The Racialization of Reproduction

Tessa Moll (Chapter 5) shows that in South Africa, while the embryos of (usually white) middle- and upper-class people are carefully protected from outside contamination, many Black people on the other side of the country are subject to reproductive damage to ovaries and semen from chemical spraying to eliminate malaria. Moll argues that logics of attrition, whether intentional or unintentional, are built into reproductive neoliberal futures, even in the new South Africa, and points to these as underlying logics that create “superfluous” lives—of both embryos thrown out as waste, and of the Black children not born—as “sacrificial.” This damaging racialization of reproduction is also addressed in other chapters, and today remains a reality that must be eliminated in the future.

Lurking in the background of such discussions is the ominous specter of both old ideas of eugenics and newer variations on this theme, raised by Margaret Eby and Meghna Mukherjee in Chapter 6. They posit that selection for desirable characteristics in reproductive processes is fraught with ethical and moral uncertainty and reminiscent of the days of the Better Babies and Fitter Families State Fairs of the early 20th century, in which only white children were admitted as contestants. And they imagine a futuristic World Fair in which people who can and can’t afford it pay for enhanced embryos with selected-for characteristics and abilities, expecting that the initial high cost will be recovered via their enhanced child’s contributions later on. Tragically, so high is the general cultural valuation of whiteness that, as clearly documented in Eby’s and Mukherjee’s interviews and fieldnotes, some people of darker skin would choose lighter skin for their children, if they could. Such devaluation of darker skin must be culturally undone.

Yet here we note that the super valuation of whiteness extends far beyond skin color. It has long been reflected, for just two examples, in the artificial creation of white rice and white bread, which have no nutritional value while brown rice and bread have plenty. Yet many prefer the seeming “purity” of the whiteness, with highly detrimental effects. For example, world-renowned midwife Robin Lim (2021) has written about the effects of the advent on the island of Bali of the white techno-rice that supplanted the nutritious red rice native to the island, because the genetically modified white rice can be grown in three crops per year instead of the previous two. It makes bellies feel full while generating severe malnutrition that leads to cases of postpartum hemorrhage, which previously were scarce but are now common there. And the highly nutritious red rice has now become a limited, boutique commodity available only to the wealthier, as many reproductive options are. Just as the Climate Crisis may soon turn our world upside down (see below), so we must turn our cultural color valuations sideways, equally valuing all.

At a large Women Deliver conference, Robbie once heard a keynote speaker from India state, “What white people fear most are hordes of Black and Brown people descending on their shores,” and sadly, there is truth in that statement. Protests against immigrant refugees have already swept some European countries and added fuel to the fire of the “alt-right” movement in the US. Yet, again, humanitarianism demands the accommodation of everyone. As the current social movement reminds us all, “Black Lives Matter.” Thus white people will just have to get over their racism and their fears and accept that all of us will live in multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial societies if we are to survive and thrive as a species. Techno-sapiens should be color-blind, or rather multi-colored in a rainbow of human and technological possibilities. Achieving a non-racialized world presents a massive challenge: as Moll described in Chapter 5, even South Africa’s “rainbow nation” is still struggling with racial discrimination, almost 30 years after the end of Apartheid and despite a globally admired, non-racialized constitution. Whiteness must cease to be a criterion for “better.”

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