A Foundation of Mistrust


What would you expect to pop up on your computer screen if you Googled the words black genocide? Probably several web sites detailing the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, right? Not quite. Google black genocide and a multitude of web sites indicting Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health service providers for perpetuating genocide on black people fill the computer screen. Most of these web sites claim that service providers are on a racist crusade to kill off black people through abortion and sterilization.

It’s tempting to scoff at such claims as the delusional ranting of the lunatic fringe, but that wouldn’t be wise. The black genocide charge has shown a staying power not unlike the rumor that drinking carbonated soda laced with Pop Rocks killed that kid from the Life cereal commercials. Unchallenged, claims of genocide become accepted as fact and achieve their goal of discouraging women from seek counseling or treatment from legitimate healthcare providers.

I first encountered the black genocide charge when I began volunteering at a women’s shelter that serves homeless pregnant women. My work includes providing information about family planning and reproductive health resources. Almost from the beginning some of my students expressed distrust towards well-known reproductive health service providers. Eventually these students shared that their concerns revolved around rumors that certain service providers aggressively push patients to have abortions or take medicine that results in permanent sterilization. Through family, friends, church and the word on the street these women had been warned that well-known reproductive health service providers in America are organized to perpetrate black genocide.

Motivated more by my student’s response than curiosity over the actual charge of black genocide, I did some research and found information on efforts like the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP). The Genocide Awareness Project, which is sponsored by the anti-choice Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, tours college campuses with photos comparing abortion with recognized images of genocide. GAP attempts to link abortion with genocide through the use of visual images and the manipulation of language, challenging the legitimacy of reproductive choice by comparing it to slavery. In this way, GAP reaches out to black communities through a campaign dressed up to look like a black empowerment movement.

In many ways supporters of GAP and like organizations are attempting to reap what others sowed years ago. The American eugenics movement of the 1930s and 1940s claimed to better society by preventing carriers of defective genetic traits from reproducing. Family planning was often code for the compulsory sterilization of so-called lesser people, many from poor disenfranchised groups. It is estimated that some 64,000 Americans were sterilized between 1900 and 1970. Forced sterilization of black women reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s. A trip to the hospital to give birth often resulted in sterilization without consent or the patient’s knowledge.

Groups like The Genocide Awareness Project hope to build upon a pre-existing foundation of mistrust. On their web site and through college tours, GAP promotes a Sanctity of Life Curriculum for black churches and encourages the study of the history of eugenics to further “document” their claims of an organized genocide against black people.

Books and articles exploring the potential benefits of abortion in lowering crime rates also fuels mistrust. While critics laud the intellectual “courage” demonstrated by exploring the potential decrease in crime rates through an increase in black abortions, many cringe at the seemingly callous discussion of what is still not-so-distant black history.

That brings me back to my students and rumors that should not be ignored.

Charges that reproductive health service providers are conspiring to commit black genocide are a kind of intellectual mold that flourishes in the absence of the facts. Either by design or circumstance, legislation seeking to restrict access to clinics and end educational outreach programs often acts in concert with campaigns like The Genocide Awareness Project to cultivate fear of abortion providers and resentment. Constant harassment by anti-choice groups and the very real threat of violence also prevent clinics from being visible within the communities they serve, exacerbating the sense that they are not true partners and perpetuating mistrust.

Reproductive health service providers and pro-choice volunteers must continue our outreach into communities of color to prevent such claims from being accepted as the truth. In keeping with that goal, the history of eugenics and sterilization abuse in America requires that claims like those of black genocide made against reproductive service providers not be met with casual disregard. Such claims must be challenged head on even as we acknowledge a tragic history and work to insure that such acts never happen again.

Related Posts

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Pamela Merritt on twitter: @SharkFu

  • http://www.protectchoice.org invalid-0

    Dear Pamela,

    Thank you for shedding light on this issue. There is a great deal of historical mistrust in communities of color, and there are issues that need to be discussed and resolved if we are to provide women and their families with the reproductive health access they need to lead healthy lives. We cannot pretend these ideas don’t exist, and they don’t have some connection to a very real and painful past.

    Thanks for lifting this up.

    Aimee Thorne-Thomsen

  • invalid-0

    Margaret Sanger was not exactly pro-“choice” when it came to what she called “inferior races” and “human weeds”:

    Sanger promoted the idea of “race hygiene” through “negative eugenics,” an attempt to reduce the fertility of “dysgenic” groups. Sanger considered the unchecked multiplication of the “unfit” to be “the greatest present menace to civilization.” She suggested Congress set up a special department to study population problems and appoint a “Parliament of Population.” One of the main objectives of the “Population Congress” would be “to raise the level and increase the general intelligence of population.”

    Dr. Alveda King, the niece of human rights campaigner, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

    The great irony, is that abortion has done what the Klan only dreamed of.

    Dr. King pointed out that the killing of the unborn in the US, which has taken the lives of well over 42 million American children, is overwhelmingly concentrated in the African-American community. “In the last forty-plus years,” Dr. King said, “15 million black people have been denied their most basic civil right, the right to life. Roughly one quarter of the black population is now missing.”

    • invalid-0

      Yes, Margaret Sanger was a eugenecist. But not in the violent, racist way that pro-lifers want people to beleive. She was a positive eugenecist. And she does NOT represent the views of most pro-choice people. By today’s standards, she was very ignorant on many issues, but I’m still grateful that she fought for the freedoms that I sometimes take for granted.

      I’m curious: What source do you have for the first quote?

      And what exactly are you implying about black women? That they should have been denied reproductive rights and bodily autonomy just so that there could be more black people? It’s you who sounds more like the eugenecist here.

  • harry834

    includes to the right to be free from an unwanted and costly pregnancy. A just community will not demand that one of their members be pregnant against their will, especially when they can't afford to be a parent.

    Going back in time to avoid pregnancy is not an option for a woman already pregnant.

  • invalid-0

    The right to life does not include anything but the right to life. There is no right to be “from an unwanted and costly pregnancy”, just as there is no “right” to be free from “unwanted and costly” cancer, heart disease, or obesity. People who have a child have a responsibility to care for him or her, and a “just” community protects the rights of the helpless. People who can’t afford, aren’t able, or just don’t want to be parents have the option of putting the child up for adoption–there are thousands of couples waiting to adopt, particularly a baby.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Which means, by this logic, that we should reject democracy. Without defending Sanger's willingness to pander to racists to get money for her projects, it's important to remember that wasn't her actual motivations. Dorothy Roberts, who wrote a fantastic book on these issues called Killing The Black Body, argues in the book that Sanger, while a racist no doubt, was also motivated to pander because she was fed up with the lack of support she was getting for reproductive rights with the rights argument.

     

    Planned Parenthood did not support abortion, either, until after her death. Obviously, they were wrong on that count as well. But it's worth noting that their racist history is linked chronologically with the anti-abortion history, and after they abandoned the racism, they embraced the right to abortion. Their unwillingness to support abortion rights stems from the same place as the racist pandering—a political desire to use "moderation" as defined at the time in order to get popular.

  • invalid-0

    I’m not sure how you got to Thomas Jefferson, and rejecting democracy. The point of my original comment was that there are a couple of strong points of evidence which Pamela did not mention, let alone refute: Sanger’s documented racism and support for eugenics, and Alveda King’s citation of the disproportionate number of black abortions.

    By ignoring these claims brought up by anti’s, her argument comparing “the black genocide charge” to an urban legend amounts to little more than handwaving. The 3 paragraphs discussing GAP are, literally, an ad-hominem attack against one single group which brings up this claim.

    I agree with part of her conclusion though:

    … the history of eugenics and sterilization abuse in America requires that claims like those of black genocide made against reproductive service providers not be met with casual disregard.

  • invalid-0

    and it often is a choice just as hard for the woman to make. Some don’t see it as an option because they don’t know who is caring for the child and IF they are caring for the child. Plus, there are SO many kids out there who are waiting for loving “bonus parents”, but that might not happen because the kids are past their “adopt by” date.

  • invalid-0
    Sanger’s documented racism and support for eugenics, and Alveda King’s citation of the disproportionate number of black abortions.

    I’ve heard these claims about Sanger before, all from pro life sources who have motive for hating her. It conflicts with more official bios of Sanger, plus you must realize the temperament of the times. Racism was instutional throughout America, and many otherwise smart people favored eugenics. Just singling out Margaret Sanger smells like a political hatchet job.

  • amanda-marcotte

    argument, you need to be able to argue that a person's entire pantheon of ideas can be dismissed out of hand because they were wrong on one count. If you do believe this, then you have to admit that democracy is wrong, because the founders of the American democracy were slave owners.

     

    Sanger was also opposed to abortion. So you found that a racist didn't support abortion. Now, there's a good reason to believe that her racism and her anti-abortion stances were exaggerated by her in order to ingratiate herself with the people who would legalize and even fund Planned Parenthood. As Roberts notes, the black social workers that she worked with on reaching out the black NYC communities were not particularly concerned about her, and were displeased when the leadership of the area Planned Parenthood was switched to more racist, condescending whites.

     

    The point is that the Sanger quotes—taken out of context, with no reference to her anti-abortion stances at the time—are part of why this is a factless urban legend, more than a legitimate historical issue. The sterilization issue is far more of a relevant piece of evidence. The reality of sterilization is a far more interesting reason for people of color to be wary of reproductive health facilities than the fact that a progressive white person at the turn of the 20th century shared the same racism that most of them did.

  • amanda-marcotte

    And speaking of the King family:

     

    In 1966, the year Sanger died, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

    “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. . . . Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her” (King, 1966).

     

     

  • invalid-0

    Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood about Margaret Sanger (pg 35)

    Concerning compulsory sterilization, she supported the practice and failed to see the dangers of abuse.

    That does not sound like “choice” to me… and it still supports the anti’s claim of “black genocide”, albeit not through abortion per se.

  • invalid-0

    Our own Amanda Marcotte,(who must be one of the “pro life sources who have motive for hating her”) conceded:

    …Sanger, while a racist no doubt…

    It’s not a hatchet job, it’s just one of the talking points that anti’s use to support the claim of “black genocide”. Another quote from Sanger herself is:

    It encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.(The Pivot of Civilization, by Margaret Sanger, CHAPTER V: The Cruelty of Charity)

    Regarding Alveda King, check out her website.

    Abortion is at the forefront of our destruction. Partial Birth Abortion is perhaps the most heinous form of this legal genocide.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I'm saying. A reproductive rights activist who made compromises with reactionary forces of her time to get anything done. Indeed, the organization and movement she founded moved beyond her. Democracy progressed. Progress is possible. I know that's hard to understand when you want to roll back the clock on women's rights.

  • pamela-merritt

    Crispy – you're also making my point that this history is being manipulated in present time.

    There is another history in America at play here – a history of discouraging empowerment through education within communities of color and of people of color being "protected" and prevented from making decisions "for our own good".

    The interesting thing is that black genocide campaigns are trying to dress up that insult as advocacy while continuing to restrict access to proactive health care and passing laws that replace fact with dogma and empowerment with dependency.

    Prevention first and comprehensive sex education programs save lives. Yet despite the alarming increases in std infection rates within communities of color, we are being fed this diet of compulsory ignorance through campaigns of fear that seek to take our health and bodies hostage to the will of others.

    And that's just another case of history repeating.

  • rachel-roth

    Another great source to learn more about the political context that Sanger was dealing with is the book Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945, by Carole McCann. McCann looks in detail at Sanger's struggle to get women's rights advocates and medical professionals involved in the fight for birth control. Interestingly, McCann reports that the National Council of Negro Women was the first national women's organization to endorse the practice of contraception — in 1941.

     

    And a marvelous primary document is Toni Cade's 1969 essay "The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?" in Cade's anthology The Black Woman. It doesn't appear to be available on-line, but Dorothy Roberts writes about it here:

     

    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3209200.html

     

     

     

     

  • invalid-0

    About history “being manipulated in present time”. History is written by historians, who are, first of all, people. As such they bring their own biases and agendas to what they choose to present and what they say about it. They usually are also teachers, and have in mind a “lesson” that they want to impart to the reader through the recitation of history. That’s the way it’s always been.

     

    I agree that there have been cases of women and people of color being “protected”, as though they were incapable of taking responsibility for themselves. That’s why I find ironic the objection to, for example, the discussion of fetal pain, which can only help women make more informed choices.

     

    I vehemently disagree with your assertion of “a history of discouraging empowerment through education”. One has only to look at the number of scholarships for minorites, historically black colleges and universities, and other programs to see that tremendous efforts are being made to encourage “empowerment through education”. Bill Cosby said in 2005, “It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing”.

     

    From what I’ve seen, and what you’ve said, the GAP seeks to do what the civil rights movement does: make people aware that all people are worthy of dignity and respect.

    • invalid-0

      “All people” includes women, sweetie.

      It also includes the victims of REAL genocide and their families, whose suffering GAP completely trivializes.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks Rachel.

  • harry834

    by making the microscopic organisms inside women "genocide" victims, your making women seeking abortion as genocide perpetrators, "worse than the KKK".

    We know that the pro-life side has stories of women who regret their abortions. There are also the stories of women who don't:

    http://www.imnotsorry.net/jackieC.htm

    http://www.imnotsorry.net/maureenA.htm

    http://www.imnotsorry.net/robinB.htm

    http://www.imnotsorry.net/kristinA.htm

    I actually haven't read them before selecting these links, so each one promises to be different. Because the stories of women are just that: different. You can probably have many other site devoted to every other emotion besdides of "regret" or "non-regret", and surely their is great variation within and without those categories. The point is that these "perpretators of genocide" as your side calls them have their own experience to tell. An experience we don't hear, because it is such a private personal process. The side effect of silence is that when they don't describe their experiences, others will. And apparently these other people will resort to calling them "racist genocide makers worse than the KKK".

    Also, adoption wasn't the easy answer you made it out to be. They still have to carry the fetus for nine months, against their will, and without means to support. Is this what communities demand of their members?

    I'll say it again: a microscopic organism is not a person, at least not in the legal sense. The person carrying that organism, she is a person. Every bit as entitled to self-determination as you or me.

  • http://leftwingnutjob.blogspot.com invalid-0

    while continuing to restrict access to proactive health care and passing laws that replace fact with dogma and empowerment with dependency.

    Birth Control should be free and available. There is no other way to provide true choice without starting at the beginning of what is really the problem. I am sick of that double standard.

  • invalid-0

    But no matter, both Amanda and Harry834 beat me to it. And therein lies the trouble with debating using just quotes. They are too easily taken out of context, and cherry-picked to change the meaning, or mis-attributed to someone who never said them.

  • http://www.ohyouprettythings.net/blog invalid-0

    The Genocide Awareness Project does not attempt to make people aware of the rights of all people.

    It completely denigrates the experiences of groups of people that actually had genocide carried out against them. They appeared on my campus this fall with pictures of Jewish bodies from the Holocaust and black lynching victims.

    As a Jew, I was disgusted and offended beyond my usual reaction to a group of white men trying to tell me what I can do with my body.

  • http://www.feministgamers.com/ invalid-0

    So… the only way that black people can continue as a race and as a culture is through unwanted pregnancy because having a loving, stable family unit where children are wanted and planned is so far outside of their realm of possibility that it would lead to the destruction of the race. That’s not at all offensive. :rolleyes:

  • invalid-0

    You’ll have to explain your accusation of racism a bit more….I don’t see anyone of the commentors offering statements that might be racist. While there is disagreement, I think both camps are making their comments without mal intent.

    • invalid-0

      Many (hopefully most) people see the claim that black women should be having as many babies as possible even if they don’t want to as racist.
      Just because someone has a “rare” set of genetic traits doesn’t mean that they should be forced to pass on those traits.

  • invalid-0

    Pamela,
    You make a great point. The fact that people were once sterilized against their will does not mean that current repro health providers are doing the same, nor that they have the same motivations. The problems with Crispy’s implication (that because Margaret Sanger supported some evil things, everything she supported is bad), is no more logical than Jonah Goldberg’s suggestion that because Hilter was a vegetarian, all vegetarians are fascists; or that (as Amanda pointed out) because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, everything he ever said is evil. Actually, this could be a fun game!! Einstein was a jerk to his wife – clearly his theories must be bunk! I could go on, but you get the idea.
    However, the fact is that compulsory sterilization IS an all too real part of our history, and must be taught and remembered. The context in which it occurred must also be taught, and the different contexts that current repro health providers grew out of must be emphasized. But teaching the complexity of history is a lot harder to do than providing sound bites.

  • invalid-0

    of being “prejudiced against babies” because I supported the women’s choice, but not the “baby’s choice”. Seriously, without a trace of irony.

  • invalid-0

    Here in Minnesota, African Americans account for 4% of the population, but 23% of the total abortions.
    Seems like a targeted minority to me.

  • invalid-0

    Yes, I agree African Americans are targeted. As an inner city school teacher I see the unfairness toward all minorities in the funding we lack that white suburban schools have in plenty. Part of what our students aren’t getting is adequate sex ed classes. Maybe if our students were properly educated about contraception, they wouldn’t wind up having abortions. Or if Medicare would cover their birth control prescriptions. Abortion is a result of many factors, and can be both positive and negative. It’s not genocide.

  • invalid-0

    Ab-only federal funding is different from the general education funding and is not tied to property taxes as general education funding is. Particular states that have wholly embraced abstinence-only now have increased teen pregnancy rates. I currently live in the South and the damage to the black community using an abstinence-only curriculum is futher and negatively exacerbated by the parents and the churches here. These kids have NO information, but plenty of misinformation and outright lies. There is also no way that they can access the health services they need here as funding for such services is nonexistent. There are whole zip codes in the black community that are “STD/STI clusters” here, encompassing chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphillis and HIV infection. I know of several junior high/high schools with smaller STI/STD clusters. I personally know of at least 4 teenagers that are quite aware that they have a STD but refuse to get treatment because they are more scared of their parents and their churches.

    Until black parents make a commitment to ensuring that their children receive medically accurate sex education, either through the schools or themselves this will continue and it will decimate this community.

  • harry834

    getting an abortion can save a woman's life, not just in the rudinentary sense of preventing death, but also in that:

    think about having a baby as a teenager. that's no small life change. "adoption" is no easy answer, and certainly doesn't avoid the endurance of pregnancy. And saying "you shouldn't have had sex" is only useful if you can go back in time. Abortion is the solution for many because you can only go forward. An entire life can be thrown away trying to have a pregnancy that's only wanted by the people around you.

    We definitely need to have pre-natal, post-natal care for teens who do choose to carry their pregnancies, along with adoption assistance and/or parenting assistance. But the teens who choose to have abortions are no less deservrving of necessary services, the bare minimum of which is don't call them "agents of genocide"

    With pro-lifers calling these women "selfish", "murderer", and now "racist genocidalist worse than the KKK" is it any wonder why we don't trust pro-lifers have an iota of empathy or compassion for these women? It seems the only women they show sensitivity for are the ones who submit themselves to pregnancy.

    to learn about the women that the pro-life movement neglects and rejects, see:

    http://www.imnotsorry.net/newstories16.htm

     

  • invalid-0

    the reason more black babies are being aborted is limited access to birth control thanks to the right wing nutjobs and a lack of funding to programs that provide low-cost birth control and sex education. The majority of black babies being aborted are in LOW-INCOME, LOW-EDUCATION areas. I applaud those women for having the courage to say “enough” and know when ‘one more’ baby would be one too many. I don’t see anti-choicers running out and adopting black babies – especially not ones who might have “problems”. until they put their money where their mouthes are they have NO right to tout adoption as the panacea against abortion.