By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.
We have always known that a racist, discriminatory system harms everyone, including those doing most of the harming. As Toni Morrison would ask, what happens to the hand that pours the acid?
However, at times, there is certain irony in the fashion those privileged by a white supremacist system, those who feed its insatiable jaws, find themselves in harm’s ways and scramble to argue how that acid shouldn’t be poured on them. They are different.
There is a very interesting case in Ohio. Jennifer and Amanda, a white, middle class lesbian couple filed a lawsuit against a sperm bank because they inseminated Jennifer with sperm from a black donor. Obviously, what ensued was a mistaken black child. A girl they named Payton.
The lawsuit is not based on the clerical error that led to what they consider a mistake, since, as they see it, both of them “are Caucasian,” and would want offspring who looks like them.
Nope. Their complaint is that having a mixed race child showers both loving mothers with injuries of all kinds. Among those injuries is the pervasive worry of their daughter being stigmatized and about enrolling her in an “all-white school.” (Where Payton may find people like her mothers, I guess.) For instance, the complaint reads:
As just one example, getting a young daughter’s hair cut is not particularly stressful for most mothers, but to Jennifer it is not a routine matter, because Payton has hair typical of an African American girl. To get a decent cut, Jennifer must travel to a black neighborhood, far from where she lives, where she is obviously different in appearance, and not overtly welcome.
It also states that “all of Jennifer’s therapists and experts agree that for her psychological and parental well-being, she must relocate to a racially diverse community with good schools.”
And, were it not for Payton, one feels a raging desire to say: good luck with that!
What are they saying?
They are so used to cash in the wages of whiteness that they just discovered how difficult life would be for their beloved daughter as she will not be able to benefit from them. All of the sudden, they are finding this is not only unfair to a daughter who would have been endowed by birth, but even to them, her parents.
The “possessive investment in whiteness,” as George Lipsitz calls it, has entitled them to demands they would have refused to recognize as such, lest they were threatened, as they were when that black child decided to show up.
Jennifer bonded with Payton easily and she and Amanda love her very much. Even so, Jennifer lives each day with fears, anxieties and uncertainty about her future and Payton’s future.
I can understand their desire to protect their child. Oh, I can understand that very well! While all parents could relate to that desire in a vacuum – and I hope many, dare I say most?, would also feel nauseous at the specificity of their claim – most black mothers and fathers can relate exactly to that overwhelming and excruciating terror of putting your black child out in our society. That’s the saddest part. Amanda and Jennifer are right! And we have been saying it all along, but perhaps now that white gals are saying it someone may heed our concerns.
She, young Payton, is barely born and is already fraught with the weight of her race…She hasn’t done anything yet. Not even buying skittles and ice tea. She was just born the wrong color and for that her moms need redress, they need…reparations. Apparently, none of those therapists saw it prudent to suggest that they should think twice about filing a lawsuit that basically claims their daughter is a burden to them for something she cannot change, since Payton may one day see it. I guess who’s thinking of the black girl anyway?
The hypocrisy of this is amazing. Yes, of course, that girl will suffer unjustly at the hands of people like her mothers, whose prejudice sustains a system of racial oppression.
They need reparations because their daughter will suffer the negative effects of their own white privilege. They need reparations because she will always be disadvantaged for being black. As Matthew McKnight puts it:
If the court awards Cramblett damages, it will essentially be paying her and her daughter reparations, something that our country has denied millions of others. Her claim hinges on the same rationale that led to a lineage of Americans who have been treated as second-class citizens—that it’s who her daughter is, and not the actions of others, that is the source of the disparate treatment she is likely to receive. Whatever stigma Payton may feel reflects our country’s history and society, not nature—a distinction that has always been true but has been elided, in part, by the perversion of science on which racism is based.
There is something particularly disturbing in the “othering” effort led by someone who has been constructed as an Other. A lesbian couple aspiring to a pass to the normality society dictates, and fighting for its place in it – adoption, marriage – while sustaining the system that keeps the many others in submission.
And, no, it is not the obvious route. It is especially not the obvious route to take for, again, someone who has suffered discrimination for who she is – even in her own family. It could have been a moment to wonder and be outraged at the discovery – late as it is – of a callous system that benefits them without regard for others, actually, at the expense of others. But it wasn’t. Because the wages of whiteness are many and large, and the entitlement to them, fueled by a continuous dose of white resentment politics, makes sure the many of society’s others never cease to see themselves as such.