October 6, 2014
As Ferguson, Missouri, continues to burn with an unquenchable rage fueled by the slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and Black parents across the country remain gripped by both terror and resignation because the inability to protect our children in a White supremacist society is a perpetual fact of American life, a couple from the White enclave of Uniontown, Ohio, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleging that the negligence of Midwest Sperm Bank caused the “wrongful birth” of their bi-racial daughter, Payton.
It was not 36-year-old Jennifer Cramblett’s nor her partner, 29-year-old Amanda Zinkon’s intent to bring a “mixed-race”—half-White, half-Black—child into the world. But the sperm bank stripped them of that choice in 2011 when they sent them vials of sperm from Donor No. 330, which belonged to a Black man, instead of sperm from Donor No. 380, a White man whom the couple selected after researching all donors for one week, then narrowing them down to their top three choices, then pouring over 23-page comprehensive history profiles before making a final selection.
Cramblett became pregnant in December 2011; soon after, the sperm bank’s egregious error was discovered. This caused her great emotional distress not only because she and Zinkon’s careful family planning had been carelessly shattered, but because they live in a racially intolerant town, among bigoted family members and, due to their “cultural incompetence,” they are afraid they won’t be able to nurture Payton’s Blackness in a deep, life-affirming and authentic way.
Responding to criticism that she is asking for a form of reparations because she is so intensely traumatized that her child is bi-racial, a tearful Cramblett had this to say about her 2-year-old daughter:
“I would never, ever take [her Blackness] away.
“We love her—she’s dream come true. For people to think I don’t want this child because of her skin tone is just not the case. It angers me that people would even think I don’t want my child.
“This isn’t L.A. or New York. We’re not on the coasts. We’re in farm country. That raises my concerns [for Payton]. Being a lesbian growing up in a small town, I went through a lot of things that were hard on me. I don’t want her to have to go through that.”
When framed solely as a racial issue it is jarring to hear, isn’t it? Infuriating, even. And brilliant writers, including my friend, best-selling author Denene Millner, founder of MyBrownBaby.com, have rightfully pointed out the inherent White privilege of Cramblett’s fear of a Black world—or a White world for a Black child—and the selfishness of publicly declaring that the birth of that child was “wrong.” Even if technically accurate, that is a psychological burden that no person, especially a Black girl-child attempting to navigate a racially hostile environment should have to bear.
But there are separate issues here that have been conflated that we must unbind to accurately address the full scope of what occurred. The ugliness that this situation has unleashed has not been just about racism, but homo-antagonism, misogyny, and medical malpractice.
“Shut up and take it.”
“You wanted a kid, you got one.”
“How ungrateful are you? Just be happy the kid’s healthy.”
“That’s what happens when you’re unnatural.”
“Now you see what Black parents go through.”
“Karma is a bitch.”
The above are examples of real comments that have been posted on social media in response to Cramblett’s lawsuit. As if being lesbian and taking advantage of services offered by a sperm bank leaves one open to the universe’s wrath—and that that wrath came down with a vengeance in the form of Payton. I may be alone in this, but for some Black people to position a Black child as cosmic punishment or a tool through which Cramblett and Zinkon learn to examine their privilege is not doing her any favors. For some homophobic people to proclaim they got what they deserved for embarking on their alternate parenting journey is ridiculous. And I find it particularly unsettling when these comments come from men who have declared it their right to control what goes in and comes out of a woman’s vagina and how.
I am supremely uncomfortable framing a woman’s personal reproductive choices as a socio-political debate on race in the United States. Because, be clear, being inseminated with sperm not of your choosing is a form of medical rape. To ignore or mitigate the severity of that to focus solely on racism does all women a disservice. And to do so to traffic in racial sensationalism orchestrated by media headlines is irresponsible and dangerous.
We have to unbind these issues. It is the only way to have a productive conversation about how critical it is to respect a woman’s reproductive choices and power to make autonomous decisions concerning her body, and the broader implications of what it means when the birth of a half-Black child exposes the putrid racism and bigotry that are defining characteristics of White supremacy.
Having to go to the other side of town for a Black haircut is not trauma; it may be uncomfortable and it may require Cramblett and Zinkon leaving the farm, but it does not rise to the level of trauma that Black parents experience every day. It is not our choice to bring children into a world that hates them, but we do it because the perpetuation of Blackness in a hostile environment is a revolutionary act of love. To that end, I am glad that Cramblett admitted her cultural incompetency. Transracial parenting is not an undertaking that one stumbles into lightly. It is a decision made with care and awareness of how high the stakes are if you get it wrong—at least it should be. Yes, this is true for any parent, but I would argue that there is an added sense of responsibility, a more heightened sense of stepping into the unknown when you are tasked with fostering a sense of cultural awareness in a child when you know nothing about that culture yourself.
That said, from the moment that Cramblett became aware that she would be giving birth to a bi-racial child and decided to continue with the pregnancy it became her choice. If she fails to become culturally competent in Blackness for the sake of her daughter, at this point she has no one to blame but herself. As parents, we do what we have to do, we educate ourselves, we stretch ourselves, we sacrifice ourselves for our children. This is not something for which Cramblett deserves an award. She’s the mother of a beautiful brown girl. That is reward enough.
But as a woman, one who has been violated in the worst possible way, she and her partner have every right to file a lawsuit. And maybe one day, when Payton becomes aware of the circumstances of her birth, they will explain to her that she also has the right to make decisions concerning her personal reproductive choices free from judgment, mockery, and neglect, while also affirming her Blackness and their unfettered joy at her existence.
The road ahead will not be easy for the Cramblett-Zinkon family. But I wish them all, especially Payton, well.