Should Pro-lifers Call Black Children an 'Endangered Species'?
Perhaps you've heard about the controversial billboard campaign sponsored by Georgia Right to Life, that state's largest pro-life organization, in partnership with a Christian group called the Radiance Foundation. In signs put up around Atlanta, as well as through a dynamic website, the campaign puts the abortion issue squarely in the faces of passersby with the image of a young child next to the startling words, "Black Children Are an Endangered Species." It's a provocative image and caption, created in part by black and biracial people with compelling stories related to pro-life issues.
I applaud the campaign's message and the attention it draws to the devastating impact of abortion in the African American community (one CDC survey reports that African American women have abortions at three times the rate of white women and almost twice the rate of other racial groups). But I find the use of "endangered species" language and imagery to describe black children to be profoundly inappropriate.
First, there's the problem of comparing African Americans to animals. Because of the ways those kinds of comparisons have been made to dehumanize blacks in the past, I think the campaign's organizers should have reconsidered leveraging the "endangered species" comparison for its shock value and attention-grabbing potential …
I understand that the point of the Georgia campaign, like those "Save the Baby Humans" bumper stickers, is to emphasize the hypocrisy in caring more about animals than we do about people. But black children aren't animals—and that's precisely why their lives are important. They shouldn't be compared to the Okaloosa Darter or the Galapagos Petrel, or some other species most of us haven't heard about and don't care about the survival of.
Further, the copy and imagery the campaign's organizers have chosen creates a false choice between saving lives and recognizing those lives as human—which is precisely the point of the pro-life movement, as well as the blind spot it's sometimes accused of having, particularly as it relates to African American lives.
Think about how we often regard animals on the endangered species list: they are protected with the hope that they can be released back into the wild, where they can survive on their own.
The late Spencer Perkins identified the problems with this kind of thinking in 1989, in a classic Christianity Today article entitled "The Pro-life Credibility Gap." In Perkins's view, the Christians who were most visible in leading the pro-life movement were often not as interested in other issues of justice for African Americans. He wrote, "I feel that if the love of Christ compels me to save the lives of children, that same love should compel me to take more responsibility for them once they are born." Though Perkins was making the point about white pro-lifers, it's a question for all of us to consider.
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