The Intersection of Guns, Race & Abortion: Everyone Misses Again
[ This article dedicated to the young black man on the 1600 block of West Grace that's always open carrying his pistol. Word. ]
Pro-choice and pro-gun rights sentiments are the oil and water of sociopolitics. Not only shall the two never mix, but ever will they be at odds, counterpoints of disparate cultures in seemingly unrelated debates.
I’ve written before that if I had a dollar for every time some gun-grabbing Democratic politician tried to convince Americans that “nobody’s trying to take your guns”, I would be financially secure. Moreover, If I also had a dollar for every time some right-wing pundit acted utterly confused about how liberals can decry gun rights while supporting abortion (“the genocide of more than 1 million children every year”), I wouldn’t ever have to worry about paying my rent again.
Cases in point:
Sarah Silverman, offensive comedian extraordinaire, has recently released a satirical video titled “The Black NRA”, which overtly suggests that the NRA (which, it’s true, is the oldest civil rights organization in the country) would be terrified – absolutely terrified – if all shades of nonviolent, law-abiding American citizens, including young black males, actually carried firearms. This is not only a shameless, generalized accusation of racism against more than 5 million citizens who pay dues (and many more who support the NRA’s general agenda), but a display of total ignorance of the NRA, which has always supported and encouraged young black males to avail themselves the civil right of firearm ownership.
Had Silverman (and/or her apparently clueless Hollywood costars) done any research at all, it would have been interesting to hear them address why one of the NRA’s most visible spokespeople, Colion Noir, is a young black male who deals not only with issues of firearms, but their intersection with race on a regular basis. Or the plethora of historical ties of gun control with racism. Or the fact that the NRA was formed by abolitionists who always welcomed people of color. (Or, you know, any suggestion concerning the actual merit of this video’s message.)
But they’re just comedians, right? If they don’t make any sense, it’s okay. You’re just supposed to laugh.
Some young black folks decided to take an alternate approach, and released their own scathing critique of the video.
It hits on the video, the race-baiting of the Trayvon case, and some facts I’ve already mentioned. The smile on my face as I first watched this video was difficult to hide.
Right up until I got to 2 minutes and 40 seconds in. Cue the facepalm as these guys revert to the old Republican argument about Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, attempting a genocide of people of color through the strategic promotion of abortion. (The video devolves from there into more false Democrat/Republican dichotomy.)
Will this never stop? Am I doomed to wallow in the swampland between worlds of people who are unable to deal with facts?
Richmond, Virginia (where I live) has been drawn into this debate yet again recently, as commuters on Interstate 95 have been driving by this billboard:
This billboard is an advertisement for a meeting organized by fundamentalist Christians for the explicit purpose of perpetuating the myth advanced by the young men in the preceding video.
Local reaction to the billboard by all parties can only be described as utterly depressing. Liberals and particular groups of black folks had their delicate sensibilities offended by the word “negro”, wailing about its “racism” without even bothering to determine that the “Negro Project” is a proper name for (who would have guessed it?) an actual project instituted by Margaret Sanger in an age when the word was not considered offensive.
Some publications, like the increasingly mediocre Style Weekly, have attempted to cover this story without actually covering it. The latest article by Tom Nash somehow hoped to address the controversy of the billboard by joining in the ignorance of people who were offended by it. It literally does not even mention (did Nash even bother to find out?) what the Negro Project was, or actually address any arguments about whether the concept was racist. It simply interviewed a couple of people who disagreed on whether the billboard was racist. Presumably, this is what passes for reporting.
For those offended, it is uncertain whether it would have mattered that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not only a recipient of the Sanger Award in 1966, but that he lauded her work openly in his acceptance speech. Or that Sanger’s clinics in Harlem were praised by W. E. B. Du Bois, founder of the NAACP. We don’t know whether these things would have mattered because people who get offended at words without taking the time to understand their origin or meaning are not known to spend much time reading or reflecting.
Almost the entire core of the controversy surrounding the Negro Project is centered around the Sanger quote spoken in the video:
“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.”
This has been represented, notably by Angela Davis, with Sanger as mustachioed villain, rubbing her hands together maniacally as she plots the extermination of non-whites. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for those who are incensed by the quote, Sanger wrote this in a personal letter as an example of what wasn’t happening, and how important it would be that, given the sensitivity of the issue of abortion at the time, to make sure that no one got this impression. If this case of mistaken intention were to appear in a stage comedy rather than an important historical context, it would indeed be comical.
Sanger’s quote regarding the actual reason for the project is less often related. She considered the lack of reproductive options for black people in America a serious impediment to reducing cycles of poverty, calling them “a group notoriously underprivileged and handicapped to a large measure by a ‘caste’ system that operates as an added weight upon their efforts to get a fair share of the better things in life. To give them the means of helping themselves is perhaps the richest gift of all. We believe birth control knowledge brought to this group, is the most direct, constructive aid that can be given them to improve their immediate situation.”
Count the ironies: Sanger specifies what isn’t happening and how important it is that people not even consider such a thing. But the very people she was trying to help believe exactly that because she took the time to specify how it should not be viewed. The Christian right comes along for the ride not only because they believe in the magical implantation of undefined “souls” in clumps of cells at conception, but because they could use the PR on the racial front. This backfires when the Christians are then criticized as racist for writing a proper noun by liberals who would probably support the Negro Project’s agenda in the first place.
Of course, reality is always complicated. Sanger is no saint. She was a fan of negative eugenics and the sterilization of people with genetic, incurable disabilities. The fact that she didn’t involve black people in the Negro Project until well after its inception, and mostly for public relations purposes, reeks of what we would now consider a “white savior complex”. But a genocidal racist she was not.
The intersection between guns, race and abortion goes far deeper than I have addressed here. I’m going to leave that more intricate discussion to my acquaintance, Richmonder Matt Siegel. In 2009 he wrote a fantastic article titled “Gun Control, Class War and Partial Birth Abortions” for American Gun Culture Report, which I trust will make crystal clear the ways in which these topics are inherently linked in our sociopolitical consciousness.
Read Matt’s article in PDF here to better understand how these issues interrelate.
“Banning guns has always been seen as a liberal position, but banning abortion is a typical conservative stand. However, they’re both actually the same issue because they’re being marketed to us identically. If you want to know where the Partial Birth Abortion Ban of 2003 came from, you have to look no further than the currently expired Assault Weapons Ban of 1994.”