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.
“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.