The Price of Black Life: A Response to Sperm Bank Lawsuit Over Black Baby

$50,000 -- is that the cost of consoling white parents who have to raise a black child?

In the past week, most of us have become familiar with the case of Jennifer Cramblett's decision to sue her fertility clinic for erroneously providing her with sperm from a black donor instead of a white donor she chose.

Devastated by the news of the clinic's error, The Washington Post says the court documents indicate that Jennifer Cramblett, "Jennifer was crying, confused, and upset." The couple has since had their now 2-year old daughter, Payton but reportedly filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages against Midwest Sperm Bank on September 29th for, "wrongful birth and breach of warranty, citing emotional and economic damage," the article continued.

I have since read many articles detailing the couple's experience stating they love their daughter deeply but are concerned about raising her in their predominately white community. While I do believe Jennifer and Amanda have legal grounds to sue and it is certainly their prerogative to do so, no one seems to be asking broader questions here. The most obvious one to me is: What will Payton think when she becomes aware in her adolescence that they initiated a lawsuit over her conception? Maybe she will understand, but perhaps not.

Suppose she develops a deep cultural shaming and struggles with cultivating a healthy identity of herself. I by no means wish that fate on anyone, but our actions do not exist in a vacuum and there is a greater context in which Jennifer's lawsuit exists. In a society where characteristics of criminalization and dehumanization are overwhelmingly publicly and privately forced upon black bodies, our children's self-worth hangs in the balance.

Let us take it a step further. Exactly what is this particular case indicative of regarding the value of black life, Blackness, or black characteristics in American culture? A lesbian couple, which may not otherwise be able to reproduce, reacts in a distraught way to having a black daughter, albeit through an unexpected mix-up. The Chicago Tribune reported, "Cramblett was raised around people with stereotypical attitudes about nonwhites, the lawsuit states, and did not know African-Americans until she attended college at the University of Akron." The article goes on to state the anxiety and stress that the couple has endured raising a "mix-raced" child. Payton was not born with a physical illness or deformity that may impede her quality of life; however their reaction ascribes similarly grave negative attributes to this little girl's black body. One can only imagine the anxiety and stress their daughter Payton will experience when she later has the opportunity to see how they so viciously characterize the burden of raising a multi-ethnic.

It is largely accepted that race is a social construct, as it is scientifically stated that all humans' DNA is 99.9 percent identical. Thus we self-identify our race or ethnicity as is noted even on U.S. Census Bureau forms. Given these facts, there is a minor chance that regardless which sperm donor the couple chose, it may still have resulted in a child with features that they perceive as "non-white." Many physical traits lay recessive in our genes and in a society that is experiencing major demographic shifts with regards to multi-ethnic people, it is possible. That reality engenders discomfort in many people, but Jennifer Cramblett's choice to continue to perpetuate the discomfort in society does very little to mitigate the problem or the prejudice Payton faces.

An alternative choice to the road Jennifer has chosen would be to use their situation and media coverage to reach out to other ethnically blended families for guidance and support. If Jennifer and her partner Amanda are truly invested in creating a safe and accepting space to raise their daughter in, it would appear that waging a lawsuit protesting her very existence is a rather counter-intuitive, misguided, and harmful choice to make.

Perhaps only cognitive dissonance could possibly define the couple's "deep love" for their daughter while simultaneously objecting to an essential part of her existence, her Blackness.