On Personhood: The Dehumanization of Black Women & Children

On February 4th, Feministing posted a link regarding the recent efforts of anti-abortion groups in Georgia to claim that black women have so many abortions that “black children are an endangered species.” On February 5th, The New York Times published an article about the billboards that publicize this claim:

The billboards — there are 65 now and will eventually be 80, Ms. Davis said — were created in conjunction with a new Web site, www.toomanyaborted.com, which says that all of Georgia’s abortion clinics are in “urban areas where blacks reside.” The Web site connects abortion to segregation, saying that after the civil rights era, racists went “underground,” and that today “abortion is the tool they use to stealthily target blacks for extermination.”


Ms. Davis said Georgia Right to Life would also support state legislation that would make it a crime for abortion providers to solicit business based on the race or sex of the fetus. (Emphasis added.)

Ms. Davis, I’m sorry but your argument just doesn’t hold up. Even though, according to the article, 57.4 percent of abortions in Georgia were performed on black women, do you actually think making abortion illegal will improve women and children’s lives? Don’t you think comprehensive sexuality education and resources would assist these women better than making abortion de facto illegal?
The way Ms. Davis, and other anti-abortion advocates, frame this argument is both misogynistic and racist. She claims to care, but her goal is not to improve the lives of black women and children. Making abortion illegal will not improve our lives, and neither will any of the proposals anti-abortion groups support, like abstinence-only education and stricter laws regarding contraception.
This billboard dehumanizes both black women and children, by asserting that black children are an “endangered species,” which animalizes them, and by asserting that black women have no control over our own bodies and that we’re somehow intellectually weak enough to be controlled by the so-called eugenics-crazed poor-black-baby-eaters, aka Planned Parenthood.
Loretta Ross highlights another layer to the clusterfuck of anti-abortion advocacy: Planned Parenthood did not infiltrate black communities with genocide on the brain. Black communities specifically sought out and requested PP’s services. Why? Ms. Ross lays it down: “Controlling our fertility was part of our uplift out of poverty strategy, and it still works.”
So thank you, anti-abortion advocates, for proving once again that you do not have women or children’s interests at heart. You are a movement that upholds racism, sexism, and heteronormativity. You cry out for the official recognition of personhood for the fetus, yet you dehumanize marginalized women and children in order to achieve your goal. Animalizing black children and demonizing black women is an excellent illustration of just how insincere anti-abortion groups are.
If you are as upset about this as I am, and can afford it, please send a donation in honor of Ms. Davis or www.toomanyaborted.com to Ms. Ross’ organization, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. Women and children of color need reproductive health care access and comprehensive sexuality education, not billboards that shame and animalize us.

Join the Conversation

  • MLEmac28
  • cattrack2

    I’m sorry I’m black & I just don’t get the “racist” or the “animalizing” charge. I agree that this is a canard & the black community needs PP, but tailoring a political message to minority community doesn’t make it racist. After all there is a long history to the eugenics movement targeting blacks, so I think this message would resonate among the beauty shops. And saying that black people, or black culture, is an endangered species is something black people say everyday. In this instance I feel we’re making exotic claims when a head on rebuttal of the charges would go further…maybe a billboard or commercial by Faye Watteleton.

  • AMM

    I don’t know about racism or anything.
    I do remember the time when abortion was illegal, and I remember it didn’t stop abortions in any population group. It didn’t really affect the well-off people — they could afford to get abortions from real MDs, or to go to countries where it was legal. It didn’t stop poor people from getting abortions, either, but they were much more likely to die or suffer serious complications, because the abortionists they could get access to were less likely to know (or care) how to do it safely.
    I can understand the feeling that “black children are an endangered species.” You have only to look in the newspaper and read the stories of young black people getting killed to appreciate it. But I don’t think that black women are any more likely than white women to get an abortion just because somebody from Planned Parenthood pushes one; nor do I think all that many will change their minds just because a billboard tells them to. I suspect that most black women get abortions for the same reason that most non-black women get them: because they’re in a situation where having a child (or another child) would be a disaster. The thing is, poor women — black or white — are more likely to be living in a situation where a child, or an additional child, would push them and their children over the edge. And black women are more likely to be poor than non-black women.
    If you really want to un-endanger black children, you need to change those black women’s circumstances so that getting pregnant isn’t a disaster any more. And then change their children’s circumstances so they’re more likely to live to be adults. But that would involve a lot more than putting up a few billboards — it would involve undoing centuries of racism.

  • paperispatient

    And saying that black people, or black culture, is an endangered species is something black people say everyday.
    But these anti-choice groups are saying that Black people are an endangered species in order to play upon those fears, to further their own agenda. I don’t think that’s the same as an observational comment from an individual person or two in the Black community.

  • femme.

    “…but tailoring a political message to minority community doesn’t make it racist.”
    When conservative organizations attempt to tailor their messages to POCs, it often goes horribly awry, so I’m usually wary of such efforts.
    IMHO, referring to black children as an “endangered species” dehumanizes them because it others black children into an outside category. So there’s “children” and there’s “black children.” Like there are “marriages” and “same-sex marriages.” Or “writers” and “women writers.”
    “After all there is a long history to the eugenics movement targeting blacks, so I think this message would resonate among the beauty shops. And saying that black people, or black culture, is an endangered species is something black people say everyday.”
    I believe that is the anti-abortion groups’ intention: to generate conversation among women of color in support of their claim. They are manipulating WOC’s anxieties about our community and POC’s still-clear memory of the eugenics movement. But the anti-abortion groups’ claims are patently false, so that lead me to believe they are cynically manipulating us in order to advance their goal.
    I can understand why a lot of people of color would disagree with me, but I just don’t want to see people of color, particularly black women, support a misogynist and heternormative movement because of a billboard that plays upon our anxieties and history.

  • Brianna G

    Black children are not an endangered species because neither being a child nor being black makes you a species. What “species” is a multiracial child, then?
    And no, I don’t buy the excuse that “black people say it, it must be okay for anyone to say it!” It’s false. It puts people into categories and says they can’t mix, can’t interbreed, can’t create new mixed cultures and societies with the best of both worlds. There is no universal law that says people of color cannot be racist against people of their own racial and cultural heritage. That it is said by people of that group MIGHT make a statement less OFFENSIVE, but not less RACIST.


    Planned Parenthood does have a racially charged eugenics-oriented past – but that was a very long time ago, at the beginning of the 20th century.
    Yes, their politics at that time were wrong – but the politics of the Planned Parenthood of the 1920’s and the politics of the organization in 2010 are night and day different.
    Beyond that, in Georgia and elsewhere across the country (including right here in New York City) Planned Parenthood provides high quality affordable comprehensive women’s health services, including abortion services, to African American women and other women of color (and, of course, White women) regardless of race or ethnic background.
    And for that, Planned Parenthood should be applauded.
    As for why the majority of women in Georgia who have abortions are African American, that’s because of widespread poverty among African Americans in the Peachtree State – in general, poor women (of any race) are more likely to have abortions in large part because they cannot afford to give birth to the child they are carrying.
    It’s not some genocidal plot by Planned Parenthood – it’s just how our economic system works.
    Planned Parenthood is on the side of the angels here, by making sure those women get to have abortions under safe and sanitary conditions.

  • LalaReina

    I could not agree more with you, the accusations sound desperate.

  • Chelsa

    Well, that’s exactly it, right? It’s kind of what they don’t say that makes it racist.
    By bringing in the numbers they contrast black fetuses as being aborted more often than white fetuses or Asian fetuses, etc, then call black fetuses an endangered species… which, by default, sets up white/Asian/etc fetuses as a different species.
    Then you further that with a little science, because it’s generally accepted that two different species cannot mate, and if they do, their offspring are not reproductively viable. We Are Not The Same.
    So it uses the language of science to make a biological delineation between races, even though studies say – biologically speaking – race doesn’t exist.
    It’s a dirty little language trick and, it seems to me, equates mixed-race children with mules. But that’s just the connotation I read.

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  • supremepizza

    That’s an awful lot of leaps to make something racist. I’ve been vocal & active on civil rights issues all my life & I couldn’t follow all the twists & turns that it would take to make this racist. I think when you deconstruct things to death you can make everything mean anything…and this is all done without any evidence that this is what was meant. Take a poll of black people. If even 10% thought these billboards were “racist” or “animalizing” I’d be shocked. Not surprised, but shocked. I certainly don’t think PP today has anything to do with eugenics, but for some within the black community its a fair concern.
    The problem with labeling everything racist, is that it dilutes the charge when leveled against things which absolutely are. There are other, more effective ways to criticize the billboards.

  • Chelsa

    Not really. It’s a very deliberate use of language used to incite and awaken very specific emotions and feelings. Calling black babies a “species” has some pretty obvious connotations.
    At the very simplest reading to me, it uses the language of science to make a biological delineation between races.
    That’s not racist? Or at the very least, you don’t see that as othering (not so far removed from racism, imho)