White Couple's Fears Over Raising Black Child a Teachable Moment For Discussing Race

The case of a white lesbian couple in Ohio who are suing a sperm bank because it mistakenly gave them black sperm when they asked for white sperm has sparked robust debate over white privilege and how we discuss race in America.

Jennifer Cramblett and her same-sex partner went to the Midwest Sperm Bank three years ago and reserved sperm from a white donor. Due to an error by the bank, they ended up getting sperm from a black donor. By the time the couple learned of the error, Amanda Zinkon, Cramblett's partner, was already pregnant. Their daughter is 2 years old now, but the couple said they weren't prepared to raise a black child and that their town, which is 97 percent white, hasn't been a good place to raise her. They're suing the sperm bank for emotional distress and damages of $50,000.

"Jennifer was crying, confused and upset,” according to the court papers. “All of the thought, care and planning that she and Amanda had undertaken to control their baby’s parentage had been rendered meaningless. In an instant, Jennifer’s excitement and anticipation of her pregnancy was replaced with anger, disappointment and fear.”

The couple goes on to say that they haven't felt welcome venturing into black neighborhoods where they have to go to get their child's hair done, to name one of several cultural challenges. While some people see their lawsuit as bogus and a classic example of white privilege, I don't see quite see it that way.

I get it. As African Americans, we deal with the issues listed in their lawsuit every day. Why are they complaining? Black mothers who endure much worse can't sue for emotional distress for raising their children in a racist society. Trayvon's Martin's mother had to watch the murderer of her son go free. It took two trials to convict the white man who shot and killed Jordan Davis for no reason. Indeed, black mothers in America bear the lion's share of the emotional burden when it comes to raising a child of any gender in America. As far as not being welcomed in certain neighborhoods, a Google search of housing and real estate discrimination will reveal African Americans haven't been welcomed in a lot of places.

Again, I get it.

But here's the difference: Cramblett and Zinkon weren't prepared to handle the responsibility of raising a black child and they have been very open about it. When two black people have a baby, they expect a black baby and are generally primed emotionally to deal with the trevails of being black and raising a black child. I'm not saying black moms are culturally prepared for their kids to be murdered; I'm saying at least we know how to care for our children's hair. We do remember when the Internet went ablaze over what many black women felt was Angelina Jolie's mishandling of her adopted black child's hair.

We can't, however, reasonably expect a woman who didn't regularly encounter black people until she attended college to have the cultural acumen of African Americans who have lived with racism and have no choice but to mingle with other races in order to achieve any degree of professional success.

Despite the couple saying they love their child and just want what's best for her, op-eds and Twitter debates have criticized them for being racist and insensitive to the child. For what? Just for being honest? Last time I checked, these women weren't horrible people, nor has any evidence surfaced that they have expressed hatred of black people. The birth of their child likely forced them to confront racism for the first time and the fear they express clearly reveals how nervous they are about their ability to protect their child in a society steeped in racial discord and hatred.These parents need compassion, not a parade of hate-mongering accusations.

Think about it: if the couple were that bad, why didn't they abort the child when they had the opportunity to do so? Some have suggested that they could have done just that, but not everyone believes in abortion. And if the parents are racists, why make the birth of a black child public, especially in court documents available to all? And why are they only suing for $50,000 to move to a better community for their child, if they are so money hungry?

For those who ask what if the baby was born with a birth defect, my response is this: Had the child been given white sperm, which is what the couple asked for, they wouldn't have an argument or a case. Then there are those who say, "Well, the baby is healthy, what else matters?" As far as I'm concerned, the baby could've been the second coming of the Virgin Mary, but if it's not what they asked for, it doesn't matter. No one has the right to force their logic onto someone who doesn't feel the same. Many African Americans feel insulted by the lawsuit, yet they are the same people who would set off WWIII if they got white sperm when they requested black sperm. So please, save it. OK? 

Though the lawsuit lists the couple as the aggrieved, the true victim is their daughter. She didn't ask to be brought into the world this way and she will need to be prepared for the stories she will read about herself after she learns her ABCs. This couple needs to be extended some compassion as they have taken the brave step of publically admitting their racial ignorance. The complaints in the lawsuit were raw and yes, reeked of white privilege. But when we uncover racism, that's how it looks: ugly, uncomfortable and painful.

At its worst, racial privilege has legalized several hundred years of chattel slavery, deputized police officers to racially profile, rape and kill African Americans and resulted in the colonization of much of the world. Racial privilege has positioned white people to earn higher incomes, assume positions of power that have long been out of our grasp, and benefit from being positioned as the leading standards of beauty, while African Americans are relegated to being deemed beautiful, but with an asterisk. Black people are eligible to become victims of our racist society, whether we want to or not. White people, like Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon, can become perpetrators of this racism that fuels our unjust society, whether they choose to or not.

As far as I'm concerned, they seem ready to learn how not to become perpetrators. Therefore, I believe our language toward them needs to demonstrate less anger and bitterness and more compassion. I cannot accept anyone arguing that they have compassion for the child yet none for the parents who are tasked with raising her. Such calloused responses are cruel and unfair. The parents need support, too.

We could offer to connect the couple with groups that have experience helping biracial children. Or what about sending a card to the lawyer suggesting locations where they can get the girl's hair done in their area? And the parents could benefit from learning about support groups for parents of biracial children, both online and offline.

We often ask that white people be honest about racism, but when we actually get the honesty we ask for, we're suddenly shocked and enraged. In order for us to move forward with any conversation about race relations, we have to be careful about who we designate as enemy combatants and who could benefit from compassion and education. Cramblett and Zinkon clearly fall under the latter category.

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