We asked for a white baby--not a black baby.

So… two white lesbian women contact a sperm bank so they can have a child. They request a blond-haired blue-eyed donor so that the child will look like them. Unfortunately, they discover five months into the pregnancy, after calling to request more of the same sperm, that there was a mix-up with the sperm and they did not receive the same blond-haired blue-eyed sperm that they had chosen. Instead, they received the sperm of a black donor. Four months later, baby Payton is born and is clearly a multi-racial baby. This is the scenario that Jennifer Cramblett and her partner, Amanda Zinkon, from Uniontown, Ohio, faced in 2012. Now, two years later, Jennifer is suing the sperm bank for $50,000 for “medical expenses, emotional distress, and other economic and non-economic losses.”

 

They asked for a white baby, and they got a black baby. This fact has created a host of problems for the new parents. According to Jennifer, the town where they live, Uniontown, is a “small homogenous town that is too racially intolerant.” The most recent census indicates that the town is 98% white. Additionally, Jennifer and her partner have to travel outside of their town, to a black neighborhood, in order to get Payton’s hair cut—a neighborhood where they are “obviously different” and “not overtly welcome.” Were they hoping for a parade? Add to that, they have decided two years into Payton’s life, that perhaps they should move to a more racially diverse city and are suing the sperm bank for the economic and emotional costs related to this move. Jennifer also claims that she has “experienced stress and anxiety when envisioning Payton entering an all-white school” and thus, the move is necessary. Hmmm… something tells me she’s not the first, or only, person to deal with this type of “stress and anxiety” over her child experiencing institutions that are “racially intolerant” and “not overtly welcome.” 

 

Let me say first, before anyone gets themselves in a tizzy—I fully believe that it is terrible that this sperm bank made a mistake with the sperm that they gave to this couple and should be held accountable for such a mistake. Their job is to get these things correct—a life is involved, after all. But, let us not also lose sight of the fact that this mistake resulted in Jennifer and her partner having a healthy baby girl who Jennifer says they love with all of their hearts. She also says that love isn’t enough to get them through the emotional and social challenges that they were not prepared for when raising a multi-racial child. Jennifer says that she lives every day with “fears, anxieties, and uncertainty” about her future and Payton’s future. Read: our comfortable white privileged existence has been swept out from under us, and now, someone needs to pay. Jennifer claims that this lawsuit has “nothing to do with race” and that she and Amanda are not racist, nor are they saying that anyone else is racist. However, Jennifer also admits to growing up around people with stereotypical attitudes about nonwhites and to not knowing any African Americans until she went to college at the University of Akron. She fears that her “all white and unconsciously insensitive family” who have never accepted her sexuality may have a negative effect on her daughter.

 

People—this lawsuit, Jennifer’s comments, this entire story, is about white privilege. Here, we have a woman who has never had to think about her racial identity before now—she lives in a town that is 98% white, for Pete’s sake. Her lily-white existence has been disrupted by the birth of a multi-racial daughter, and this has caused her emotional stress and anxiety. Read: she has finally (after 36 years of living) been confronted with her own whiteness, and this has caused her great distress. To say that this lawsuit is not about the race of their child, or their own race, is ridiculous. If Jennifer truly wanted this sperm bank to be held accountable for its’ actions and for this to “never happen to anyone else again,” as she claims, why did she wait two years after finding out about the sperm bank’s mistake to file the suit? Here’s what I think—Jennifer and Amanda, for the first time in their lives, are being forced to deal with the institutional racism that has existed in this country for over 400 years. They can no longer turn a blind eye to the “unconscious insensitivity” of the whites around them, whom they have lived amongst for many years. Instead, they now have to confront racism for the sake of their daughter, learn about and embrace another culture (gasp), and stand-up to racist comments, policies, laws, and actions that will inevitably shape their daughter’s life—and their own. Jennifer and Amanda weren’t prepared to do any of these things because they asked for a white baby—and because of white privilege. Continuing to remain happily oblivious to the experiences of people of color outside of Uniontown, Ohio, is no longer an option for this couple, and they aren’t very happy about it.

 

So what can we learn from this story? First, accepting that white privilege exists is difficult for many whites. Sharing stories like this one with others, and pointing out the examples of privilege within the stories, can be a helpful tool for engaging in important dialogue on white privilege. Additionally, we should ask ourselves a few questions and be honest in our answers—first, how do we think this story would play out if the lesbian couple was black and the sperm had come from a white man? Second, if someone I knew was in this same situation, what would I say to her? How might I offer support, but also point out the obvious privilege inherent within the situation? Finally, if I found myself in a situation like this, what would I do?  

"reverse racism" is not a thing

I’ve heard it used in class by my students. I’ve heard it used in arguments about affirmative action. I’ve heard it used by frustrated whites who feel their rights are being trampled in some way. But, every time I hear someone use “reverse racism” I cringe, and the same thought pops into my head—“reverse racism” is not a thing. First, let’s break down the term itself and try to glean some sort of meaning from the words. Reverse means that something is going back in the opposite direction from which it started. Racism is a complicated term that people use to mean a variety of things. To be clear, when I use the term racism, I am referring to a system of oppression that is infused within institutions, laws, policies, and practices in the United States. Racism is not the same thing as prejudice, and it’s important to start by making that distinction. Everyone has the potential to have prejudices (and, therefore, be prejudiced), but everyone does not participate in and benefit from the system of racism equitably. So, if one puts the terms “reverse” and “racism” together, one is essentially referencing a system of oppression going back in the opposite direction from which it started.

 

Let’s break that down a bit further. In simplest terms, the system of oppression in the United States dates back to the 1600s with those who were able to declare themselves as “white” oppressing anyone and everyone who was not considered “white.” This system infiltrated U.S. laws, policies, institutions (like education and government), and common practices. So, if racism started as the oppression of people of color by whites, then the reverse would have to be the oppression of whites by people of color. Using semantics and logic, that must be what anyone using the term “reverse racism” means. So, why do I argue that “reverse racism” is not a thing? Simply put, the system of racism in this country has been operating for over 400 years and cannot just be “reversed” by policies like affirmative action or whites becoming a numerical minority in some parts of the country. Being denied admission into a university over a student of color, not being hired by an organization over a “minority” candidate, or being one of a few white students in your school/neighborhood and being treated differently is NOT the same thing as oppression. Additionally, equating policies and practices that have been put in place in an effort to bring people of color to the same starting line that whites have stood on for hundreds of years to racism is just false and completely illogical.

 

To put this in another way, Fish (1993) argues in his article about “reverse racism” that “when the deck is stacked against you in more ways than you can even count, it is small consolation to hear that you are now free to enter the game and take your chances.” Systemic racism is a part of the very fabric of the United States and whites have benefited from this system for hundreds of years—and we continue to benefit from it today. Therefore, as whites, we cannot simply claim that the entire system has been reversed every time that we feel we’ve been disenfranchised in some minor (or major) way. It sucks that you didn’t get that job or didn’t get into that school or were treated badly by your colleagues/neighbors—but you’re not being systemically oppressed, and to claim otherwise is offensive. Please eliminate the term “reverse racism” from your vocabulary—it’s just not a thing. 

If you'd like to check out Fish's article, click here