Saturday, October 4, 2014

Quantifying White Privilege

The case of the woman who's suing a sperm bank because she was given the wrong sperm for her artificial insemination and wound up with a black/biracial little girl pushes a lot of buttons for me.

Watching her interview on All In with Chris Hayes the other night, I didn't know what to think. My gut reaction was that it's terrible for her to sue because to me, it signifies that she sees her child as damaged. What will her daughter think when she's old enough to understand this?

It's hard for me not to feel that it's part of the commodification of children by parents in this culture. Some of us seem to think we get to select components as if kids were products: it seems little different from saying, I'd like more RAM and a souped-up video card with my computer.

When you have to use a sperm or egg donor, though, you can't avoid this. You don't get to pick the person the way you find a life partner, based on their kindness, sense of humor, whether s/he becomes a jerk when playing mini golf, or how s/he treats hir mother. All you have to go on are superficial things like height, hair and eye color, and skin tone. You can't even judge the donor's intelligence except through test scores or GPA, which means someone like a close relative of mine who did miserably in school but was among the most brilliant minds I've known would have been devalued if he had wanted to be a donor. And it goes without saying that the ability to make witty conversation is right out of the consideration.

The plaintiff mom makes her case based on two things, as I understand it:
  • the consumerist reasoning that she didn't get what she paid for: she signed up for sperm from donor 380, not donor 330 (yes, the mistake came from a misreading of handwriting). The intended donor had blond hair and blue eyes like the mom's partner/wife.
  • her belief that it will be harder for them to parent the child because she's black. The example that was given was the child's need for haircuts at black-oriented salons, which are far from their all-white town and where the mom doesn't feel welcome.
I couldn't unpack even the feelings that arose from just the mechanics of the situation. It made me think of some friends who had their children using sperm from a sperm bank. They tried several times with no success, and so went to the next step of a more medicalized insemination. This time it worked and they were so happy. Mid-pregnancy, though, they found out that the wrong sperm had been used.

This was a while ago (the child is now late in high school), but I remember one woman telling me that the doctors hypothesized they might never have gotten pregnant with the intended donor sperm -- that sometimes there's just an inherent incompatibility (chemically?) that can't be explained.

So my friends realized they should be happy that they were having a child and the situation has since become just a funny story they tell. They later had a second child with the same (mistaken) donor's sperm.

The mom who is now suing over "wrongful sperm" doesn't even know that she would have gotten pregnant with the intended sperm. She might not have a child at all. Would she prefer that? Or it might have taken her five or eight tries, and cost her lots more money. 

Thankfully, the Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates helped me gain some helpful perspective on the racial aspect of the case on Twitter last night:
Funny how the white woman who ended with a black kid is basically suing for reparations.

She didn't ask to have to raise a child under white supremacy. I feel for her. I didn't either. None of us did.

Basically saying she hoped to have a kid who wouldn't have to cope with racism. I am sympathetic. A lot of black parents feel the same way.

Woman isn't so much objecting to dark skin--as fact that she is going have to cope with all the things that black parents have to cope with.

"According to court documents, the 2-year-old girl is already facing racial prejudice in Uniontown." The TWO-year old. lol.

Worth asking how many black parents basically just live like that.
At this point, a respondent replied:
she paid for service & wasn't given what was promised. seems weird cuz it’s a kid but anywhere else, you get $ back for that (@gx5)
And Coates continued:
We all paid for a service and weren't given what we were promised. That is the black condition in America.
Another respondent said:
Completely disagree with you...she paid for what she did and got back less than what she asked. (@twilli90)
To which Coates responded:
And then he continues with his own thoughts:
[The mom] basically is saying "I paid to have a child who would be treated like an American, not a Renisha."

Problem it's a long line of black people who also paid to have their children treated like Americans. Didn't happen.

White Mom says, “I don’t want her to ever feel like she’s an outcast." This is basically the motto of every black parent in the country.
Responding to the mom's "damage" claim about having to travel to an unfamiliar and unwelcoming area to get the child's hair cut, Coates wrote:
I know that neighborhood. It's called America. Black people are also not "overtly welcome" there.
And then:
Worth noting black people go through this all the time. Nothing for two dark-skin parents to have a light-skin child.

But it doesn't matter in the same way because whatever the complexion that child is still black in America.

And that's what this suit is about--not some objective "black" or "white" race. It is about the fact of racism.

She has a child that will have to deal with racism. That's her beef.

Race doesn't create racism. It's the other way around. And it's clear from her suit that it's the fact of racism that upsets her.
Other respondents said:
They also refunded her money. She's on to "pain and anguish" now legally speaking. (@emarty)

This case is, like, the white response to dealing with a fraction of the black experience is to sue somebody. (@beardedstoner)

But racism apparently did not upset her until her world became more black than she hoped. (@PopUtsey)

I've been championing this suit - it could set some serious legal precedents re reparation for black people. (@LeslieMac)

Interesting case because if a court finds in her favor and awards damages they are actually quantifying white privilege. (@Joe_Schmucc)

See, they expect their daughter to go to front of the line. In shop. In world outside the shop. Suing because now she can't. (@Ed_Baptist)
Man, I love TNC (and a lot of his respondents, too). Maybe he'll write an essay about this, but even if he doesn't, he just laid down some quality thought in chunks of 140 characters, and used the medium as a sounding board to get back a lot of useful ideas from others.


Unemployed Dragon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unemployed Dragon said...

what a fascinating story. I can't help but think that instead of getting what she wanted, the universe gave her what she needed. Parents of children with autism, or any number of birth defects have adjust to a different reality than what they expected and dreamed of, and do it with struggle and grace. I do wonder what her daughter will think of this as she grows through adolescence to adulthood.

I love your perspective on the commoidification of children.

Marsha Qualey said...

I love TNC too, and the comments streams on his blog are the only comment streams I routinely read.