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American Black Nationalists on Population Control » Family Planning

American Black Nationalists on Population Control

November 20th, 2008 by mjromano Leave a reply »

“Don’t let a pregnancy get in the way of your crack habit,” read the billboard offering $200 cash to chemically addicted people who consent to take long-term birth control. Although few Americans agree with the goals of that mid 1990’s billboard of Positive Prevention, a population control organization in Seattle formerly known as Children Require A Caring Kommunity (CRACK), population control rhetoric permeates US domestic and foreign policy. Positive Prevention works in cities across the United States and has come under scrutiny for targeting low-income people of color through its ads. If you have read any of my previous postings, the coercive aspect of a “voluntary” program like this one should already be clear. Offering large cash incentives to poor people for their fertility often puts them in a position of choosing food, clothing, shelter, or drugs over their own reproductive autonomy. Positive Prevention combines its insensitivity to the nature of drug addiction, its able-bodied supremecist view of the children of drug addicts, its ignorance of the power dynamics of rape and sex, and its exploitation of vulnerable people to produce an altogether distasteful program. While my previous blog postings focused on international issues and Puerto Rico, this posting will concentrate on domestic population policies and different responses to them, specifically from Black Nationalists movements.

Since World War II American eugenicists have tried to distance their population control policies from Nazi eugenic policies modeled after American laws. By the 1960s, the US had restructured its domestic and international population programs around ecology rather than Eugenics. Although President Johnson expanded government funding for population control (excluding abortion), President Nixon really made family planning official state policy. Following the Watts riots in 1965 and increasing concerns about poverty within the United States, Congress passed the Child Health Act in 1967 that mandated 6 percent of all government maternal child health grants be dedicated to family planning (Nelson 93). On the international front, Nixon eliminated democracy as a condition for foreign aid and introduced family planning in its stead. Nixon said, “population control is a must…population control must go hand in hand with aid” (Connelly 254). Although Nixon distanced himself from the family planning movement by 1970 in the face of opposition from the Catholic Church and increasing calls for the legalization of abortion, his administration had mainstreamed family planning as a core aspect of population control in poor neighborhoods of the US.

Black nationalist responses to government family planning programs are consistently and unsurprisingly negative. The Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam both condemn governmental intervention in black peoples’ reproduction and see “family planning” as a population control in disguise. In the words of historian Jennifer Nelsen,

both the Black Panthers and Black Muslims believed that attempts to quell urban riots or to end poverty through family planning were palliatives used by the federal government to avoid more sincere efforts to change the circumstances that caused poverty in communities of color. They argued, rather than curb the poor black population through fertility services, government planners should end poverty by helping strengthen the economy in neighborhoods of color and incorporating blacks and Hispanics into the national political process. (94)

Black Muslims opposed birth control on conservative theological grounds, and they specifically opposed US government-sponsored birth control as a black genocidal plot. Lonnie 2X, writing in the Nation of Islam magazine Muhammad Speaks, linked US-government supported sterilization clinics in Virginia with US-funded coercive sterilizations in New Delhi, India. “Black leaders across the country have pointed to this state’s sterilization clinics as proof that there is a deliberate effort to destroy the Negro population of America by surgically stripping young black women of their ability to bear children.” The Nation of Islam continues to oppose birth control in all forms to this day.

The Black Panther Party also opposed birth control of all forms through the early 1970s, but then interestingly changed its rhetoric. The 1970 Black Panther Party Paper entitled Birth Control echoed Lonnie 2X in Mohammad Speaks by criticizing birth control as an insufficient palliative for deeper oppression. The Paper states “the relevant question is not, ‘If you have all those babies, how will you care for them?’ But ‘Why can’t we all get enough to care for our children?” and goes on to describe the birth control pill as the “weapon of the pigs” in reference to male oppressors (Nelson 105). While this Paper exemplifies the Black Panther perspective on modern birth control, it mostly addresses the government control of contraception. In 1973 the leader of the Black Panther Party, Huey Long, fled to Cuba amid accusations of murder, and Elaine Brown stepped in to replace him. Although Brown’s tenure atop the militant black nationalist organization ended three years later with Long’s return from exile, her leadership fundamentally changed the organization. Brown sought to promote a less violent image of the party by supporting more community-controlled institutions and becoming more involved in local politics. Through these local institutions, the Black Panther Party reclaimed birth control and abortion rights and became an outspoken birth control advocate. Although the Party continued to oppose government-enforced birth control, they accepted the importance of a variety of safe, cheap, accessible birth control to poor black women, especially after the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976 that prohibited Medicaid payment for abortions. While the Nation of Islam continued to oppose all forms of birth control through its conservative theology, the Black Panther Party became an outspoken supporter of voluntary birth control while maintaining a firm stance against government-enforced family planning that threatened communities of color.

Population policy and abortion rights advocates have both incompletely addressed the needs of Americans of color, and the case of black nationalist opposition to government population control and support of contraceptive rights sheds light on the true complexity of population policies all over the world. Black Nationalist activism in opposition to oppressive birth control helped shape the modern policy agenda on population. Radical activists have a way of explaining the essence of an oppressive policy, and Lonnie 2X and the Black Panther Paper do this quite eloquently. While US government and economic foreign policies have deleterious consequences abroad, those policies also have some domestic relevance. The Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam both opposed government exploitation in different ways, and created a world in which “organizations concerned with population policy and abortion rights found it increasingly difficult to advocate fertility control for the indigent without including demands for improved health care and resources for the poor” (Nelson 110–11).

Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) and the Black People’s Project (BPP), Fact Sheet on Positive Prevention/CRACK (Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity). Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment, July 13, 2006. < http://www.cwpe.org/node/61>

Connelly, Matthew. Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Lonnie 2X, “Murder of the Black Unborn: Massive Birth, Sterilization Program Aimed at Reducing Black Population,” Muhammad Speaks, 6 October 1967, 5-6.

Nelson, Jennifer. Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Roberts, Dorothy. “Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. Vol. 13.4 (2004), 535-539.

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2 comments

  1. Karen Halls says:

    I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    Karen Halls

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