When Black Lives Don’t Matter

There are few stories more harrowing in their scope of tragedy and triumph than the saga of African Americans in the United States.

The near 400 year journey from slavery to freedom has dominated much of my work in the field of history (see here and here for a few examples) and is one on which there are equal parts of shame and triumph. Shame at what is now being rightfully described as the “torture” of enslaved toil and the systematic oppression of “labor camps” better known as plantations. Triumph at the non-violent successes of the Civil Rights movement and reconciliation that has taken place in the last fifty years.

As we commemorate Black History Month, the issue of race in America has become more troubling over the past few months due to unrest and angst over the unjust murder of Eric Garner and the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is one of the results of this current turmoil over race relations in America.

Lost in this renewed discussion on race in America is something that immediately stuck out to myself and a few public figures and media personalities brave enough to voice it to the American public – namely, that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” falls short and seems disingenuous when one looks at the cold facts regarding abortion in the African American community.

As a pro-life historian, I am struck at the tremendous shift that has occurred in how the African American community views and deals with the issue of abortion.

There is no need to reach for hyperbole to describe the devastation that abortion has imposed upon African Americans in the United States.

Consider this small sample of statistics:

  • Although African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, black women have 29.7% of the annual abortions in the U.S.
  • Over 1,400 African-American children are killed by abortion every day.
  • Approximately 13 million African American babies have been aborted since 1973, making abortion more deadly than AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and violent crime combined.

These numbing statistics come from the CDC and a 2008 report by the Guttmacher Institute, not a pro-life organization with skin in the game.

Yet the voices of outrage within the black community are few and far between. The minority of African American clergy that do speak out against the soaring abortion rates in poor and underprivileged neighborhoods are accused of being “Uncle Toms” or worse. Powerful organizations like the NAACP have adopted a pro-abortion stance, leaving black pro-lifers who lack such a prestigious platform out in the cold.

Rev. Johnny Hunter, an African American pastor based out of North Carolina, bemoaned that:

Two hundred years ago our African American heritage was robbed by a group of elitist individuals who intentionally kept us ignorant concerning the devastating effects of slavery. Today, our heritage is being robbed by elitist individuals who have kept us ignorant concerning the devastating effect of abortion on our race.

Recently I was talking with a leader in the pro-life movement about this very issue, and she suggested that there is a culture of abortion within the African American community. It had been suggested to her that older African American women will pressure younger women experiencing a crisis pregnancy to terminate in order to validate their own prior decisions to abort.

Thus, the “culture of abortion” within the community combines with organizations like the NAACP and Planned Parenthood and the results are tallied in the heartbreaking statistics listed above.

The silence regarding this issue in light of the Garner and Brown cases is truly shameful, but not necessarily surprising.

One only has to look back to the 2013 trial of later-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell to see that abortion in the black community is a tough sell. Even when the jurors were told the shocking details of how Gosnell – himself an African American – kept separate rooms for white women and minorities, and that the rooms for white clients were much more sanitary than those black and Hispanic patients had to endure (Gosnell chalked up the disparity between the two rooms as  just “the way of the world”), very few African American leaders or media outlets seemed to care much.

This is a far cry from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when many Civil Rights activists like Jesse Jackson spoke out against abortion and linked it to “black genocide.”

Let us hope that as Black History Month continues, voices will rise up and protest innocent blood being shed through abortion with the same justifiable outrage and vigor that has been displayed in peaceful protests across the country.

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