Cue “Control” by Janet Jackson……
As I bob my head and listen to the beat kick courtesy of Miz Jackson, I ponder how to go about an issue that has been on my mind since March. In the time before the debate on health care reform came to a head, the ever-so divisive topic of abortion reared its ugly head. Surely many remember this image:
Remember this? This is an image of one of 80 or so billboards put up by the Georgia Right to Life and the Radiance Foundation, both of whom are anti-abortion groups. They claim that over 40% of black pregnancies end up in abortions, and that every 4 days, more black children are killed by abortion than the KKK killed in 144 years. So says their “minority outreach” director, Catherine Davis.
Gee Geooo-juh! I didn’t know you cared so much about us!
(As a side note, I looked up some 2003 CDC statistics on abortion rates broken down by race, and white women accounted for 55% of abortions, while black women accounted for 37%. However the CDC acknowledged certain limitations with data regarding race: out of 49 reporting areas in 47 states, only 29 reporting areas reported accurately, representing 58% of legal abortions. Thus the numbers from the CDC regarding race are most likely understated. 37% of all abortions performed out of a potentially inaccurate sampling group is NOT the same as %40 of black babies being aborted.)
Lets hop across to Africa for another perspective on black reproduction from the New York Times’ Minority Outreach Director op-ed columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, who is currently traveling in Central Africa.
Last week, Nick Kristoff published an article in the New York Times entitled, “Poverty and the Pill“. In the article, he espouses the viewpoint that the way to empower women in the Congo (and by Kristof extension, all women in Africa) is to make birth control easier to access. In his words, the Congo is an area where “it’s easy to see how breakneck population growth leads to poverty, instability, and conflict Here’s a gem from the article:
“Many impoverished men and women, especially those without education, want babies more than contraceptives. As Mitch and I drove through villages, we asked many women how many babies they would ideally have. Most said five or six, and a few said 10.”
So, on one side of the Atlantic we have right-to-life groups advocating that black women here in the States are contributing to the genocide of their own people by heading to their nearest local Planned Parenthood, which by the way, according to anti-abortion groups, were purposely placed in black communities in order to help exterminate the black race. On the other hand, we have Nicky Kristof traipsing around in the villages of Congo singing the praises of birth control for poor African women as a means of reducing poverty.
I feel a certain level of cognitive dissonance when I try to parallel these two scenarios in my head. Per always, I take to my blog to try to parse out why I feel unsettled. I think it is because on both sides of the abortion/birth control debate, black women’s reproduction is disproportionately put under a microscope by the dominant majority. Whether it is the Georgia Right to Life group telling black women that they get a gold medal and the KKK gets silver in the Black Genocide Olympics, or its Nicholas Kristof alerting the world that African women are having too many babies and the West needs to intervene, there is an underlying paternalistic sense of “We-know-how-to-care-for-black-children-more-than-black-women-do”. (Which is funny, because many United States upper-class whites in urban centers sure do trust immigrant colored women to be their underpaid nannies)
I already mentioned a little bit about the statistics in the abortion campaign issue. As for birth control in Africa, it’s not as simple as just dropping huge packets of Ortho-Tri-Cylcen or Yaz in Africa (Yes, surely American pharmaceuticals would jump on more business opportunities). Knowing the way things go in Africa, these pills would end up being sold for very high prices in urban centers. I can see counterfeit medications being packaged as birth control and harming women where there is no FDA or effective medication regulation in many countries. I can see misuses due to the fact that there are very few gynecologists, and a general lack of doctors over the continent. I can see that in many rural societies, having a large amount of children produces workers for the farms. Also, perhaps in a society where family is the main support system for many people where governments and institutions have been rendered impotent, it makes perfect sense to have a lot of children.
Being a black or African woman means having your reproductive choices scrutinized and managed by those who do not seem to have much interest in the quality and dignity of black life after the umbilical cord is cut.