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#IntersectionalityIsForTwitter: How to Be a True Ally

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Briana Dixon for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from Amplify Your Voice, a project of Advocates for Youth.

Mean Twitter Bird

Feminist conflicts on Twitter highlight ways to be (or not be) an ally.

By now much of the advocacy community has heard of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen, and #FuckCisPeople, started by @karnythia, @JamilahLemieux, and @Stuxnetsource, respectively. Intersectionality (the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities) has run rampant on Twitter, and I’ve been having a blast voicing my grievances, listening to other’s grievances, and fighting trolls with every bit of strength embedded in my keyboard. But not everyone has been having a great time with these hashtags, and I am here to help with a few tips:

One: Check your privilege at the door.

I don’t know what kind of privilege you’re packing, but it’s weighing you down. Set it down for a minute and consider the fact that you are not the only person out there being oppressed. In fact, you may indeed be unconsciously benefiting from an unjust system. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person—it just means that you live in a society that prizes certain groups over others and you were unlucky enough to be born into one. If you think you have it bad, just think of the people who weren’t born into the privileged group.

Two: Keep in mind that your movement can be flawed…

…without you being an evil master-overlord. Calling out the flaws in our movements is the only way we are going to get better. Movements are constantly demanding that society stop silencing the voices of their oppressed people. It is fair to say, then, that silencing people who are oppressed within those movements is the worst kind of hypocritical.

Three: Remember that unity does not equal silence.

The hashtags are only divisive if you don’t plan on addressing the grievances stated within them. If the movement intends to continue as it is and ignore the pleas stated for all of the Twitterverse to see, then yes it is divisive. But the only way we are ever going to be truly unified is if we listen to each other’s complaints and work to fix them.

Four: Be aware that anger is an emotion…

…and that oppressed peoples, as human beings, are entitled to emotions. You have no way and no right to monitor and/or control these emotions. These emotions are not irrational. These emotions are not silly. The best way to deal with these emotions is not to pretend they don’t exist and/or brush them off as unwarranted whining.

Five: Know that there is one condition to being an ally…

…and it isn’t that the oppressed groups appease you at every turn. It isn’t that they be wary of your feelings. It isn’t that they don’t air the movements’ dirty laundry. It isn’t that they do what is best for the movement even if the movement isn’t doing what’s best for them. The only true condition for someone to become an ally is for the ally to support the oppressed group because it is the right thing to do. You help them the best you can, not the way you think is best.

And if you are really having a problem with the hashtags, I present you this hypothetical situation:

Every day my friend and I walk down the street together. We are very close, but every once in a while my friend falls to the ground and scrapes her knee.

This friend and I have braved bullies together. We have faced down mean girls and jocks alike. We are more than friends, we are best friends. We love each other.

And every day she falls. Sometimes she trips. Most times someone pushes her to the ground as I watch. And sometimes I even push her myself.

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Poverty Causes Teen Parenting, Not the Other Way Around

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A teen mother & child

Poverty is a leading factor in teen motherhood.

Like many RH Reality Check readers, I have been closely following New York City’s fear- and shame-based campaign against teen pregnancy. The print ads include pictures of crying babies with captions like “Honestly Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” The ads also tell teens that if they have a kid, they will grow up to be poor. But the ads get it all wrong. Teen parenting doesn’t cause poverty; poverty causes teen parenting.

Developed by the New York Human Resources Administration (HRA), the campaign has seen a significant backlash since it was introduced last month. A group of activists in the city created a counter-campaign and demanded the city take the ads down. As Miriam Pérez noted in an article for RH Reality Check, the backlash may have resulted in a few tweaks and improvements, but the ads are still up, and the HRA hasn’t changed the campaign’s underlying tone at all.

I finally saw the ads for myself last week. My subway car was plastered with crying babies telling their potential teen parents not to get pregnant. The ads I saw were focused on money. In one, a curly haired toddler in a bunny rabbit shirt said, “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years.” Another featured a one-and-a-half-year-old African-American girl with a bow on top of her head and tears streaming down her cheeks, saying, “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars a year.”

But the one that got me, the poster that I happened to be standing in front of for my ride on the C train, was one that might almost be seen as encouraging had it not been so completely meaningless. It read, “If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty.”

I don’t know whether this statistic is accurate, though it very well might be. Let’s face it: If you graduate from high school and get a job, you are two steps ahead when it comes to not living in poverty, whether or not you get married and have kids.

But these are big “ifs” that are affected by things way out of teenagers’ control, like where they’re born, the quality of the schools in their area, whether their parents are highly educated, whether their parents are employed, the employment rate in their neighborhood, and what the economy is like when they turn 18. And none of that has to do with whether or not they become parents before they get married.

Pérez points out that supporters of the campaign are missing the point — stigmatizing teen parents won’t prevent future teen parents, because that stigma already exists. I would add that the campaign misses another very important point: Teen parenting does not cause poverty. Poverty causes teen parenting.

Cause and Effect

The ads point out that economic outcomes for teen parents and their children tend to be poor. We know that teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, that the children of teen mothers are also less likely to graduate from high school (one ad in the campaign points to this statistics), that teen mothers are less likely to marry, and that they are more likely to live in poverty.  It would be easy to assume that these are natural consequences of teen parenting.

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Separating Truth From Lies Around the Kermit Gosnell Case

1:50 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the Kermit Gosnell case here.

Kermit Gosnell mugshot

Kermit Gosnell goes to trial soon for his torture of vulnerable women.

Kermit Gosnell, the sadistic monster who exploited lack of access to safe abortion care among poor and immigrant women to both torture women and kill actual babies, is finally on trial and anti-choicers are having a feeding frenzy. Unable to muster actual compassion for Gosnell’s victims, anti-choicers got right to work seeking ways to exploit his crimes to further reduce access to safe, legal abortion — and to create more Gosnells in the future. In order to achieve the goal of driving more women to monsters like Gosnell and away from safe, legal clinics, anti-choicers are telling more lies than usual. (Which hardly seemed possible, but once you wind them up, they can really get going.)  I don’t usually feel comfortable speaking for pro-choicers as a whole, but in this case, I believe we’re all on the same page, so I thought I’d use this space to get the facts straight.

So here is a list of the facts about how pro-choicers are reacting to the Gosnell case. Anyone who denies these facts is lying, and you have to ask yourself why they feel the need to lie to make their case.

Pro-choicers condemn Kermit Gosnell and hope that he sees justice. When the story broke, there was a rush of feminist journalists who covered the case and the tone was universal condemnation and advice on how to prevent such crimes in the future. A quick search of RH Reality Check demonstrates that, and you can read other feminist takes around the internet. For people who aren’t trying to prop up lies to confuse the situation, this universal pro-choice condemnation of Gosnell was entirely predictable. Not only do we believe he is a murderer and likely a sadist, but we believe he exploited the desperation of low-income women who need abortions but struggle to afford quality care. We agree with the prosecutors who wrote that Gosnell “ran a criminal enterprise, motivated by greed.” As advocates of quality health care for women, we have tried, sadly in vain much of the time, to remind people who simple fixes, such as offering Medicaid coverage of abortion, could take the issue of cost off the table and make it easier for women not to resort to illegal operators who use unsanitary and sadistic methods, like Gosnell.

Pro-choicers are the ones trying to prevent future Gosnells. Gosnell made money exploiting desperate women, so the way to prevent future monsters like him is to make sure women aren’t desperate. Pro-choicers raise money for abortion funds, so more women can afford quality care. They set up volunteer-staffed help lines to get women through the process of seeing a reputable provider. They demand an end to the Hyde Amendment, so low-income women can use Medicaid to pay for quality providers. As pro-choice blogger PZ Myers wrote, Gosnell “could get by with criminally substandard treatment because our government has been actively destroying the ethical and competent competition.” We try to keep the ethical competition afloat to keep men like Gosnell from getting business. Which should not be conflated, as lying anti-choicers are doing, with trying to stop regulation.

Pro-choicers support holding abortion clinics — and all medical facilities of any type — to a high safety standard. Pro-choicers want women to receive safe, clean, ethical abortion care. We fully and completely support government regulations of all medical facilities aimed at making sure patients get this kind of care. We are so supportive of safe, clean abortion care that we have our own organization called the National Abortion Federation to certify quality clinics. (NAF unsurprisingly refused to certify Gosnell, even though he cleaned his clinic up and pretended to have medically trained staff in an effort to trick them.)  The key here is that we believe that abortion clinics should be subject to the regulations like other medical facilities, and that those regulations should be aimed at making sure women get quality care.

Regulations demanded by anti-choicers have nothing to do with securing quality care for women.

Read the rest of this entry →

Child Support Awareness Month: Why Helping ‘Deadbeat Dads’ Is Part of the Solution

12:59 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As part of our coverage of Child Support Awareness Month, a piece last week focused on a new Treasury Department rule that illustrates the challenges child support enforcement can pose to impoverished non-custodial parents, most of whom are fathers. This week we highlight small programs throughout the country attempting to address the heart of the matter: improving the financial status of poor fathers.

A father and child

Photo: Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Enforcement of child support orders has been viewed as part of larger systematic efforts that, as author Barbara Ehrenreich sees it, “rob the poor.” In her May essay for TomDispatch.com, Ehrenreich points out that about half of child support debt is owed to state governments as reimbursement for welfare payments that have already been paid to children. She argues that, just as private lenders prey on the poor, public sector entities view collecting debt from poor fathers as a juicy tactic to raise revenue for the state. A new Treasury Department rule that could deplete the social security and veterans’ benefits of child support debtors is a proof point of Ehrenreich’s thesis.

Tough enforcement is generally accepted because the concept of a “deadbeat dad” is a fiercely negative one, particularly among those who know all too well the tough hand dealt to single mothers. So public programs that attempt to aid child support debtors– the majority of whom are fathers–are not always popular. Consider a program in Spokane, WA where Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP), a nonprofit focused on poverty alleviation, is collaborating with local child support agencies. SNAP offers a range of financial support services for non-custodial fathers who have failed to comply with child support orders.

“We got some bad press for helping deadbeat dads,” said Jordan Tampien, SNAP’s Financial Services Manager. “But in reality what it’s done is create paying customers who now can afford their child support payments.”

So what does it mean to be a deadbeat dad? There are plenty of fathers who do not pay child support because they simply choose not to, leaving their children and their children’s mother in a lurch. And, as Ehrenreich highlights, there are fathers who are unable to comply with child support orders because they are just too poor. People in arrears can face jail time in some states, or they can risk having drivers licenses, passports and professional licenses revoked–consequences that can make it all the more difficult to find employment. Child support debt can also ruin debtors’ credit, making it even harder to pull themselves out of the hole.

Tampien’s fledgling program attempts to aid this population. It’s off to a strong start: In the second year of its three years of federal funding, SNAP’s program has  served almost 170 fathers. Sixty percent of those 170 have elected to take SNAP’s financial education classes. SNAP works directly with child support debtors to modify their child support orders and establish payment plans, and also offers the fathers financial education classes.

This program is part of a small federal effort to figure out long-term solutions for poor child support debtors. Washington is one of seven states that are part of a  pilot program called Building Assets for Fathers and Families (BAFF). The 3-year, $25 million program partners the Department of Health and Human Services’ Asset Finance Initiative (AFI) with child support and enforcement agencies in seven states to identify strategies for increasing financial stability of non-custodial parents.

While BAFF launched in 2010, AFI has been in existence since 1998 and also aids domestic violence survivors, Native American families, refugees and people with disabilities in building their financial futures.

The federal BAFF grant actually precipitated this collaboration between SNAP and child support agencies, but the program is expected to continue even after the federal funding runs out.

BAFF funding supports similar programs in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. In Texas, the Baylor College of Medicine received BAFF funding to provide employment and asset building services to over 100 Houston noncustodial parents. The program will also enroll dozens of noncustodial parents in Individual Development Accounts, complete financial education classes, and help poor fathers purchase assets such as a home, education loan or small business.

Just like SNAP’s program in Spokane, Baylor’s program will continue even after its federal funding runs out. According to Baylor’s organizers, their program was “designed to become self-sustaining after the end of the federal pilot.”

Ehrenreich and other critics of child support enforcement have shown that the framework for enforcement to date has been heavily weighted toward seizing whatever money a debtor has, causing debtors to perceive enforcement agencies as “police” and leaving them in a tougher financial position.

SNAP and Baylor’s programs offer a different framework, one in which enforcement agencies can play a supportive and solution-oriented role in debtors’ lives. True, fathers who are not genuinely interested in paying child support and getting out of child support debt are unlikely to engage in these programs. But at the very least, SNAP and Baylor’s efforts are connecting with poor fathers who want to achieve financial independence and, at last, crawl out from under the albatross of child support arrears. “I don’t think we’ve had one client come in who doesn’t want to pay his child support,” said Tampien. “They’ve all wanted to pay.”

How Governments and Individuals — Meaning Each of Us — Deny the Persistence of Racism and Abuse

11:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

When you work on human rights issues, you notice a certain pattern in government denial of abuse. First line of defense: it didn’t happen. Or if it happened, they did it to themselves. Or if they didn’t, we certainly had nothing to do with it. Or if we did, we didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter if the issue is torture, forced evictions, or garden-variety employment discrimination. The response from those in charge is often, if not always, the same.

Though this pattern is annoying, to say the least, I have lately become acutely aware of a much more depressing trend: the denial of abuse among those of us who should know better. Of course, we don’t call it denial. We call it “realism.” But the mechanism is the same.

1. “It didn’t happen.”

For decades, commentators and a large proportion of the US public have posited that racism no longer exists. Despite the fact that skin color and ethnicity matters with regard to just about any social indicator you care to look at — health, education, employment, housing, law enforcement — most white people believe the system we live in is racially just.

The writer Touré has described this situation as a “fog of racism:” a situation so subtle, it is blurred. “With this form of racism,” he says, “there is no smoking gun. There is no one calling you a nigger to your face. There’s no sign saying you can’t enter this building. … But … it’s there.”  

This is not much different from the many people who are genuinely puzzled at the need for continued attention to women’s issues in the United States now that “the genders are equal.” I hear this argument almost daily, despite ample evidence to the contrary, including the continued pay gap and the vicious attack on reproductive rights for women and not men.   

2. “They did it to themselves.”

Blaming the victim is par for the course in rape cases, a context in which it (rightfully) is denounced by women’s groups as sexist, discriminatory, and just plain wrong. But it is also common for individuals who identify sexual or racial discrimination to be called silly, overly sensitive, or even vindictive. 

When I firmly told off a male colleague at a former employer for caressing my waist, a female colleague immediately and loudly concluded that I “must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.” 

And I can’t count the times I have been told that “black people are racist too,” as a manner to excuse racial discrimination. In sociology and social psychology, this phenomenon is called internalized oppression, that is the manner in which an oppressed group comes to use against itself the methods of the oppressor. More commonly, it is expressed as a desire to maintain the dignity of the group: we may suffer, but we don’t complain or sulk. 

3. “We had nothing to do with it.”

Most people don’t like to think of themselves or the people they know as bigots. This is natural and reasonable. It is hard to remain sane if you believe your actions are consistently insensitive or morally wrong. This, however, is not the same as noticing and addressing injustice — especially injustice that we, ourselves, are benefitting from. 

For example, I cannot in good conscience say that I have nothing to do with racism (or sexism, or hetero-centrism, or…) when I know that I benefit daily from a system that overwhelmingly recognizes my humanity and rights because of my Northern passport, fair skin, perceived heterosexuality, motherhood, and Judeo-Christian background (I could go on). Unlike my Peruvian ex-husband, I don’t have to think about what I wear when I travel in order to avoid additional hassles at airport security. And unlike those of my female friends who are non-gender-conforming and childless, I don’t have to defend my worth as a woman.  

4. “We didn’t mean to.”

When all other justifications have failed, the usual fall-back for governments who violate human rights is lack of intent: we may indeed have tortured a couple of prisoners, but it was unknowingly done and therefore, it is implied, of limited importance. 

This excuse is hardly ever used as a denial strategy for continued and entrenched racial, sexual, and other discrimination in the United States. And not because we recognize our responsibility in the stereotypes we perpetuate. But rather because we don’t. In fact, as shown above, we routinely deny the very existence of discrimination.

I am not advocating a collective guilt complex, or, worse, some sort of warped paternalistic pity-fest in which those of privileged background pound our chests in earnest distress and bemoan the supposedly pathetic lives of those considered beneath us. I am, however, advocating a reckoning that allows us to confront those stereotypes that result in the abuse of human rights. Even, and especially, when this means that some of us must give up our special privileges.

And here’s why: I know I am benefiting from many of the stereotypes that prevail in the country I have chosen to live in. I also know I am complicit in the resulting discrimination to the extent that I don’t challenge it.

Who Owns the Farm? Land Rights Push in China Leaves Women Without a Plot To Stand On

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Jessica Mack for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In the Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey,“ Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter of an Earl, cannot inherit the eponymous estate because she is a woman. She finds this demeaning and frustrating, but her future will be well taken care of regardless. This isn’t the case for millions of women around the world, who struggle to access, own, and inherit the tiny plots of land on which they live and work.

In China, women actually have equal rights to inherit and own land, yet rarely ever do. A recent survey in 17 Chinese provinces, undertaken by the global land rights group Landesa, found that only 17.1 percent of existing land contracts and 38.2 percent of existing land certificates include women’s names.

A gap-filled land registration system has meant that the country’s 700 million mostly poor and rural farmers often lack the legal documents for the land on which they toil. Rapid urbanization has set in motion a pattern of “land grabs,“ depriving an estimated three to four million farmers of their land every year.  While land rights in China remain a broad-scale class issue, of the few that do have legal protection for their land, hardly any are women.

“Women in rural China are still in a vulnerable position,” says Xiaobei Wang, a Gender and Land Tenure Specialist for Landesa. “Most of them are not fully aware of their legal rights on land or the importance of including their names in legal documents so they seldom assert their rights in land registration by requesting that their names be included.”

These are timely findings given that a nascent land rights revolution in the country has begun. In late-2011, the continued struggles of dispossessed farmers came to a head with an historic village rebellion, signaling to the Chinese government and to the world that something finally had to change. Now, government officials are rolling out a massive initiative to register each plot of land with certificates of ownership in the hopes of protecting poor farmers. Read the rest of this entry →

Sensationalizing Drug Use in Pregnant Women: How the Media Perpetuates Racist and Ineffective Policies

9:15 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Well before anyone could be certain of how Whitney Houston died, several news outlets rushed to describe her as a “crack cocaine user.” And in all likelihood many will think of the popular singer as succumbing to illegal drugs, even if alcohol eventually is found to be more closely related to her demise.

This is not all that different from how the media deals with infant and child health.

Regardless of the actual causes behind low birth weight, infant mortality, and early childhood health issues, media reports are sure to blame the “crack baby syndrome” or, more recently, women’s abuse of prescription pain killers.

This kneejerk reaction is unhelpful for a number of reasons.

First of all, a pregnant woman’s use of illicit drugs is neither the only nor the most damaging pregnancy phenomenon from the point of view of infant health.

Take, for example, legal drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Peer reviewed research shows that over-consumption of alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (linked with permanent mental retardation), whereas cocaine seems to act only as one contributing factor in some pregnancies to increase non-permanent risk factors such as low birth weight. Approximately twice as many pregnant women drink alcohol frequently as use illicit drugs frequently during their pregnancies.

Epidemiological research published in the mid 1990s shows that the use of tobacco products in the United States at the time was responsible, each year, for tens of thousands of tobacco-induced miscarriages, infants born with low birth weight, infants who require admission to neonatal intensive care units, as well as an estimated 1900 to 4800 infant deaths. Though smoking has gone down over the past decades, around 17 percent of adult women in the United States still smoke, and generally continue to smoke during their pregnancies.

Even drugs administered to women who are in fertility treatment have been associated with low birth weight and premature birth.

Or let’s set aside drugs altogether. Malnutrition in pregnant women is one of the main causes of low birth weight and infant mortality worldwide. In this sense, it is worth noting that food insecurity and hunger has grown steadily in the United States since the start of the latest financial crisis in 2008. (Food insecurity exists whenever the availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire foods is limited or uncertain). According to the latest figures, about 17.2 million households in the United States suffered food insecurity in 2010, the highest number ever registered. Yet the government’s food stamp program is increasingly under attack by pundits and politicians.

Secondly, even a superficial read of arrest and prosecution figures for drug use during pregnancy reveal such a severe race and class bias that the very legitimacy of the approach must be questioned.

Since 1985, 80 percent of the more than 200 pregnant women or new mothers in over 20 states who have been arrested and charged with crimes related to substance use during pregnancy were black or Latina. In 2000, research in Pinellas County in Florida found that while white women and women of color used illegal drugs at comparable rates, black women were 10 times more likely than white women to be reported for child abuse related to substance use during pregnancy. That same year, data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that while black women had a higher overall rate of illicit drug use than white women, most women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy were white. Even so, 41 of the 42 women arrested in South Carolina under a mandatory drug testing program were black. (The program was suspended in the mid-1990s because of allegations of racial discrimination).

Meanwhile, research published in 2006 shows that newborns with white mothers are much more at risk of alcohol and tobacco exposure than newborns with black or Latina mothers.

Moreover, in many cases women with private health insurance are not mandatorily tested for illicit drug use during pregnancy. In this sense, poverty itself is what singles a pregnant woman out for persecution. It is no coincidence that the main focus for drug prosecutions for pregnant women in the United States is crack cocaine, a drug almost exclusively used by the resource-poor. As Whitney Houston herself famously said in an interview in 2002: “I make too much money to ever smoke crack.”

The point here is not that pregnant women should use cocaine, or that the government—and society as a whole—does not have a legitimate interest in ensuring infant and child health.

The point is that the prosecution of drug use in pregnant women does nothing to fulfill a legitimate policy goal and in fact seems to be racially motivated—at least in the implementation—rather than spurred by a concern for children.

In fact, if the objective is to improve infant and child health, efforts to overcome poor nutrition, alcohol addiction, lack of adequate health care, physical abuse, and/or homelessness would make for much better investments. Sadly, such policies don’t make for as sensational news.

The Sound of Silence: Where Is the Anti-Choice Outcry Over North Carolina’s Forced Sterilization of Women of Color?

11:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

(photo: ee382, rhrealitycheck)

(photo: ee382, rhrealitycheck)

Written by Pamela Merritt for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A task force in North Carolina recently ruled that survivors of that state’s eugenics program should be paid $50,000 each in financial compensation. Eugenics is often defined as the science of “improving” a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of “desirable” heritable characteristics. The practice of eugenics was not limited to Nazi Germany nor is it a well kept secret that’s been waiting to be discovered by organizations opposed to reproductive justice.

In America, state governments set up eugenics boards that determined the reproductive future of thousands. I grew up listening to my maternal Grandmother, a Mississippi native, warn against trusting doctors and passing along lessons she learned from other poor women of color who went into a hospital to give birth only to later find out that they were given a Mississippi Appendectomy without their consent. The horrific legacy of these state eugenics boards is one of the reasons why I embrace the reproductive justice framework advocating for the right to have children, not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments.

From the early 1900s up until the 1970’s, over 30 states had formal eugenics programs. These programs enforced compulsory sterilization of individuals deemed to be “unfit” and “promiscuous.” States sterilized people that were disabled, poor, people of color, and immigrants. North Carolina had a particularly aggressive program that was alone in allowing social workers to select people for sterilization based on IQ tests. To date, only seven states have formally apologized for eugenics programs and no state has paid money to survivors. Although a task force appointed by the Governor in North Carolina ruled in favor of payment to survivors, their recommendations are now in the hands of state legislators.

Too often eugenics is looked on as a shameful part of German history and many Americans are unaware of the history of eugenics in this country. I’m reminded of the warning that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. No, I’m not about to repeat black genocide claims that modern health care centers use contraception as a weapon or the ‘easily debunked if folks just used Google Maps’ conspiracy theory about abortion clinics being located in predominately black neighborhoods. I’m referring to the history of government taking control over people’s reproductive future and how that component of the history of eugenics and is very present today. While those opposed to reproductive justice appropriate the language of Civil Rights to perpetuate bizarre anti-knowledge theories about dangerous black women and how we are the greatest threat to the newly identified species of “black child,” states that actually ran eugenics programs and sterilized thousands of people get little to no attention and all too often as not held accountable for those actions. Read the rest of this entry →

Americans Demonstrate Changed Attitudes Towards Poverty Since the 2008 Economic Crisis

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

PhotobucketWritten by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This
diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

If you are poor, chances are it is your own fault. At least that’s what Americans thought in 2001. In a National Public Radio poll from that year, about half of those surveyed said the poor are not doing enough to pull themselves out of poverty.

Now, one would think that since the recent economic crisis predictably has led to increased poverty people would start blaming circumstances more than the poor. This has not been the case in the United Kingdom. A recently published survey shows that Brits over time have become more likely to blame poor people themselves for their financial trouble. From 1986 to 2009, the proportion of people who attribute poverty to laziness and lack of willpower has grown to a little under 30 percent, with the proportion blaming “injustice in our society” conversely falling.

People’s attitudes towards poverty to some extent determine sentiments about health care, welfare benefits, and other collective interventions. Not surprisingly, the UK study found that more and more Brits believe government benefits are too high.

In the United States, the picture is, perhaps surprisingly, a bit more nuanced. The 2001 NPR poll shows that attitudes about welfare at that time were determined by the income of the person asked. Those who made more than twice the poverty level were almost twice as likely as those closer to being poor to say that welfare recipients had easy lives and could do very well without the benefits if only they tried.

This difference is significant. Since household income has been declining over time (and proportionally fewer individuals earn more than twice the poverty level), the silver lining of the 2008 crisis might be that more Americans start seeing poverty for what it is: not something anyone “deserves.” This could even help bring about more coherent anti-poverty policies when politicians, many of whom seem to want to appeal to the “poor people are lazy” sentiment as a way to obtain votes, realize their constituents understand reality better than they do.

And poverty is, in fact, becoming reality for more and more people in the United States. Read the rest of this entry →

In Kansas, A Public Conference Reveals Deep Contempt for the Poor and for Women

10:39 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

“This Governor failed!” This was my angry proclamation to Kansas Public Radio after listening to Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation speak in Kansas City, Kansas on the topic of childhood poverty. Robert Rector was introduced as the “intellectual godfather of welfare reform.” Mr. Rector was invited to Kansas to speak by Governor Sam Brownback.

Governor Brownback stated at the start of the conference that he was seeking bi-partisan solutions to the problem of high rates of children living in poverty within our state.  He declared “the best way to do it is to reach as far across the political spectrum and find someone as far opposite or different from you as you can and start to talk about strategy.” This advice is obviously meant for all of the left leaning and moderate folks in the room, because this far right, radical Governor brought in a far-right, radical talking head from the Heritage Foundation. This is how the Governor failed.

Robert Rector’s resume includes a piece he wrote titled “The Myth of Poverty”, claiming that the Census Bureau is overestimating the number of those truly living in poverty. He recently wrote a piece for the National Review, “How do the poor live? For starters, a poor child in America is far more likely to have a wide-screen plasma television, cable or satellite TV, a computer and an Xbox or TiVo in his home than he is to be hungry.” Mr. Rector backed up his resume of crazy by spouting off some of these doozies during the course of his 45 minute speech…

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the means-tested welfare system to support children in the United States is predominately a support system that compensates for the erosion of marriage.

And… Read the rest of this entry →