Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gotta Stop Singing about Sanger

OK, given some of the things I've discovered about Margaret Sanger while researching various topics for the Roe v. Wade anniversary, I must admit, I won't be as free in my references to her as I have been in the past. But the whole "pro-life" idea that her work for birth control and improved quality of life is discredited in communities-of-color because she made racist statements? No sale. Not with me anyway. Why? Well, I've constructed some imaginary conversations with a couple of my associates to demonstrate my points. Maybe I'll get a chance to say these things one day! Beware: this is a long post.

Conversation One:
Characters: The pastor of my growing, predominantly black, conservative Baptist church here in Houston and me:

Pastor (smugly): You know, Elle, since you're such a supporter of women's reproductive freedom, I think I should point out that one of you heroines, Margaret Sanger, had ties to the eugenics movement.

Elle (feigns ignorance): Really?

Pastor (waving his hand dismissively): Yes. I figured, being a little woman and all, you'd ignored or missed that in your studies. An important fact, but not your fault that you can't discriminate between important and not. That's why I advocate that you young sisters stay in your place.

Elle: Hmm.

Pastor: So, you see, you were troubled that Houston's Planned Parenthoods didn't have enough funding this past year to offer services on a sliding scale. In reality, why should you care about that organization? Given its history with Sanger, the racist.

Elle: Mmm. Well, Pastor, Planned Parenthood offers more than birth control and abortion. There's the STD testing-

Pastor (holds up a hand to silence Elle): Not an issue if people wouldn't have sex! Total abstinence for all but married, straight couples is a worthwhile and achievable goal.

Elle: But Pastor, married people get STDs-

Pastor: The adulterers!

Elle (sighs, but refrains from asking about the health of the non-cheating partner. smiles as she thinks of something else): So, Pastor, you're saying that I should rebuff Planned Parenthood because it may have a racist history?

Pastor (smiles patiently): Yes, sweetheart (or darling or honey or baby).

Elle: I'll renounce support of them when you give up the Mercedes S500 the church gave you.

Pastor (frowns): I know your mind struggles with rational connections and logic--and really, it's not your fault--but Pastor doesn't see the connection.

Elle (sweetly sarcastic): Pastor, would you say that the Holocaust was, in some small way, a racist tragedy?

Pastor grunts.

Elle: Well, Mercedes-Benz used Jewish slave labor during the Holocaust. So, even a woman could argue that the company may be troubled by a racist history. And since we're rebuffing...

Pastor: Now, wait a minute, young woman-

Elle: And Pastor, you just said how proud you were to be an American and truly, we all are. But when this country was being conceived, people like us were considered 3/5 of a person and involved in a racially-based slave system. So, I could go further and say our country is troubled by a racist history.

Elle (coughs, steps away from the smoke emanating from Pastor's nose): So if we're discrediting and disassociating ourselves from every country, organization and person that may have a racist history-

Elle's words are lost as always savvy Pastor turns to shake another member's hand.

Conversation two:

Characters: A white, conservative friend (I have no idea how or why he and I clicked) who wants to remain nameless on my blog (can't imagine why :-) and me:

Friend (mockingly): Surely, you, Elle, goddess of renouncing racists, isn't going to continue your support of Sanger. That might make you (gasps) a hypocrite.

Elle: I will continue to support her work, Friend. Besides, I know you aren't talking. Remember when that professor asked us if Joseph Conrad and the characters in Heart of Darkness were really racists or if they were-

Friend: -just accepting the prevailing notions and conventions of their time and I said it was the latter? Yes, I remember. You didn't speak to me for 2 weeks.

Elle: Uh-huh. And remember when I said I was troubled by presidents who said things like "Birth of a Nation" was like "writing history with lightning" (Woodrow Wilson) or that he understood why white Southerners didn't want their daughters in school with "big black bucks" (Eisenhower) or began their campaigns in places in Mississippi not all that troubled by its history as the deathplace of civil rights workers? You said-

Friend: -they were products of their times. I still believe that. Doesn't change what they offered to American society.

Elle gives him a pointed look. Friend sighs.

Friend: Fine. But you're still a hypocrite.

Elle: But an honest one.

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Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...