Boycotting Essence: What Would That Accomplish?

Editor’s Note: The article below is a guest post by Femi Lewis. It is a response to an opinion piece in the Washington Times written by Armstrong Williams about the issue of abortion. Lewis writes about Black American history over at The African-American page. -M.P.

Boycotting Essence: What Would That Accomplish? 

by Femi Lewis

Can an organization that was established with racist and classist notions in mind transcend its original mission? Conservative news columnist and radio talk show host, Armstrong Williams doesn’t believe so. In a recent editorial published in The Washington Times, Williams argues that African-American women should boycott Essence magazine because the publication allowed Planned Parenthood to be one of the sponsors of the 2012 Essence Music Festival.  Planned Parenthood, one of the most prominent providers of women’s healthcare, was founded by Margaret Sanger. Sanger, a nurse by trade, emerged during the Progressive Era–coining the term birth control, publishing the Birth Control Review, and establishing health clinics in poor neighborhoods that would later become Planned Parenthood.  However, Sanger’s philosophy of providing birth control to women was deeply rooted in racism and classism. And for this reason, coupled with high abortion rates amongst African-American women, Williams believes that a boycott against Essence should ensue.

Yet, in many ways Williams’ agenda is even more damaging to African-Americans than Sanger’s mission. Here’s why: Planned Parenthood has risen above the mission of Margaret Sanger.  It’s a known fact that Margaret Sanger was not a friend to African-Americans and poor whites. In Pivot of Civilization, Sanger describes her great disdain for both groups as “…human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.” However, much like many other institutions utilized by African-Americans, the purpose of Planned Parenthood—to provide affordable reproductive healthcare services to women of all races—trumps  Sanger’s original purpose of limiting the birthrates of “unfit” Americans. After all, have we forgotten that Christianity was used as a tool of oppression during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade? Or that Christianity was as a pro-slavery argument? Or that before African countries were colonized by European nations, the people were pacified with Christianity? Clearly with the number of pastors of African descent in communities throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Africa as well as evangelists selling books and making movies, the Christian faith has come to mean a whole lot to people of the African Diaspora.

Like Christianity, Planned Parenthood has come to mean a whole lot to young women of color who need to learn how to take care of their bodies, understand their reproductive rights and plan for their futures. And to go one step further, to show the true transcendence of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Margaret Sanger Award in 1966 for his efforts as a civil rights leader.  Williams’ op-ed offers statistics that would surprise anyone.  Yes, they are glaring statistics but not enough solutions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, African-Americans make up an estimated 13 percent of the United States’ population but account for 30 percent of abortions —which is the highest in any racial group in the country. These same statistics have been used by African-American led pro-life organizations such as the Radiance Foundation who want to expose the abortion rates of African-American women with campaigns such as “Endangered Species” and “Too Many Aborted.”

However, Williams and many other prolife organizations are failing to offer concrete solutions—what should a young, unwed, possibly uneducated and underemployed black woman do if she does become pregnant? Proponents might say put the baby up for adoption. But that solution is too simple—especially when an estimated 60 percent of nonwhite children languish in foster care.     Asking African-Americans to boycott a news publication that has consistently spoken to the varied needs of its women for more than forty years is downright counterproductive. Instead, our energies should be focused on teaching young women of all races to make choices that will protect them from getting pregnant before they are able to care for children.

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