A few days ago I read a story from Rueters about a couple from Maine, who kidnapped their 19 year old daughter. They forced her into a car, and tried taking her to New York so they could force her to have an abortion. The daughter escaped and called police while she hid in a store in New Hampshire. The parents have been arrested and held on $100,000 bail. After reading the first couple paragraphs of the story, my immediate reaction was, “I wonder if the potential father is black.” However, the initial article reveals very little about the motive. After my initial read, the only motive I could glean was that the parents were mad that the boyfriend was in jail. But, this story didn’t add up to me. So yesterday, one of my students mentioned the story and said that–the kidnapped woman’s boyfriend is a black man, and the daughter told police that racism was a motive in the kidnapping.
Based on my research on interracial relationships, this story actually fits fairly well into the narratives I have seen in many white families where relatives strongly object to interracial relationships. The only thing that surprises me about the story is that the parents attempted to kidnap this woman; the cases I know of personally generally involve less direct coercion. I know of 2 cases (one in my research and one in another sociological study) where parents of a white person in an interracial relationship suggested, encouraged, and promoted abortion to prevent the birth of a biracial child (I am hesitantly using the term biracial because most of the white relatives would say the child is black.). I also know of other cases where people encouraged white mother’s to place a child for adoption because the child’s father was black, and I know of many situations where white families offered bribes and/or withdrew emotional and/or financial support as a way to discourage an interracial relationship or a pregnancy that resulted from such a relationship. In these cases, white relatives feel they are protecting the family’s reputation, and/or they feel that the relative in the interracial relationship is too naive (especially women) to know what she/he is getting into. White relatives who feel this way believe that birth of a biracial child is a permanent marker of an interracial relationship that will hurt their relative’s social standing (white privilege), and to some extent, I’m sure they are right about this. The irony of this is that many white relatives of interracial couples would be the first to say that race doesn’t matter or that whites do not have unearned privileges, but suddenly when it hits close to home, they change their tune.
The media attention given to this kidnapping has been varied, ranging from the first story, which was completely raceless, to the subsequent story where race is revealed as a motive. This story also has implications for abortion politics, and thus, it has received attention from those for and against abortion rights. I thought a nice sampling of headlines for this story would reveal a lot about our racial politics, our abortion politics, and where location where race and abortion politics intersect (or don’t intersect in public life).
We’ll start with this headline from BET.com–“Parents Were Upset Baby’s Father Was Black, Police Say.” Note how this headline focuses on the father’s race as the point of contention for the parents. I also found it interesting that the author uses the term “unborn child.” I know this phrase is passe among many pro-choice advocates, but I can clearly understand why an African American writer would choose to emphasize personhood, given the long history African peoples being treated as less than human. I tried to walk the tightrope between my pro-choice and pro-black views by using this phrase, “to prevent the birth of a biracial child.”
This headline from Seascoastonline.com comes from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Herald–“A call for calm in kidnapping probe.” The article is from AP, but even if an article comes from AP, local papers make up their own headlines. What is so ridiculous about this headline is that the article has nothing whatsoever to do with “a call for calm.” I don’t know if the person who wrote this headline was worried that the 10 Black people who live in NH were going to go out and protest this, but the headline certainly does not match the story (Ok, I know the number of Black folks in NH is more than 10, but please allow me a sarcastic moment.). The actual article makes NO mention of the racial aspects of the case, which I don’t necessarily object to. However, I frequently see articles “calling for calm” any time an event is racially charged. Now here is a better headline for the same AP release–“Prosecutors mum on kidnapping charge.” Yes, the headline avoids the race issue, but at least it matches the subject. I would expect a prosecutor not to divulge too much information in a high profile case, to try to preserve the jury pool. But how can the same article have such dramatically different headlines.
Next comes this headline from Truth Dig.com, a progressive website that seems to cater to a white audience–“Taking the ‘Choice’ Out of ProChoice.” The article makes several good points about reframing pro-choice politics, and remains nearly silent on the racism issue until we get to this lovely quote:
“The back story, as assembled by police and reporters, has all the elements of soap opera even in its bare bones. Katelyn, a high school honors student who enrolled in Boston College, had been sent to George Washington University in an attempt by her parents to distance her from her boyfriend. The debacle followed her parents’ discovery that she was back in Maine and pregnant. Katelyn has told authorities that her parents were outraged because her boyfriend is black. Their attitude may have been more shaped by the fact that he is in jail, again. But there is nothing that justifies duct tape or the destination.”
Well, Ellen Goodman needs to read the other reports because this young woman has explicitly stated to police that her parents were upset about the race of her boyfriend, not his criminal record. She seems to take it upon herself to down play the race issue and provide a pseudo-justification for the parents (He’s a jailbird.). What’s sad about this headline, is that it is the same problem we have over and over again in the white progressive/liberal/feminist blogosphere. Some white progressive/liberal/feminist takes it upon her/himself to very carefully outline a progressive/liberal/feminist perspective on a hot button issue (in this case abortion), while simultaneously marginalizing racism and the perspectives of people of color. She makes a good point that this case in no way undermines pro-choice politics, and the family would have an extremely difficult time finding a doctor to perform an abortion on an unwilling woman. Unfortunately, Goodman doesn’t realize (or care about??) the clear racial implications of the case.
- Now here’s another pathetic take on this story. This time we have the anti-abortion website Lifesite with–“New Website Details Thousands of Violent Crimes by Abortion Supporters.” The authors are promoting a new site that basically argues that pro-choice advocates are a bunch of criminals, and the site attempts to use this case to demonstrate the “violent nature of abortion.” While the article briefly mentions race; the author also decides that abortion is violent and the parents were violent not because of their racism but because in the words of one anti-abortion activist, “Abortion is one of the most violent acts known in the history of mankind and its acceptance into our otherwise civil society has served to breed more and more violence to the point where we are now witnessing parents who physically subdue and kidnap their own children in an effort to force them to abort their unborn grandchildren.” Does this guy really think the parents would have wanted this woman to have an abortion if the guy was white? Isn’t racism the underlying cause of this violent act. These crazy parents don’t epitomize pro-choice advocates. First, how can anybody even remotely think that kidnapping somebody and trying to force that same person to have an abortion is in anyways consistent with pro-choice politics. Clearly these parents were anti-choice because they didn’t want to let their daughter have any say in this matter.
A case like this can be framed and used to promote multiple viewpoints, as the headlines reveal. Unfortunately, the vast majority of media outlets, pushed the racist elements of this story to the back of the agenda. In particular, people seem to be attracted to the abortion angle of the story, not the racist angle. If you miss the racist, angle of this story than you miss a huge piece of the puzzle.