Friday, December 2, 2011

Kirsten West Savali: Dr. King Supported Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood; Why Won't You?


By: Kirsten West Savali, Your Black World

Michael King, Jr., commonly known to the world as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. omitted several truths in his lifetime, from plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation, to upholding the core family value of fidelity. His early pacifist approach to the Civil Rights Movement and willingness to place assimilation as the foremost goal of that righteous cause dampened my trust in the stability of the pedestal the Black community placed him on long ago; yet, he understood and appreciated the foundational importance of collective Black worth. He diligently fought to arm us with tools that possess the ability to slow the tides of poverty and despair that threaten to drown our communities, and in his dedicated support of Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, he exemplified a bold courage and honesty that I appreciate immensely.

We've all heard the stories; more accurately, we've all been force fed the myth that Margaret Sanger was a racist villain on a one-woman crusade to staunch the births of Black and Brown babies in the United States. Yes, it is true that she was a devout eugenicist, determined through such means as segregation and sterilization to weed out "inferior" people in society. Sanger also allegedly believed that organized charities implemented to prolong and enhance the lives of impoverished members of society were counter-productive to population control. With these salient facts in mind, I find it ironic that Planned Parenthood's most vocal detractors, the Grand Ole' Party, share those beliefs, illuminating them in stark relief in every single discriminatory legislation they attempt to filibuster into existence.

In an attempt to play on the instinctive racial solidarity of the Black community, conservatives continue to tokenize the iconic legacy of Marcus Garvey and his antagonistic view of birth control as evidence of their sincere wish to do what is most beneficial for the African-American community. They continue to prop Sanger's Negro Project up as the singular example of her nefarious intent, while ignoring the life-saving contributions of Planned Parenthood. In a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble in 1939, after Garvey voiced his opposition to birth control, Sanger revealed a strategy that has haunted her organization to this day:

"We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don't want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. And the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."

It reads horribly, doesn't it?

The words written by Sanger makes it easy for accusations of racism, bigotry and prejudice to escape unabated. It makes it even easier for the truth to be buried beneath instinctive defense mechanisms that we have desperately sharpened and honed since the days of Jim and Jane Crow.

But let's pull back the covers, shall we?

There are two equally powerful Sanger quotes that appear in Earl Conrad's, "American Viewpoint on U.S. Birth and Bias Control," which was published in The Chicago Defender on September 22, 1945. Not surprisingly, they never quite seem to make the soundbite reel:

"What hangs over the South is that the Negro has been in servitude. The white southerner is slow to forget this. His attitude is the archaic in this age. Supremacist thinking belongs in the museum."

"The big answer, as I see it, is the education of the white man. The white man is the problem. It is the same as with the Nazis. We must change the white attitudes. That is where it lies."

In her memoir, Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography, on pages 366-367, Sanger details her experience with meeting with the women's branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey. It swiftly becomes evident that Sanger's message of reproductive freedom and women's absolute control over their bodies extended well beyond the confines of the African-American community. According to records of her writings, Sanger was actually an avowed elitist who advocated for contraception, not abortion, and her eugenic philosophy encompassed the poor, mentally ill, and disabled - regardless of color. But for conservatives to admit that, they would need to find a new boogey-man to spook Black women into voting against their own self-interests.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), said it best: "The conservatives want small government-small enough to fit in your uterus." The Republican Party is attempting to eliminate every single public policy that financially assists those historically marginalized in this country, yet pretend to care about life. Their agenda appears to be to preserve a menial workforce for capital gain; yet on reproductive issues, the Black community at-large unwittingly supports that ideology, while decrying the discriminatory practices that are murdering our communities in large numbers.

British medical journal, The Lance, published the startling statistics that Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than Hispanic women. When white women are included, that disparity becomes even more disproportionate. Black women, the mothers of civilization, are 15 times more likely to contract HIV than white women, and our infants are 2.5 times more likely to die than white infants.

Instead of supporting an organization which has a highly visible presence in Black communities, providing sex education and preventative treatments that otherwise would be non-existent, conservatives continue to manipulate the media in an attempt to pad their own pockets with the capital that a defunct Planned Parenthood would release into the budget. Though the Hyde Amendment effectively bans the federal government from financing elective abortions---and that was reiterated by President Barack Obama's signing of an executive order in March of 2010---Republicans have consistently implied otherwise and continue to paint Planned Parenthood as the face of abortion; when, in fact, only three percent of the organization's services are terminations.

Let's be clear: There is flagrant hypocrisy tainting the GOP's assault on Planned Parenthood. They accuse Planned Parenthood of eugenics, while simultaneously flooding their proposed policies with the same. The dysgenic nature of our healthcare, welfare, and tax system---which prolongs the lives of those marginalized groups in society who would otherwise fall victim to natural selection---leads Conservatives to attempt to implement eugenics into a capitalist system. There have been studies proving that an improvement in the quality of healthcare, nutrition, and public social services, directly increases population growth; yet, these are the very programs that conservatives would like to see stripped from the budget. By removing them, they successfully blur the lines between church and state, strip women of their reproductive rights based on nothing more than religious conjecture and deceptively facilitate the genocide they attempt to blame on Planned Parenthood.

If they really cared so much about African-American children, wouldn't their politics reflect that desire?

In 1966, Dr. King accepted the first ever Margaret Sanger award for his contributions to the struggle for human dignity and civil liberties, and his wife, Coretta Scott King accepted on his behalf. In her introduction, she stated that Margaret Sanger made her "proud to be a woman tonight." She then read her husband's speech, and the wisdom contained within is worth sharing:

"There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

"There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger's early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist -- a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern."

In 1966, Dr. King saw the benefit and necessity in supporting an organization that braved scorn, malicious half-truths and bitter political battles to offer quality health-care services and sex education to women and men in under-served communities.

So, to anti-choice advocates who insist on tossing the blanket of racism over the life-threatening ills that plague our communities, communities ravaged more than any other with HIV and AIDS, poverty and discrimination:

Dr. King supported Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood; why won't you?

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