On White, American Family Values
In his book Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform, Tommie Shelby explores the
ethics of procreating and parenting and its relationship to the ghetto poor and social justice. Particularly in his fourth chapter entitled, “Reproduction,” Shelby examines whether it is wrong to procreate under the condition to which a child will be born into already poor and disadvantaged circumstances, especially by often young, “single mothers who may lack the resources, maturity, or skills necessary to adequately care for their children,” and what may be combined with an absent father who are unable to meet their parental obligations (pg 119).
In investigating his moral question, Shelby explores the arguments and perspectives that some individuals have on the correlation between procreating while poor and the ghetto poor. First he mentions the group of people who assert that poverty (and maybe
ghettos) would decrease if irresponsible and poor procreating stopped. As he describes, “...some believe that if more blacks would delay childbearing until they were older and financially secure, [and]would get married or form stable co-parenting unions if they are going to have children, andfaithfully carry out their parental duties (including child support when unions aren’t formed orissolve), the cycle of poverty in ghettos could be broken” (pg 119). These liberals seem to thinkthat these poor parents should have known they would be raising their child/ren in pooronditions, hence, their irresponsibility in raising their own children is not excused by the merefact that the parents are poor. That is, it is viewed that these parents chose to continue to be
disadvantaged and bring a poor child into this world, and this is believed to be “wrong,”which iswhy some individuals believe the parents should be penalized, and that is why governmentprograms intervene to influence the families behaviors and finances, and some even take thechild away from their families (ACS).
A second perspective raised by Shelby regards these procreative choices of the ghetto
poor as forcing unfair charges and responsibilities on the public, who pay taxes for these socialservices to help poor children and families, as well as oversee juvenile delinquency and crime.They view these parents as doing an injustice to the poor child and the public. “Such conduct,they insist, is a violation of civic reciprocity and warrants a punitive response.” (pg 121). Thisless compassionate point of view also agrees with punishing parents and allowing governmentprograms to intervene, but only to meet the basic needs of the children. They are not willing toraise public spending for these families.Yet, ironically, so many welfare benefits and government policies promote the single-parent model, providing single-mothers more financial benefits than if she were to marry andinclude her husband's income. Through food stamps, house vouchers, educational benefits,
medical care, and cash assistance, these single-women are able to remain financially stable, but if
they were to include the father’s contributions, their welfare beneifts would be decreasred, since
the family has an increase in income. Thus, the single-parent has more reaosn to remain a single
parent, or atelast, not record the dad’s contributions on their tax documents.The father’s may also
be legitimately absent and not be paying child-support, which is a vital reason the single-mother
would need financial help. What’s worse, the father may be in jail (sometimes for not paying
child-support), since it is no surprise that the US incarceration system is corrupt and is majority
filled with black inmates. In his 2014 article, “How Welfare Undermines Marriage and What to
Do About It,” Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, succinctly
articulates the many ways the US Welfare system punishes poor, married families, while
providing higher financial incentives for mother to remain single parents:
“It is no accident that the collapse of marriage in America largely began with the
War on Poverty and the proliferation of means-tested welfare programs that it
fostered. When the War on Poverty began, only a single welfare program—Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—assisted single parents. Today,
dozens of programs provide benefits to families with children… A second major
problem is that the means-tested welfare system actively penalizes low-income
parents who do marry. All means-tested welfare programs are designed so that a
family’s benefits are reduced as earnings rise. In practice, this means that, if a
low-income single mother marries an employed father, her welfare benefits will
generally be substantially reduced. The mother can maximize welfare by
remaining unmarried and keeping the father’s income “off the books.”
Shelby too gives many effective reasons to avoid procreating when one is already poor.
He first explains that being raised under consistent poverty has a negative impact on one’s
cognitive and verbal capacities, consequently influencing a child’s academic success. In addition,
many low-income mothers have babies born premature or with low birth weights, which
increases the baby’s risk for many health-related and developmental issues. Furthermore, young
mothers, he asserts, usually have limited education (giving their child less cognitive support and
aid), and do not have the maturity or life-experience to be responsible, have self-control,
resilience, independence, or wisdom to raise a child. He cautions that a child’s first couple years
of their development are crucial, hence, the environment they are raised in greatly impacts their
growth and future. Stressful, erratic, inconsistent, and insecure households can be very difficult
for a child to be adequately cared for, and may lead to emotional and behavioral issues, on top of
the financial stressors that may position parents to also develop mental health problems, which
may lead to quicker, harsher discipline (and more stress on the child).
To explain his own argument, Shelby challenges the idea of choice, and explores whether
or not these women do in fact have a choice, and to what extent can we then claim the parent is
morally wrong? Because these poor women were born into poverty, which is correlated with so
many other negative disadvantages, he believes that they did not actually have a choice to not
raise their child in poverty, or make the best judgment because of their multiple disadvantages
and stressor. Shelby agrees with individuals who think that anti-poverty programs that affect
poor families cannot succeed unless they also provide structural changes, that is, changes that
affect the poverty the parents were born into and have remained in, even before the child was
born. This argument asks many questions, such as: Why were the parents unemployed to begin
with? Are there any job opportunities? Did the mother have rights and money to get
contraceptives or an abortion in her state? Was the women raped? Does the woman feel societal
pressure to have a child because she is woman of a certain age? Do the parents have any mental
health issues that may affect their judgement and impulsivity? Were there any intellectual or
educational barriers that may have created obstacles for higher cognitive development, leading to
better decision-making and planning skills? Etc.
To go further, Shelby brings up the determinate of foreseeable risk of harm, to decide
when it is morally wrong to procreate, but he states many reasons why it would be difficult to
define “harm,” let alone set a risk threshold (pg 128). He explores Elizabeth Harman’s Harm
Principle, which “would condemn the procreation decisions of only those poor single women
who have the option to delay procreation while they acquire an adequate co-parent, increase their
earning power, or both,” but do not wait. Hence, in Harman’s view, these women would be
morally wrong because they had a choice to not bring their child into poor circumstances, but
they did not take it, they did not wait. But, Harman assumes that all poor women have a choice.
Following her Harm Principle, many poor black women would never have kids, even if they
wanted to, because they would violate the Harm Principle and not be able to get out of their own
poverty or find a financially stable union with a partner. Shelby also has issue with the principle
and doubts that the Harm Principle would make procreation forbidden for the normal poor single
black woman, since they usually “don’t have the option to procreate outside of poverty” (pg
Furthermore, Shelby references James Woodward’s principle of wrongful procreation,
which Shelby labels, the Reproductive Responsibility Principle (RRP), which maintains that if
you cannot fulfill your responsibilities or obligations to the child, is it a wrongful procreation (pg
131). Woodward’s principle calls for the parent to think about the possible effects and
responsibilities that would fall upon others if they do not care for the child themselves. Hence,
the parent should be aware that they are being held accountable to parent by others, including the
public. If you cannot take on the responsibility, it is “wrongful procreation.” However, if one
procreates with the rational expectation that another will do the parenting (which occurs in
prearranged adoption, surrogacy, gamete donation), “no relevant procreative wrong has
occurred” (pg 132). There is a level of awareness that is assumed in the Reproductive
Responsibility Principle, that Shelby finds faults in, especially since the “civic reciprocity”
promoted by the principle (don’t create a burden on the public if you cannot care for your child),
does not apply to the basic foundation of the U.S. society (pg 133). As Shelby explains, “The
public at large is (at least partly) responsible for the fact that these women lack the necessity
means to provide adequate care for their young and so cannot justly complain of being wronged”
I agree with Shelby’s argument that one cannot claim a parent is wrong for “poor
procreation,” since she did not have any other choice or opportunity to do it any other way,
especially because the society she lives in has made it so difficult to get out of poverty.
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In addition, I think that a small (or maybe big) part of the reason poor women have
children is there unconscious and unchallenged belief that they need to or must have children.
Society enforces family values, especially onto women, and women may not seriously think
about not having kids, as much as they seriously (or not so seriously) think about having kids. If
we did indeed live in such a progressive society, some of these poor women (assuming they have
the finances and ability to have an abortion) may not have children at all, but I think it is the
promotion of family values, gender expectation, as well as the stigma surrounded by voluntarily
deciding not to have children, it's lifestyle, and sometimes even singledom, that unconsciously
(or not) leads women to procreate, regardless of their finances, and regardless if they have any of
their own reasons for having children (besides society’s expectations).
I do not think it is selfish (as the stigma may be about voluntarily childfree individuals)
to not have children, because children will not only deplete your finances and be a huge
responsibility, but also cause headaches, back-aches, weight gain, increase your stress, anxiety,
depression, etc. Of course there is also an infinite amount of joy, love, happiness, and sublime
feelings and experiences that could make all the negatives of having and raising children seem
irrelevant, and no one, including poor parents, should be denied the overwhelming positive
emotions, or practical feelings of accomplishment, pride, and reward for at least trying to raise a
child, or what’s more, “succeeding.”
But, as I will lastly assert (in conjunction with reproductive and abortion rights), if our
society allowed more space for women to think about, and actually live a full childfree life, and
if our media (television, films, books) showed more of these women, we may use this increase in
societal acceptance and freedom of choice as a cost effective way to reduce government
spending (if taxes is what we are so worried about).
On Poor Black Folks/Women We Have Children in the US
Instead of analyzing gender, race, class, and nation as separate social hierarchies, intersectionality explores the reciprocal and dynamic relationship within these categories, which create and influence each other.
Intersectional-Feminism is intrinsically promoted at No Nest. When I think of my whole self--as a feminist, psychotherapist for individuals (including parents, adolescents, and children) and couples, along with my child free identity and Dominican/Latina identity, I recognize the importance of creating space for ALL individuals, including MEN, POC, and WOC to explore this topic of parenthood. As far as the academic literature goes, the samples of childfree women have been white. As a feminist in the 21st century, I am making it my life goal to change that and create space for ALL people, WOC especially, to THINK about the decision, regardless if they decide to have kids or not, because one thing that it appears that most childfree individuals have is time and space to THINK and build self-awareness, but if you're worrying about your basic needs (food, shelter, clothing etc.) and are too entrenched within your own culture group/s, I can see it being very difficult to even pause and think about the decision." --Jasmine Celeste
"Some people are more feminist than others"
It can be said that it is easier for men than women, to decide not to have children,since women are the one's who actually have the reproductive organs and ability to do so. In this sense, and in so many other (obvious) ways, males have privilege. One of the main provileges that childfree men have in the US is in their ability to get "preemptive" vasectomies, while many doctors refuse to sterilize childfree women, even though any woman twenty-one or older is legally eligible for voluntary sterilization, as long as they are mentally competent.
In her 2013 article, "Voluntary Sterilization for Childfree Women," Christina Richie investigates the reasons why childfree women desire sterilization, along with the reported reason for denial of sterilization,from both the woman's and doctor's points of view. She recommends that doctors adhere to guidelines for counseling women who want sterilization, as well as call for doctors to rethink their oppositional view o voluntary sterilization for childfree women.
The themes that Richie found concerning the reason childfree women requested tion varied, though there were some similarities of responses. One main
was request for steriliation for persnioal health issues.
r for some women revolved around medical reason. For instance, for some, they wanted to be sterilized because of the inconvience that would arise with being pregnant with a prior medical condition that "contraindicates" doing so. A second "factor"
erilization was the anxiety of passing a long a genetic abnormality, hereditary condition, or recessive disease to their child. These women may want to adopt some day, but do not want to give birth.
The concerns noted by the physicians were the possibility of the patient's "regret," even if, ardless of regret, a pregnancy would be "perilous" to their health.
"responsibility and concern for future children is to be commended, and the decision not to become a biological parent ought to be respected by providing permanent contraception when such concerns are present. Doctors who deny these childfree women sterilization are ultimately asking them to use a second-choice birth control, risk their health by carrying a pregnancy to term, or wait until they have to resort to an abortion." ph 37
The second set of reasons was for personal reasons--environmental concern, financial and relation investment aversion, childbearing, "feminist push against motherhood," and a highly satisfying lifestyle without children (pg 37). impacting population growth
resource consumption, and environmental degradation. of course, the idea that population growth is detrimental to the environment is not new, but the modern childfree, self-proclaimed “GINKs” (green inclinations, no kids) take pride in contributing to the environmental movement by not leaving an enduring carbon contribution. GINKs believe “a baby would pollute the planet—and that never having a child [is] the most environmentally friendly thing [one] can do.”
The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that it will cost slightly over $300,000 for a middle-class family to raise one child to adulthood. This does not include prenatal or birth expenses, the soaring cost of college tuition, luxuries like music lessons or sports, or any medical emergencies. Instead of seeing children as a tax-deduction, some childfree women see them as a tax liability. Money managers who suggest forgoing children in order to retire early have taken this idea to the extreme. Any combination of the above reasons, in conjunction with an antipathy for traditional female and mothering roles, can be determining factors in wanting to avoid pregnancy and childbirth for life via sterilization.
Because the values of living without children are so strongly held in these women, they seek the certainty that they will not have to endure a compulsory pregnancy or have to resort to an abortion to maintain their quality of life, and they may therefore request sterilization as a permanent and reliable form of contraception. This is neither a difficult nor a risky request."
Women who request sterilization after other contraception
Food and Drug Administration, “Birth Control Guide,” March 21, 2012, http://www.fda.gov.proxy.wexler.hunter.cuny.edu/forconsumers/byaudi-ence/forwomen/ucm118465.htm.
18K. D. Bledin et al., “Contraceptive Attitudes and Practice in Women Choosing Sterilization,” Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners(1984): 595–99.
19Wallace, “Childless by Choice.”
Reasons women report being denied sterilization.
Scott, Two Is Enough, 189; Walker, 143.
Reasons physicians report denying sterilization.