One comment I’ve heard on this subject is that, unfortunately, many pregnant black women use abortion as a kind of birth control. They never intended to have a child. But because they didn’t take effective steps to prevent the pregnancy on the “front end,” they wind up having to terminate the pregnancy on the back end.
The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty* (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women).
Most people know of slavery, but we don’t know about slavery. Specifically, we don’t know how dehumanizing it was to be a slave.
We might understand what it’s like to be denied freedom or dignity at an intellectual level. But for many of us, we don’t have a grasp on how horrible the institution was, in the day to day life of an enslaved person. Most of us don’t “get” what it was about inhuman bondage that made it so inhuman.
But while the subject is esoteric, the details of how this played out in plantation life are chilling and disturbing.
Cover of Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz.
The first chapter of the book, titled “Procreation,” has a gripping account of the stakes involved in the reproductive ability of slave women. I’ve provided some excerpts from that chapter below. Upon reading this, you will understand how lacking in humanity and dignity this peculiar institution was:
…an important aspect of slavery… has been all too often ignored: slaveholders expected to appropriate and exploit the reproductive lives of enslaved women. Control of one’s body was not a fundamental right of slaves. Emboldened by law and custom to do with human chattels as they wished, (slave) owners felt entitled to intervene in even the most intimate of matters. Women’s childbearing capacity became a commodity that could be traded on the open market.
During the antebellum era the expectation increased among members of the owning class that enslaved women would contribute to the economic success of the plantation not only through productive labor but also through procreation. The idea was at once both powerful and seductive and shaped the way women experienced enslavement, the way owners thought about the future of slavery, and the way doctors practiced medicine.
As of 1808, when Congress ended the nation’s participation in the international slave trade… the only practical way of increasing the number of slave laborers was through new births. If enslaved mothers did not bear sufficient numbers of children to take the place of aged and dying workers, the South could not continue as a slave society.
Women entering their childbearing years-especially those who had proven their fertility through the birth of a baby-sold easily and for a high price. Former slave Boston Blackwell, who witnessed the sale of two women in Memphis, Tennessee, reported that a girl of fifteen who had no children sold for $800, but a breeding woman sold for $1,500.
Human reproduction was so important to the continuation of slavery that members of the South’s ruling class willed their heirs the unborn children of slaves as well as living people. Anna Matilda King of Georgia assured her daughter that she would inherit not only the slave Christiann but also “her child and future children.” This wish to benefit future generations of slaveholding families pressed owners to look for ways of ensuring that enslaved mothers bore plenty of children. “If it was not for my children I would not care what became of the negroes,” Elizabeth Scott Neblett wrote her absent husband during the Civil War… Neblett maintained that she would gladly do without slaves to save the bother of managing them, but for her children’s sake she could not let them go. Continue reading →
Most of us are familiar with the “shortage of eligible black males issue” in the black community. It’s been talked about on Oprah and in other places; check out this video from Oprah, which says that 70% of African American women are single:
James Flynn, who has written extensively on issues of race, class, and IQ, has recently published the book Where Have all the Liberals Gone?: Race, Class and Ideals in America. Among numerous topics, the book offers several insights on the social conditions of African Americans. This table on the “Marriage Market” for American women is especially noteworthy:
Table: Marriage Prospects of Women (Ages 25-40)
For every 100 White Women there are…
86 promising potential spouses (shortfall = 14)
• 80 in adequate civilian employment
• 2 in the military
• 4 men who have married in from another race
20 unpromising potential spouses
• 16 not in adequate civilian employment
• 1 in jail/prison
• 3 white men married someone of another race
For every 100 Black Women there are…
57 promising potential spouses (shortfall = 43)
• 53 in adequate civilian employment
• 2 in the military
• 2 men who have married in from another race
39 unpromising potential spouses
• 24 not in adequate civilian employment
• 10 in jail/prison
• 5 black men married someone of another race
4 unavailable potential spouses
• 4 either deceased or missing
For every 100 Hispanic Women there are…
99 promising spouses (Actually 96) (shortfall = 4) • 89 in adequate civilian employment
• 1 in the military
• 9 men who have married in from another race
30 unpromising spouses
• 18 not in adequate civilian employment
• 3 in jail/prison
• 9 Hispanic married someone of another race
This slightly edited excerpt from the book explains the numbers:
The above table sets out the plight of black women in contemporary America. For every 100 black women in the peak ages of marriage, there are only 57 men who promise to be permanent and supporting partners.
The criterion for “promising spouse” for black women is that a male is black and worked more than 26 weeks in the previous year or was in the armed forces; those few non-blacks who have a black wife are also assumed to qualify. Those who do not qualify are black males in prison, those who worked 26 weeks or less, and those who have a non-black wife.
Notice that promising + unpromising spouses do not add up to zero. This is because, in the case of black women, there are far fewer black males than black females because many black males are dead or missing. My survey shows that about 94 black men exist for every 100 black women aged 25 to 40.
The Hispanic surplus of males is huge because there are so many more male immigrants.
Note that, only 2.19% of black women today are living with a non-black husband. Indeed, black women are losers from whatever interracial marriage exits: five black men leave the pool of potential spouses to partner with non-black women, while only two black women find a long-term spouse outside their race.
I hope to provide additional passages from the book in the next few weeks.
Update: This is how some black women are coping with this problem: