Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times, and the Racism of Low Expectations

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In an August 1, 2015, editorial in the New York Times entitled “Our Sex-Crazed Congress,” Nicholas Kristof argues that Congress is wrong to “destroy” the Title X program as part of its attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Title X clinics provide “family planning and often test for HIV, cure sexually transmitted infections, and screen for cervical and breast cancer.” Kristof goes on to hypothesize that, by providing contraception, Title X “prevents an abortion about once every 90 seconds.” Kristof then describes his visit to a Title X clinic in Baltimore where he meets “China,” a 16 year old girl who is being treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The nurse practitioner treating China asks if she uses condoms when she has sex. China says no, and, after being handed a bag of condoms, China indicates that her boyfriend will probably not want to use them. The nurse declares: “These are the rules. No condoms, no sex.”

China leaves the clinic with her STD’s treated, a bag of condoms, and a fleeting and ineffective bit of advice. But what has not been treated or even examined is the deeper reason why China is there. In any other area of medicine, this care would be substandard.

If, for example, 16 year old China were morbidly obese with indications of Type 2 diabetes, wouldn’t it be the standard to help China change her diet to healthy foods, increase her exercise, and examine the reasons why she makes poor health choices? If 16 year old China were a drug addict, wouldn’t the goal be to help China break her drug habit and obtain the therapy she needs?  If 16 year old China were smoking cigarettes and getting drunk on a regular basis, wouldn’t the standard be to encourage China to stop smoking and drinking, and to help her to choose healthy behaviors?

Why is it sufficient for the China’s of our nation that we merely seek to cure her current STD and give her condoms? Why isn’t China important enough for someone to stop and ask her the obvious questions: China, why are you having sex with a man who doesn’t care enough to wear condoms? China, why are you having sex at all at age 16? What are your dreams for yourself, China? What kind of life do you wish to have, China, and what can we do to help you achieve that? Finally, China’s boyfriend—why is your definition of manliness mean misogyny and irresponsible sex? What are your dreams for your life? You too deserve to fulfill them.

Then, why aren’t we bolstering her, not just once, but over time, with words, action, and, yes, our time? China, you don’t need to settle for having sex, especially with a man who doesn’t respect you. China, you deserve to focus on your education, your dreams, and your gifts. China, you were born to do great things and to use your mind and talents to help the world and feel the joy of living to your potential. China, it is wrong for you to settle for the low expectations which have been placed upon you by others. You deserve better. How can I walk with you and help you?

It is these low expectations which programs like Title X promulgate and continue to maintain. It is these low expectations which lead 16 year old China’s to believe that abortion is not just their only choice, but a good and “normal” choice. These low expectations are especially insidious because they are often disguised as “good works” or “progressive ideas.” And more often than not, white people, many of whom are self-righteously backed by newspapers like the New York Times, deceive themselves. Of course, we don’t see ourselves thinking that poor black folk have less value that the rest of us—but we surely act that way—in the services we provide and the attitudes we profess. Those attitudes have been there long before Margaret Sanger described them in writing about the organization which would become Planned Parenthood:

We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities.  The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” (Letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, Dec. 19, 1939)

“Birth control must ultimately lead to a cleaner race.” (Women, Morality, and Birth Control, New York Publishing Company, 1922. p. 12.)

In quiet conversations, you will still hear white people stating that abortion is necessary because ‘what we will do with all of those inner-city black kids who will grow up and commit crimes?’ In hushed innuendos, you will hear white people agreeing that birth control is needed for the black population because ‘they just can’t control themselves.’ With winks and nods, you will hear white people joking about ‘five kids all by different fathers’ as proof that there is not the same level of love or care in poor black families as in white. All the while, there is still a deep lack of awareness of white privilege and the devastating legacy of slavery in our country, and little desire to correct that gap in awareness. Is it any wonder that in New York City, in 2012 alone, more black babies were aborted than were born, and abortion of black babies accounted for almost half of all abortions? (“#BlackLivesMatter but not at Planned Parenthood,” Brian C. Joondeph, July 27, 2015, www.americanthinker.com ) Yet the 16 year old China’s of our nation are taught to expect nothing more.

In her excellent essay, “An Honest Conversation About Abortion that Asks Us Not to Turn Away from Anyone: The Emmaus Option,” (August, 6, 2015, www.aholyexperience.com), author Ann Voskamp (@AnnVoskamp) argues that abortion “isn’t so much about a woman having a choice—but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all.”

It is easy to call for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and Title X clinics. What we need to do as a Church AND as a society, in order to be truly pro-life and “pro-human,” as Voskamp states, is to “forge a way forward that is the most authentically human—for both the human in utero and the human in the hard place.” Like Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with His disciples, we need to reach out personally, compassionately, and without judgment to the China’s (and China’s boyfriends’) in our midst. We need to walk with them so that they can realize the depth and breadth and possibilities of their choices, and know that abortion never needs to be one. The Church already does enormous good work in this regard, but we, as individuals and as Church, need to do more. For it is through loving, patient, personal contact that true change occurs.

Abortion, treatment for STD’s, and birth control clinics for the China’s of our country do not solve the deeper problem. We must value China’s life, mind, and dreams, and walk hand in hand with her to help her achieve them. We must stop believing that giving a 16 year old girl antibiotics and a bag of condoms is the best we can do. Dr. Martin Luther King referred to this kind of thinking as the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” but truly there is nothing “soft” about it. It’s racism, pure and simple. China is an American teen, she is our daughter, and she deserves better.

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16 thoughts on “Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times, and the Racism of Low Expectations”

  1. I’m really sick of hearing that the woman seeking the abortion is another blameless victim. I have no way of knowing whether the people pushing this idea really believe it, but it certainly looks like they’re just trying to get their cards punched as being holier and more thoughtful than those of us who have the most sympathy for the person who is completely vulnerable and who has no choice in any of this. This suspicion is reinforced when they try to play the card, “If you don’t agree with me and everything I say, I won’t call you pro-life.”

    Who the heck cares whether Cynthia Millen calls them pro-life or not? I didn’t know until this morning that Cynthia Millen even existed, but somehow I’m expected to accept her as the ultimate arbiter of what is or is not authentically pro-life?

    Everyone has a “reason” for the sins he commits: the woman seeking the abortion, the abortionist, the rapist, the adulterer, the terrorist, the thief; everyone. I have “reasons” for my sins, and you have reasons for yours. So what? What’s wrong is still wrong, and what’s sin is still sin.

  2. Bert and Andre,
    Your comments exemplify the discussions still being held around in cities across the U.S. and across family dinner tables. I can, from my outsider’s view, see that you are both right and both wrong in some ways. But what can we, as individuals do to change the fact that too many babies, especially black babies, are killed in our “throwaway culture,” and too many poor black (and white) kids never achieve their potential. They are sold short.
    I submit that government can really not do this. It’s a personal call to each one of us to get involved—perhaps as a Big Brother/Sister, perhaps as a volunteer mentor at a school, perhaps as a coach at Heartbeat or a pro-life health care center, perhaps as a teacher, perhaps through our parishes.
    No matter what the cause, there are kids who are falling through the cracks, and I think Jesus would be there reaching out to them with love and with a challenge too.
    Have a good evening and God bless you both.
    Cindy

    1. I agree that this needs to be a grass roots initiative but there are still things that governments can and must do. As I mentioned in another comment, if there are any discriminatory laws still on the books, they need to be identified and removed. Only governments can remove these laws.

      Governments also need to enforce the laws we do have. Clamping down on those who profit from civil unrest like Al Sharpton is one area that the government can start down the road to healing fairly easily.

      We also need to get all people to see their own racism. For example, if I, a white person, call a black person a “nigger”, I will be vilified for blatant racism. Fair enough. But, if that is racist and intolerant, why can blacks call each other “nigger” and call white people “cracker”? If one is racist, both are racist and no one should get a free pass. But, our society has been programmed to believe that only white people can be racist. That needs to be stopped.

  3. All in all an excellent article but I really must take exception to the “All the while, there is still a deep lack of awareness of white privilege and the devastating legacy of slavery in our country” comment. Both of those construct are nothing more crutches designed to keep minorities – especially blacks in this case – marginalized. They are basically the same as the comment “There, there, you can’t help yourself so let me do that for you”

    Slavery has been over for many, many years and the only blacks who believe that there is some sort of held over stigma are those who do not wish to take responsibility for their own lives. If people like Ben Carson can pull themselves out of the ghetto and become highly successful – in spite of their “blackness” – then anyone can do it. And don’t think that Ben Carson is an aberration. Many people over the years from every race have been successful in pulling themselves out of an impossibly bad situation and being successful. What they all had in common was the fact that not a single one of them gave up because they believed that their race, and therefore, they, were incapable of escaping the bonds of poverty.

    The same thing is true for “white privilege”. There is no such thing. Anyone can succeed if they want to. A white person has no advantage over anyone of any other race. Period. To push such nonsense is to do exactly what the article purports to defend against. It is the epitome of racism of low expectations. It basically holds that non-whites are effectively incapable of succeeding on their own so they must be helped. Horse feathers. Get past that garbage and live your lives to the fullest. Like the old adage says, it doesn’t mater if you believe that you can or you can’t, you are correct.

    1. Bert,
      Thank you for your comments.
      In light of the devastating effect which slavery had upon black families, and the continuing discrimination which was applied legally (and even after it was illegal) in our country through recent years, it is amazing to me that so many (the majority, in fact) of black families have survived and flourished. I don’t know if I could have been as strong. And the discrimination which my immigrant family (Irish) suffered pales in comparison because their faces were white. When slavery ended, it was in name only. The emotions and beliefs underpinning slavery carried over for many, many years. I can point to people whom I know right now in my “Union” state of Ohio who still believe that black people are somehow “less” then whites. It’s there. And every time we sell a black person short by assuming that the China’s of the nation deserve only so much care, or are only able to achieve so much, we continue to treat them as less. That’s my point. ALL children deserve to be uplifted and challenged. That is why I love teaching in Catholic schools. We have always been integrated and we have always challenged each child to use his/her God-given talents to the utmost of ability. No one is treated as a “there, there, poor dear.” This is what China deserves—-a challenge to be the best person she can be, and not settle for a disrespectful boyfriend and reoccurring STD’s and then call that great health care worth preserving. .

      White privilege: I must respectfully disagree with you there. Every time I walk into the mall with my strapping, tall son who happens to like to wear hoodies in the colder months, no one gives me a second look. If my son’s face were black, I know that there would be a different response. All of my good friends who are black have shared the same thing with me: At some point, they have to have “the talk” with their kids. Not the sex talk. The talk that makes their kids aware that, in some people’s eyes, the color of their skin makes them different. So when they are walking at night, don’t wear a hoodie. If you stop at a farm stand in the country, state your business right when you get out of the car. The grandparents of the white girl/guy you want to take to prom may not like you based upon your skin color. Avoid driving through certain upper class white neighborhoods at night, for you will certainly be pulled over. Yes, there are black angels in heaven, but you may not see them in the manger at church or in the stained glass windows. And yes, Jesus really did not have pale skin—he was darker—even though you may not see that in your Bible illustrations

      Yes, it is much better than it was. But it was just fifty years ago, when I was a little girl, that there was no such thing as a black baby doll, or children’s books with black faces. Again, that is why I love our Church and our Catholic schools. There have always been black members of our parish, black priests and sisters, black saints, and the expectation that every child of God is made in His image and can excel in the gifts He gave.

      Sorry to be so long winded! Have a wonderful Sunday.
      -CM

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Cynthia.

      I understand your position on slavery and what it meant to black families back in the day. But, with all due respect, that was 150 years ago. When are we going to drop that crutch? It happened and, as the military says, there isn’t thing one you can do about it. From a Christian perspective, we have to learn from what happened and guard against it happening again. To perpetuate the punishment for the wrongs done, though, is to perpetuate the feeling of victimhood amongst the black population, none of whom has ever been a slave (although some argue that Obama has enslaved most American blacks by making them dependent upon the state for almost everything, but that’s another story). Is that how Jews should behave? They were targeted for annihilation, not slavery. If anyone should have a claim on victimhood, I would think the Jews would be the first in line. But they aren’t. They got on with their lives. Most of them know that they can’t change what happened so, to coin a recent expression, they suck it up and get on with their lives.

      Does racial discrimination still exist? Absolutely! But, it isn’t a one way street. I remember reading a series of tweets on Twitter where a young lady made an obviously racist comment but when she was called on it, she claimed that it is impossible for her to be a racist because she is black. Yet, some of the most racist people I have ever met – in person or online – have been black. And, if you look back at the race riots in LA a number of years ago, what two groups faced off with the greatest hatred in their hearts? The blacks and the Asians (Korean, I believe). They hated one another with a very deep seated hate. Until we get this “only whites can be racist” rhetoric out of our society, we will be feeding the engine of racism instead of starving it into oblivion.

      As for your Irish ancestors, I beg to differ. The abject hatred directed against the Irish was just as brutal, if not more so, than anything black people have faced. True, it differed in scope, but the hatred was palpable. It had nothing to do with the color of their skin. The British and French hated one another for centuries and never missed an opportunity to do each other harm but both are white. Same thing with various African tribes. The slaughter of the Tutsi was not perpetrated by white folks but by blacks of another tribe (Hutu).

      The real irony here is that to consider racism to be the domain of only one race is, in itself, racist. All races experience racism and all races need to get it under control. They can only do that if and when they see the racism in themselves. Just as an alcoholic will never seek help as long as s/he fails to see that s/he is an alcoholic, people will not address their own racism until they admit that they are racist.

      For that matter, even your comment about the girl China in your article is borderline racist. When I read about her, I saw, in my minds eye, a 16 year old girl. Not a white girl or a black girl or an Asian girl, just a girl because the color of her skin is completely non-germane to the story being told. The issues she is (was?) facing transcend race and are experienced by all races.

      On the subject of “white privilege”, I still cannot agree that it exists. The examples you gave, while true, are not the result of some sort of privilege enjoyed by one race. Blacks account for less than 15% of the population of the US but are disproportionately represented in prisons. Why? Because they commit a large number of crimes! If you truly want to help these people, you have to find out why they are committing so many crimes! Riots break out when a white cop kills a black person but nothing is ever said about the fact that over 90% of all black homicide victims are killed by other blacks. This isn’t a white vs black issue, although there are those who certainly want to make it so.

      I don’t see Jesus as a white man or a black man or anything in between. He is God’s son. Too many people behave like if it were proven that Jesus was black, Christianity would implode. The color of His skin is irrelevant to His message. He preached love of our fellow man, not just of those of the same race we are.

      It sounds like you and I grew up at approximately the same time. I don’t know about you but I didn’t even see a black person until I was around 12 or 13. And, yes, I stared at the poor girl, not because I was a racist but because she looked out of place to me. A single black face in a sea of whites. But, is it racist that there were no black dolls available back then? Manufacturers have to build the things that their customers want. With the black population back then being around 10%, it made business sense to target white children with their toys. Was that racist? In a way, it was, but I don’t think that it was intended to be a slight against blacks. It was just businesses working to provide for their customer base. Nothing more.

      You have a wonderful Sunday as well 🙂 God bless you!

    3. Slavery has been over for many, many years and the only blacks who believe that there is some sort of held over stigma are those who do not wish to take responsibility for their own lives.

      I’m sorry, but this comment is indicative of somebody that hasn’t taken the time to read about the many different ways that blacks and other minorities have been discriminated against in this country.

      Redlining and racial covenant laws (to name just two racist practices) went on well into the 1960s, and the recent settlements by Wells Fargo and Countrywide show that racially biased lending practices are not behind us.

      FWIW, I think that The Case for Reparations is required reading for anyone that wishes to claim that, since slavery was a long time ago, blacks have no excuses except lack of responsibility.

      http://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/dojcountrywide-settlement-information
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_(law)
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/business/wells-fargo-to-settle-mortgage-discrimination-charges.html?_r=0

    4. I am not an expert on discriminatory laws but I am not ignorant of them, either. But, my point still stands. As long as you fly the slavery banner, bad stuff will happen.

      Look at Ferguson. A black man attacks a cop and tries to take the cops gun. The cop reacts by taking his gun and killing the black guy. Unfortunately, the cop is white which automatically makes this a racial hate crime according to the media – who, incidentally had no idea what had happened. That was a year ago. To mark the anniversary, there are riots in Ferguson and a state of emergency has been declared.

      Why is this happening? If you grab for a cops gun, you will die. I don’t give a rat’s petootie what color your skin is, you try to kill a cop, you will die. I do not advocate for capital punishment but cops have the right to go home to their families just as much as I do. But, these incidents and the violence that comes after them tells us that we have a large number of people who want the violence. Since the majority of the people involved in these riots are black, are you going to tell me that this is a hold over from slavery? Yes, a lot of crap happened in the past, stuff that cannot be justified by any rational human being but the longer yo hang onto that stuff and ruminate about how things should have handled, the longer you will perpetuate these feelings and the more people will die. We have to stop the victim train before the entire country erupts. It may even be too late now.

    5. But, my point still stands. As long as you fly the slavery banner, bad stuff will happen.

      Your point here, is unintelligible to me.

      But, these incidents and the violence that comes after them tells us that we have a large number of people who want the violence.

      You’re right, just not in the way you think you are. We as a society, when we chose to set our justice system up the way we have, want to make violence on certain people. Often, those people are minorities.

      Since the majority of the people involved in these riots are black, are you going to tell me that this is a hold over from slavery?

      I mean, you could just read the DOJ report on Ferguson to get an idea of what these riots are about (hint: it’s not slavery). That you want to keep casting those who are angry as wanting to hold onto (what you term as) ‘long-ago slavery’, while seemingly ignoring the mounting evidence of continuous, systemic discrimination, says a great deal about you.

      We have to stop the victim train before the entire country erupts.

      Yes, and to keep with your train analogy, if the powers that be would stop laying down the tracks of oppression, the victim train might eventually stop.

      Or we could keep pretending like the end of slavery marked the end of any real injustices being perpetrated against black people in this country.

    6. So, let’s look at the riots: There was a huge amount of destruction of locally owned businesses. Who owned those businesses? Black people. So, what was the point? If these people are truly being oppressed by white people, why are they destroying black owned businesses?

      And if you think that this is an example of black people being oppressed by whites, look at Baltimore. A similar situation except that the mayor is black, as is the Chief of Police and at least 50% of police officers. The District Attorney is also black. Over half of the population (63%) is black. So, where is this systemic oppression coming from? Here’s an interesting take on Baltimore: http://allenbwest.com/2015/04/the-dirty-little-secret-no-one-wants-to-admit-about-baltimore/

      We have to get past the wrongs that have been done. If there are still laws on the books that are discriminatory, identify them and get rid of them. As long as you have one group of Americans who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are being oppressed by another group, you will never have peace. If you want people to die and blood to run in the streets, maintain the status quo. If you want it to stop, we have to take a different approach. The truth would be a good start.

    7. So, what was the point? If these people are truly being oppressed by white people, why are they destroying black owned businesses?

      I’m sorry, is your question about how a mob during a riot chooses which buildings to vandalize, or whether or not the riots were a “hold over from slavery”? I can’t answer the former, but I think you will come to understand the latter if you take a look at the Ferguson DOJ report I linked earlier.

      If these people are truly being oppressed by white people, why are they destroying black owned businesses?

      First of all, let’s remember that I referred to the “powers that be” when speaking of oppressors. Now, throughout much of American history, these powers have largely been white powers. That does not exclude the possibility of co-opting black individuals into carrying out racist policies against their brothers and sisters. Those in Baltimore have inherited a system that oppresses, whether or not they knew it at the time. Perhaps many of these leaders worked to change the system from the inside, but it does no good to assume that a few individuals can undo decades of systemic problems.

      And if you think that this is an example of black people being oppressed by whites, look at Baltimore. A similar situation except that the mayor is black, as is the Chief of Police and at least 50% of police officers. The District Attorney is also black. Over half of the population (63%) is black.

      We should probably also assume that this has always been the case in Balimore, right? Of course not. The population has only been majority black since the 1970s. The first black mayor was not elected there until 1987. You’ve had decades of racial policies shaping the city into what it was – so unless you think that you can undo entire neighborhoods and/or political bases in that little time, it’s almost irrelevant what the leadership looks like today.

      If you want people to die and blood to run in the streets, maintain the status quo. If you want it to stop, we have to take a different approach. The truth would be a good start.

      Sure, which I why – having read enough things like the DOJ’s Ferguson report – I’m for taking a different approach. And, since you’re such a fan of the truth, perhaps you should refrain from characterizing black people who point out racial discrimination as merely wanting to avoid taking personal responsibility, and/or saying such silly things as ‘slavery was a long time ago’.

    8. I did not say that black people who point out discrimination are merely wanting to avoid taking personal responsibility. I was specifically talking about people who use the fact that slavery was legal in the US as an excuse to not take personal responsibility for their own lives. We need more people like Ben Carson and Allen West to come forward and point out these things and to act as role models for young black men.

      Look at the movie “The Blind Side”. One of the most poignant scenes in that movie for me was when the childhood friends of Michael Oher tried to get him to stay in the ghetto and get involved in drugs and crime like them. They were jealous of Michael’s success in sports, even before he became famous. He was, to them, an “oreo”, a sellout to blacks. That is the kind of thing that young black men face today. Even in the movie, a young man who was also good in sports was introduced but who chose to stay in the company of his friends. He ended up dead while Michael went on to have a good life.

      That isn’t white oppression of blacks or systemic oppression. It is from the black community.

    9. I mean:

      Slavery has been over for many, many years and the only blacks who believe that there is some sort of held over stigma are those who do not wish to take responsibility for their own lives.

      VS

      I did not say that black people who point out discrimination are merely wanting to avoid taking personal responsibility.

      What “stigma” are you referring to then?

      Look at the movie “The Blind Side”

      Oh, ok. Sorry, my apologies, I thought we were adults trying to have a serious conversation about race.

      Do yourself a favor, instead of settling for letting Sandra Bullock vehicles and Tea Party tokens informing you on these issues, why not look at what those who are actually studying the history and analyzing the current systems have to say? You want to explore the truth? Read the DOJ Ferguson report, read reporting how how long redlining went on in the US, and what its effect was.

    10. You must be a liberal. You can’t see the substance of an argument so you fall back on that old favorite, ad hominem attacks.

      If you bothered to read what I wrote, you might see that it had nothing to do with Sandra Bullock or the Tea Party. It had to do with the lifestyle depicted, accurately, in that movie that the average young black man has to face growing up. Until you understand that, further dialogue is fruitless.

  4. Thank You Richard.
    Both Andre and China deserve better and no one should be trapped by society’s assumptions about them. So proud to be on your team!
    Cindy

  5. Completely blows me away. Your depth of understanding goes far beyond a political rallying cry. That your story and my friend Andres’s which I wrote would come out on the same day in CS is truly providential. In China’s case it was opposite-sex behavior and in his case (and in my past) same-sex. But in both cases it was looking for love, and having no adult to say, there is really, honestly a better way to live. Thank you for this amazing article.

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