Is Aunt Jemima a Pro-Life Issue?

The black family, as an institution, survived slavery. The black family, as an institution, survived Jim Crow. Under quite unimaginable pressure from systematic and institutional racism, black Americans fought tenaciously to protect the institution of the family. It is evident that blacks understood in their bones that the larger society and certainly not the government would save their families but that they must do it for themselves. And they did.

But then along came new institutions of racism that have torn the black family asunder: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the War on Poverty and, perhaps worst of all, the drug and sexual revolution.

The great economist and social critic Thomas Sowell pointed out years ago that the ethnic groups that grew to success the slowest in American history were those that tied themselves most closely to advancement through government. He pointed specifically to the Irish, many of whom came to the United States as indentured servants, who joined themselves to big city political machines and the accompanying patronage. But relying upon governmental largesse and political patronage also slowed their economic advancement.

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Sowell argues that with the welfare state that grew from the Great Society and the War on Poverty that black Americans, too, tied themselves to advancement through government and that this has profoundly harmed the black family.

Out of this destruction of the black family, where upwards of 70 percent of black kids are born without a father in the home, has come profound pathologies that have further harmed the black community and indeed the dignity of many black Americans, including rampant crime, and generational poverty.

A panel of (apparently quite privileged) black people appeared on a panel sponsored by Notre Dame University this week, including G. Dean Marcus Cole of the prestigious Notre Dame School of Law, Professor Jaqueline Rivers of Harvard University, State Senator Katrina Jackson of Louisiana, professional football player Benjamin Watson, and EWTN host Gloria Purvis.

Not one of them mentioned the institutional racism that grew up around the Great Society (specifically the War on Poverty) or the Sexual Revolution. And none of them mentioned the institutional racism engendered by near-criminal mismanagement of big cities.

The purpose of the panel—convened by pro-life hero Professor Carter Snead, who runs the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame—was to argue that racism is a pro-life issue and that the pro-life movement must incorporate racism into its everyday work. Gloria Purvis, the host of an EWTN radio program, said making racism a part of the pro-life movement is a requirement of the Gospel.

The panelists are individuals of great accomplishment and are genuine pro-lifers who command our attention and our respect. When each of them admonished us to understand our history going back to 1619, we must. But it occurs to me that hardly anyone in this country does not understand that history, though perhaps not in every particular. I did not know, for instance, that the G.I. Bill, an economic program for soldiers returning from the Second World War, was unevenly applied and that some benefits were withheld from black veterans. Professor Jacqueline Rivers of Harvard said this was one of the roots of economic inequality between black and white families. Professor Rivers is genuinely compelling.

But it is hard for me—and, perhaps, for many others—to understand how the pro-life movement is to incorporate institutional racism and police brutality into our everyday work. In genuine ways, the pro-life movement has dealt with racism. After all, it was pro-lifers who alerted the world to the black genocide going on in abortion clinics around the country that more black babies die in abortion than are born in New York City. And it has been pro-lifers who have relentlessly shouted about the eugenic aims of stone-cold racist Margaret Sanger and her progeny at Planned Parenthood.

It is a somewhat regular occurrence that people say the pro-life movement should be involved in more than direct threats to innocent life through abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia. People tell us that the minimum wage is a pro-life issue. So is poverty. So is income inequality. So is racism. I would just point out that all of these other issues have massive financial and institutional support, whereas the pro-life movement is desperately poor. I would also point out that the pro-life movement, while poor in riches, is broad and deep and vast, and in it, there is room for many efforts, including those who also want to work on racism. All are welcome. But most pro-life groups have a particular focus, and to take attention away from this particular focus would be to dilute the organization’s effectiveness.

The panelists also argued that the pro-life movement is too political and too tied to the Republican Party. To this, I would say that the panelists and others who feel this way really ought to get involved in Democratic Party politics to try to convince the Democratic Party to become more pro-life. It would be a good thing if the Democratic Party stopped being the Party of Death and offered some competition with the Republicans. After all, those in the pro-life movement understand well that the Republican Party is an imperfect vessel. But I would also point out that the political pro-life movement is only one part of the pro-life movement. The panelists argued that the life issues are not political issues, and this is true as far as it goes. But,at the end of the day, voters must choose, legislators must vote, and judges must decide. Therefore, some in the movement must be involved in politics.

Unfortunately, some panelists repeated the leftist canard that pro-lifers only care about babies in the womb and not the babies born. I know the panelists do not necessarily believe this; at least I hope they don’t. I think they must understand that pro-lifers care about issues that help women and children after birth. The pro-life movement happily joined the effort that became known as “women deserve better than abortion” that dealt specifically with the kinds of support, even governmental support, that women need to make the right choice.

It was unfortunate that, in the current crisis sweeping our nation, Gloria Purvis informed us that we could not ask questions about black on black crime, or fatherlessness in the black community. She called these questions “talking points of the far-right” and that it is “coded race language.” She also charged that some people in the pro-life movement are racist or are seen to be racist. None of this is helpful. If black lives matter, then certainly the lives lost to crime and the chaos caused by fatherlessness are legitimate questions. While crime and fatherlessness are not issues we can talk about, Ms. Purvis said that Aunt Jemima was “a racist trope,” so removing her from the syrup bottle is something we should talk about.

And what of police racism? On the one hand, we know that the charge is vastly overblown, perhaps even mythical, as scholar Heather McDonald argues. We know the incidence of unarmed black men killed by police is minuscule, and even some of those who were unarmed and killed were nonetheless attempting to harm the police. But we know that such statistics are not entirely meaningful when compared to actual personal experiences of many black men.

Dean Cole of the Notre Dame law school wrote a column a few weeks ago about being humiliated in front of his sons by a bullying police officer. We must respect his story and the impact it likely had on his sons who were in the car that day. These types of stories are unfortunate and demand our attention. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that.

Dean Cole also talked about the prayers that he and his wife say at night in hopes that his two teenage sons can return safely without being the victims of crime or “misdirected police brutality.” I would only point out that the chances of his sons being the victims of police brutality are quite slim, but the chances of being victims of crime perpetrated by other blacks are much more substantial.

We are told there are certain things that we non-people of color cannot talk about—that we must be humble,listen, and “put a guard over our mouths.” But dialogue goes both ways, and this kind of admonition is not helpful. Better the language of Isaiah, “Come, let us reason together.”

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