Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why Did You Have to Make it About Race?

By now, you should have heard the headline: A white woman was impregnated with the wrong sperm and the result was a mixed-race child. I've waited all month to post about this case. I wanted to hear the facts and take a couple of weeks to remove my emotions from the situation. I think I'm finally ready to give my opinion. 

For starters, Jennifer Cramblett and her partner, Amanda Zinkon are right to sue Midwest Sperm Bank for giving them the wrong sperm. The mistake was inexcusable and someone needs to pay the price. These women asked for a blue-eyed, blonde hair, white donor and received an African-American donor. Clearly, their expectations were not met. I would expect a lawsuit even if they received sperm from a white donor who had brown eyes and brown hair, because that donor would not meet their requirements.

I think that the lawyer should have focused the complaint on the ineptness of the sperm bank and backwards method used by the bank. Using handwritten notes for vial numbers in 2011 is unbelievable. Inseminating a woman with the wrong sperm on multiple occasions is inexcusable. The sperm bank has to be held accountable for its mistake, and had the lawsuit stuck to that offense, I would be pushing for the sperm bank to pay some obscene settlement so that all sperm banks understand that you can't make mistakes like this.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit couldn't stick to the mistake. The lawsuit had to explain why a lesbian couple having a mixed race child in Uniontown, Ohio was an unbelievably challenging experience. According to the lawsuit, after Cramblett was informed about the mix up, "she began to cry uncontrollably. She began to shake and she could not breathe. She could not speak or think straight. Her hands and feet became numb." This rubbed me the wrong way. I could understand her crying and being extremely upset, but to behave as if someone just told her that she was giving birth to the spawn of Satan is a bit much. I read that part of the lawsuit and my interpretation was: The mere thought of having a non-white child sent her in to breakdown mode.

My personal favorite part of the lawsuit is the line, "On August 21, 2012, Jennifer gave birth to Payton, a beautiful, obviously mixed race, baby girl." For me the emphasis was on the "obviously mixed race" and made me wonder if there would have been such outrage if the child wasn't "obviously mixed race." The lawsuit takes care to explain that "Jennifer bonded with Payton"  and that she and her partner love Payton. However, in that same paragraph, the article goes on to say that "Jennifer lives each day with fears, anxieties and uncertainty" and she "admits that she was raised around stereotypical attitudes about people other than those in her all-white environment" and that "family members...speak openly and derisively about persons of color." This immediately threw up red flags for me and had me cursing the lawyer for taking that route. How can I feel sympathy for you when you were perfectly content with the idea of raising a white child in a community that you knew fostered hatred for non-white people? Are you serious? You want me to feel bad for you because you now have a mixed race child who is screwing up your all-white community? Really?

Oh, but it gets better. The lawsuit says, "As just one example, getting a young daughter's hair cut is not particularly stressful for most mothers, but...Jennifer...because Payton has hair typical of an African American girl...must travel to a black neighborhood, far from where she lives, where she is obviously different in appearance and not overtly welcome."  This part had me stuck somewhere between laughing from disbelief and outrage that the lawyer actually put that in the lawsuit as an example of how having a mixed race child has impacted Cramblett's life. I get what is being implied by the "typical of an African-American girl" part. I think most people get it. I have two bones to pick with that statement. First of all, African-American girls have all types of hair textures, if you don't believe me, go online and look through the categories of natural hair that are determined by the curl patterns of the hair. Second of all, I've seen the pictures of the little girl and she has what I consider to be typical mixed race hair. Take from that whatever you will. Now, I'll try to be brief with the other parts. You don't get sympathy from me because you live far away from a black neighborhood or because you look different from black people. As for the "not overtly welcome" part, what do you want them to do? Lay down the red carpet for you or bend over backwards to show you that they love and accept white people? Maybe you don't feel welcomed because you act like you don't want to be there or because you're nervous because you are not accustomed to being around black people. People can pick up on whether you seem standoffish or not. And heaven forbid if Cramblett mentioned that she was from Uniontown, you know that lily white, racist community far away from you people.

The lawsuit continues and explains that "one of Jennifer's biggest fears is the life experiences Payton will undergo, not only in her all-white community, but in her all-white, and often unconsciously insensitive family." Jennifer admits that her family hasn't fully accepted her homosexuality. Now we get to the part where I agree with Jennifer. Jennifer can hide what makes her different, but Payton cannot. "Jennifer does not want Payton to feel stigmatized or unrecognized due simply to the circumstances of her birth." Her "stress and anxiety intensify when she envisions Payton entering an all-white school." She is "well aware of the child psychology research and literature correlating intolerance and racism with reduced academic and psychological well-being of biracial children" and because of this, "for her psychological and parental well-being, she must relocate to a racially diverse community with good schools." (This is where I ignore the fact that Jennifer and her partner chose to move from a racially diverse community, back to a racist community to raise what they thought would be their white child.) I think it's great that Jennifer wants Payton to grow up in a welcoming environment where Payton can flourish. That is what all parents should want for their children.

I want Jennifer to win more than enough money to move so that she, her partner and Payton can live a decent life in a diverse community, but I don't want the decision to be based on saving a black child from a racist white community or the potential horrors of raising a black child in an all-white community. I want the decision to be based on the fact that the sperm bank screwed up. I felt bad for Jennifer when she was on television crying because people thought that she was a racist based on the facts of the case. I don't think that she is a racist, but I do think that her lawyer is an idiot who inadvertently painted her in that light. You can't argue about all the terrible consequences of having a mixed-race child then say that the case isn't about race, but the case never should have been about race. The lawyer should have formed the same argument that he would have formed if Jennifer had been given sperm from a brown hair, brown eyed, white donor, because that argument works just as well in this case.

In conclusion, if you can get the money without making it about race, don't make it about race. Race is far too sensitive and divisive of an issue to just casually toss in to an argument without expecting to light a few fires.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Raven-Symone is Right

For the most part, labels suck. Labels put you in a box and then people freak out when you try to step outside the box. Unfortunately, labeling is easy. It helps sort people into simplistic categories. I don't see anything wrong with Raven-Symone not wanting to be labeled as gay or African-American. A label free America is my idea of Utopia, yet even I, as much as I dislike labels, still own the labels that I have been given and still assign labels to others. It's not right, but I do it.  
I don't like being called African-American. My parents are not from Africa. Both of my parents have solid American roots that contain slave and Native American ancestors. I am probably more "American" than many Americans. 

I wrote this poem over two years ago, but today seems like a good day to post it again:

Simply American

Let’s forget for a second that you and I have different complexions
Let’s pretend like we don’t see color or pick up subtle inflections
I will call you my brother because we are a part of the human race
And you will look me in my eyes when you look at my face
You will respect my right to live in a land my ancestors helped build
And you won’t question why I’m in the house instead of the field
We will fight and argue like all families do
But when push comes to shove, I will be right beside you
And one day we will see with our own eyes
That I am an American, no hyphen, no other A to capitalize.