is quite preposterous. There seems to be so much focus on the “unborn black children,” yet not on the economic and educational policies that affect the black children are already born and experiencing life. What about their futures as “leaders of the free world?” It would be interesting to see how these people voted concerning these policies, and if their passion is sustained when the issue is shifted…

  3. Rhology May 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Hello,

    I have a few reactions to your paper, but thank you for being willing to engage the other side.

    1) I’m not sure what problem you have with the term “blacks’”. After all, you said “white” when referring to Byrne.

    2) Exploring whites’ abortion rates is also a worthwhile pursuit, but whites abort at a lower rate than blacks, and here’s the kicker – anyone who cares about black people should be very concerned about this because that means a greatly reduced black population in the future. Kill babies and those babies don’t grow up to be adults.
    Anyway, diverting attention from one wrong (ie, blacks’ abortions) by complaining that the critic isn’t addressing another wrong (ie, whites’ abortions) is a logical fallacy called a tu quoque. I’m personally very happy to address BOTH, but all in good time and not necessarily simultaneously. We all have limits, so this criticism of Byrne isn’t fair.

    3) Why are the billboards an effort to stigmatise and shame women? Did it say something about “Black women are generally no good” or something? No! It referred to ABORTION. Now according to you, abortion = women? How did that happen and by what process? Are you pro-CHOICE or pro-ABORTION?
    That’s why this other statement:

    The billboards do not call for a “calm” or “intelligent” exploration – they make black women out to be baby-killers responsible for the extinction of a species

    is so irresponsible.
    And yet, the rational answer, when one realises one has done wrong, is to turn away from it and resolve not to repeat the mistake, not to cover it up or rationalise it or explain it away.

    4) In Chicago, they hold black women responsible for aborting “the next world leader”

    This is totally unfair. It said “possible”; did you miss that? And it IS possible! You don’t know, and neither does anyone else, which is one good reason why, if we are to err, we should err on the side of life and not killing.

    5) Don’t think of it as an unwanted pregnancy that will cost time you don’t have

    I agree 100%. Think of “it” as what he or she is – a human being who is very young and who is reliant on you, his or her parents, for protection and nourishment.

    6) an education you can’t provide for it, food you can’t give it

    Now who’s the one talking down to black women? Oh, so black women can’t educate their children? Can’t feed them? Can’t work to support themselves and their families? Such that they need you, O Powerful Helpful White Master, to hand out their weekly rations so they won’t starve and so they can regard you as their benevolent benefactor?

    7) Let’s not even address the guilt that might incur if the pregnant woman in question was raped, or if an abortion is a medical necessity.

    To say nothing of the guilt that innumerable women face after killing their baby/ies in (an) abortion(s).
    And you’re now dealing with ~7% of all abortions in the USA. Face it – the vast majority of abortions are NOT because of rape or medical necessity, so why not deal with the actual situation? Or are you afraid the truth would be heard too clearly then?

    8) Cultural is not a cause, it is an effect.

    What is your argument for that? Why not consider that it is both?

    9) causes like economic depression and a drug war that puts young men in jail for years for offenses that white frat boys walk away from every day (and that drug war has a little something to do with economic depression, too).

    Another implicit tu quoque.
    Just because there are many evils in the world doesn’t give you an excuse to turn a blind eye to the ones that inconvenience you or make you feel icky.

    10) we still have poor communities that are overwhelmingly occupied by women of color who need access to affordable contraception and family planning services that they are not being given

    It is a documented FACT that Planned Parenthood has historically targeted minority neighborhoods and women for their “services”, and it’s that way because of its founder, Margaret Sanger. This is nothing more than empty, meaningless rhetoric.

    11) No one has the right to highjack a woman’s life and body

    This is asking the wrong question, and predictably, gets the wrong answer.

    You are fearmongering – Byrne favors the free expression of ideas, the billboards. You apparently favor taking them down – suppression of free speech by those who are offended. Thus, you are a slave and an enslaver to overbearing political correctness.
    We abolitionists of human abortion and pro-lifers tend to think that people (and yes, that includes the black women you keep putting down and underestimating) can tolerate, comprehend, and be affected by the truth, sometimes (gasp!) even positively affected; I’m sorry you don’t feel the same way. No one is trying to control anyone else by the exercise of free speech; what we seek to do is to inform and influence, to change the culture. “Suppression” of choice would be violence and force, but that’s far from the purview of these billboards. Your extremist, spectacular language don’t advance the debate at all; rather, they take us backwards.

    Peace,
    Rhology

  4. Kaitlyn May 11, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Hey Rhology,

    I want you to know that Abortion Gang specifically decided to let your comment go through because we believe that you, in fact, prove many of my points.

    My comment on Byrne choosing to examine why women of color have abortions – and examine it through a lens of “cultural practice” as a cause rather than effect of poverty, lack of access to birth control, inadequate education etc – as opposed to white women or women generally is directly related to the fact that I believe his argument is racist. I believe arguments like the one he makes and the ones the billboards make are inherently racist. I believe being anti-abortion – while you may have perfectly good, moral reasons for it – is inherently sexist (here I speak only for myself, and not abortion gang). I believe by telling women what they can and should do with their bodies you are asserting that women are not capable of making the decision themselves, not to mention that there is a right or wrong decision to make which, until you’re God, you don’t get to do.

    These examinations of black women’s choices and bodies – which is what the billboards are – are intrusive. We do not need to examine black women’s choices. I would be happy to examine the CAUSES, and treat them accordingly. Would you like to examine high rates of poverty amongst women of color? We can do that, and changing that might lower the rates of unintended pregnancies and thus abortions. Would you like to examine the lack of access women of color have to safe, effective, affordable birth control? We can do that, and changing that would CERTAINLY lower the rates of unintended pregnancies.

    The billboards do not do that.

    A billboard in NYC had a picture of a black girl and it read, “The most unsafe place for an African American child is in the womb.” Why? She’s in the womb of a black woman. Black women’s wombs are unsafe? Or, let’s say that the obvious implication there is unintended – African American children are unsafe in wombs? You mean, inside women? Women are an unsafe place for children to be?

    When you say, “Every 21 seconds our next world leader is aborted,” it begs the question, who is doing that aborting? Interestingly, President Obama’s mother is white – but then, he wasn’t aborted, creating the more complex, insidious implication that he was not aborted because a good white mother carried him. Not like those bad black women aborting all those next world leaders.

    The billboards are contradictory, myopic, and confusing. They are racist and sexist. They are set to divide communities against each other, and we’d like them not to succeed. You, like Byrne, are just the plain old ordinary kind of self-righteous ignorant – and yeah, racist.

    Thank you for commenting at Abortion Gang!

  5. Amy R. May 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m generally in favor of anyone dismantling Dennis Byrne’s columns and strongly pro-choice and anti-racist. No complaints about your overall points.

    However, you can’t hold a newspaper writer responsible for the headline the editor puts atop his or her article. And you took issue with the way he described Dawn Turner Trice’s headline. Newspaper editors routinely change headlines from the print version for the web because of SEO (search engine optimization), so what Byrne cited may well have been exactly what he saw in the paper. It’s best to focus one’s arguments on the body of the text. (Which, in Byrne’s case, almost always provides plenty of fodder for disagreement!)

  6. Leslie May 16, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    A comment for Rhology:

    If you’re concerned about the next world leader, you should support abortion so that those women have the opportunity to become our next president. After all, how many presidents have we had whose educations suffered when they became pregnant? None. So by your logic of worrying over untapped potential, shouldn’t we say, “every baby is ruining the presidential aspirations of a woman”?

  7. Kaitlyn May 16, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Good point Amy. Thank you for making that clear.

  8. Andre Harrison May 16, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Great post! Thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] white dude, for your insightful commentary on black women and abortion.” Kaitlyn at the Abortion Gang takes on the Chicago [...]

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