In response to Matt Colleran’s “What the left gets wrong on race.”
I am a liberal – a New York City liberal at that. According to the Pew Research Center, I am the most left leaning I could possibly be. Colleran’s article, like most that I have read from him, uses blanket statements while providing skewed evidence, jumping from subject to subject, and views issues through only his lens. As a result of this incoherence, rebuttal articles must tackle multiple subjects.
I looked up the statement that “a black baby is more likely to be aborted than born” in New York City and found that the basis behind this claim is that in New York City, according to a report on pregnancy outcomes compiled by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, Black women aged 15 to 49 accounted for 29,007 terminated pregnancies and 24,108 births during 2013. First of all, this data is outdated. Second of all, this is only one statistic that does not provide a holistic view of abortion in the U.S. When you look at abortion across the nation, “no racial or ethnic group made up the majority of abortion patients in 2014.” It has consistently been noted that the New York City Department of Education’s sexual education program is inadequate. One-third of eighth graders do not complete the sexual education program. Those 14 year olds become the 15 year olds in the statistic Colleran cites. How many 15 year olds do you know who actively want to raise children?
Blanket statements like Colleran’s perpetuate misinformation.
Thirty-nine percent of the women who get abortions are White, followed by Black women at 28 percent and Hispanic women at 25 percent. Additionally, the Margaret Sanger quote Colleran included in his article was taken out of context. The full quote reads: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” Additionally, a comment on the Facebook post of the article by junior Dylan Forest brought to my attention that Sanger’s “impressive roster of supporters (DuBois; Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of National Council of Negro Women; and the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church) would have been really hard to amass if she wanted to eliminate Black people.” Regardless, Planned Parenthood has evolved and grown since its founding, and provides family planning, reproductive health services, sex education and much more. In fact, most Planned Parenthood services are STI/STD testing and contraception.
Abortion clinics do not target Black people. Only one in ten abortion clinics are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and most Black women receive abortions due to economic insecurity. Blanket statements like Colleran’s perpetuate misinformation. It is wrong to take one data point out of context and make generalized statements about abortion without acknowledging social and historical context. As Vanderbilt students, we are taught to analyze an entire data set, read thoroughly, contextualize, comprehend––and then make an informed statement.
Yes, poverty rates are higher in Black people. However, it is unfair to neglect to acknowledge the systematic racism that has put Black people in that position.
In addition to the misconceptions about abortion, Colleran’s statements about poverty among Black people in the U.S. are problematic. “Unfortunately, the black and Hispanic poverty rates are more than double those of whites, and roughly double the rates for Asians,” Colleran wrote. “So, minorities have more invested in seeing an end to poverty. In the 1960s, poverty rates were in freefall, dropping from near 23 percent in 1960 to 12 percent by the end of the decade. Today, the poverty rate is 13 percent, which is somehow higher than it was 50 years ago.”
Alternative facts are not facts. If by the end of the 60s, the poverty rate was 12 percent and it is now 13 percent, how is that a statistically significant increase? The poverty rate for Blacks in 1960 was 41.8 percent, now the poverty rate is 27.2 percent, and poverty is mostly concentrated in the South. Yes, poverty rates are higher in Black people. However, it is unfair to neglect to acknowledge the systematic racism that has put Black people in that position. Since our forced arrival in this country in 1619 to the “end” of slavery in 1865, segregation until 1964, housing discrimination, police brutality, mass incarceration and a plethora of other issues, Blackness has been under attack. Acknowledge the history of our country when it comes to Black people. Let’s not forget the past 400 years when we consider the present.
I had a very personal reaction to Colleran’s statements about identity politics. I vote blue because I care about other people. Despite being upper-middle class, I understand that my tax dollars feed a seven-year-old who eats school-provided breakfast and helps the elderly in government subsidized nursing homes. I know this because I have been that seven year old. I have lived in neighborhoods where my friends have died coming home from school, in places in the “inner city” that most people wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I understand upward mobility, but I would have never been given the chance at the life I have now if it wasn’t for left-leaning policies like Upward Bound, The Posse Foundation, and SexEd at government subsidized community centers like The Door. Upward mobility has given me the ability to empathize with those less fortunate. I look beyond my race when I vote. I acknowledge that I did not always live in the privilege I have now, and because of that, I look beyond myself when I go to the ballot.
I did not get the luxury of looking into history books and seeing 43 people who looked like me leading the United States.
Colleran said, “When Barack Obama was elected, as much as I disagree with his policies, I thought we had finally arrived at the day when race would simply go away and we could live in a post-racial society.”
When Barack Obama was elected, I was ten years old and I knew I was not living in a post-racial society. I was one of three Black girls in my entire grade at a predominantly white school. I faced microaggressions on a daily basis because I was different. Because I was Black. I cried when CNN called California and Obama was declared the winner of the election. I cried because even at ten years old, I legitimately thought I would never see the day when someone who looked like me would be the President. I did not get the luxury of looking into history books and seeing 43 people who looked like me leading the United States.
Instead, I saw pictures of slaves with their skin falling off their backs, teenagers getting hosed down and attacked by dogs during the Civil RIghts Movement, and unarmed Black men like Sean Bell being killed by barrages of bullets. Barack Obama, with his Black wife and Black kids, made me feel like I could do or be anything. My mom didn’t vote for him because he was Black, she voted for him because she’s a nurse who has seen people die in publicly funded hospitals because their healthcare didn’t provide enough coverage for them. She voted for him because she wanted everyone to have a fighting chance the same chance she was given as a young immigrant trying to get an education and supporting her child as a single parent. It’s the same reason why I voted for Hillary Clinton––because I care. I do not vote on a single issue like abortion. I vote to advance society as a whole.
So here is my message to Matt Colleran:
I know I am Black. I live that experience every day. It’s not because of left leaning policies, like you state–it’s because of systematic oppression. My blackness causes me to cry when people my age, like Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, die at the hands of police brutality. It makes me not want to have a son because I’m afraid he’ll be murdered walking through our suburban neighborhood in 20 years, just like Trayvon Martin did. My blackness forces me to say “Black Lives Matter” because I can’t say “all lives matter” until Black people are not disenfranchised. If a house were on fire and the fire department came to put the fire out, you wouldn’t point to another house and say that house mattered too. So why say “all lives matter” when someone says that Black Lives Matter? Your bio states “The issue that he is most passionate about has always been the right to life, which he views as the most fundamental of all human rights.” By that logic, Black Lives Matter.
In the “I Have a Dream Speech” you cited, Martin Luther King Jr. stated “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” I’d love to say that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, but that won’t happen until people like you look beyond their own experiences and open their eyes to the plight of others.