Race and Reproduction
By Crispin Sartwell
The White House rarely upbraids conservative radio talk show
hosts. But the administration blasted former education secretary, drug czar,
and virtue maven William Bennett when he said, "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that
were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and
your crime rate would go down."
that this would be "impossible, ridiculous and morally
reprehensible." Nevertheless, one detected the slight whiff of...genocide,
or at least eugenics.
scent, I would say, rises from all parts of the American political spectrum.
The remarks, and the small firestorm that followed, demonstrate the
contradictions lurking within the histories of both the white American left and
the white American right: the high-flown rhetoric of freedom and equality; the
actual procedures of racism.
for Disease Control maintains statistics on abortions, and they report, as of
2000, "The abortion ratio for black women (503 per 1,000 live births) was
3.0 times the ratio for white women (167 per 1,000 live births).
is, Bennett's statement raises the specter of racial annihilation, as some
liberal commentators have suggested, then perhaps so does the reality of the
these same liberal commentators should ponder the fact that this set of
statistics is compatible with pro-abortion arguments. When abortion-rights
proponents argue that every baby should be a wanted baby, that every baby
should be born into a family that can afford to raise it, they are saying that
it would be good, for example, if abortion rates were higher among the poor -
who are disproportionately black - than among the middle class or the wealthy.
they have argued for decades, would have good social effects. In that case they
should readily embrace the argument of the mathematician Steven Levitt - whose
views Bennett was discussing - that increased abortion rates correlate with
reduced crime. Such a correlation would richly confirm a tradition of
Throughout its history, feminist advocacy of birth control and abortion
has had a eugenic sub-text. This was certainly true of birth control pioneer
Margaret Sanger, for example, who at times even advocated compulsory
sterilization for women whose genetics or reproductive practices she found
on the left and the right have suggested mandatory contraceptive patches and
the like for teenage mothers, who are, again, disproportionately black.
American right also has its eugenicists and its advocates of social
transformation through control of reproduction. William Bennett's wife Elayne
is the founder of the Best Friends Foundation, which targets inner-city
(largely black) children for "abstinence education." The largest
efforts have been in the overwhelmingly black DC public school system.
One might describe this program as an attempt to persuade black people
not to reproduce.
would be ironic for the American right if mandatory sentencing laws, community
policing, the war on drugs, and extremely high incarceration rates were
irrelevant to crime rates, which instead responded to abortion on demand and
specifically to government funding for abortions among the poor.
course, imprisonment itself is a de facto eugenics program, and if black women
have three times the abortion rate of white women, black men have perhaps six
times the incarceration rate of white men. According to Human Rights Watch in a
study published in 2002, 378 out of 100,000 white Americans were incarcerated,
and 2489 out of 100,000 blacks. Incarceration, one would expect, limits
might simply take this confirm Bennett's monstrous moment. Incarceration rates
correspond to crime rates. Reduce the number of black people: reduce the crime
rate. In any case, the actual law enforcement practices endorsed by
conservatives - which often have included racial profiling for various purposes
- can be expected to have eugenic effects.
When you get
down to it, this country is run by wealthy white people. Whether they are
liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, they share a fundamental
creed: people like us should reproduce; people like you should not.