How much does it cost to raise a child in America today? Not some child prodigy who needs expensive music lessons, or a child with special needs; just feeding and clothing your average kid until college. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs about $245,000 to raise a child born in 2013 from birth to 18 years old. To quote Matthew McConaughey from A Time to Kill, I ask you : “Now, imagine if that child was black!” Because that’s the question at the root of a lawsuit against Midwest Sperm Bank by a White lesbian couple in Ohio. How much does raising “Blackness” cost? It’s an important question, because if these women win their case…America may have a whole new conversation about reparations to think about.
The story of Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon would be your typical human interest story in People if it didn’t have more demographic twists and turns than a Shonda Rhimes drama. Jennifer and Amanda are a white Lesbian couple living in very conservative, very rural Uniontown Ohio, (population 2,802.) In 2011, they decided to start a family and sought out Midwest Sperm Bank to get things started. The couple looked through several potential donors and made it clear that they wanted Caucasian sperm. However, after Jennifer got pregnant and sought sperm from the same donor for her partner Amanda they discovered a mix up at the sperm bank. Jennifer had been accidently given sperm from an African American donor, and a few months later gave birth to baby Payton, whose curly hair and brown skin confirmed the mix up. Now the domestic partners are suing, citing breach of contract from the sperm bank and citing extensive damages for the lifelong costs of having to raise a Black child.
Now before judging this couple as a pair of White women basking in their own privilege they state clearly in their suit that:
“Jennifer bonded with Payton easily and she and Amanda love her very much. Even so, Jennifer lives each day with fears, anxieties and uncertainty about her future and Payton's future."
And what do those fears, anxieties and uncertainties stem from? According to the lawsuit Jennifer Cramblett was raised in a small racist town, by a small racist family where she often hides her sexuality and where open hostility towards people of color is the norm.
"Because of this background and upbringing, Jennifer acknowledges her limited cultural competency relative to African-Americans and steep learning curve, particularly in small, homogenous Uniontown, which she regards as too racially intolerant,"
What are costs of this “limited cultural competency” and those fears? Jennifer and Amanda cite having to drive far distances into unfamiliar Black neighborhoods to get their daughter’s hair done. Therapists to help Jennifer through the trauma of giving birth to the ‘wrong’ child, and various professional suggestions that she and her partner must move to a more diverse area with ‘good schools’ if a bi-racial/ black child like Payton is going to have a healthy successful childhood.
The first part of the damages being sought are an open and shut case, the sperm bank screwed up the donor vials (apparently in 2011 Midwest Sperm bank still kept track of their sperm donors on pen and paper?) and Cramblett / Zinkon have every right to sue. But the meat of their case is explicitly unmistakably racial. Any couple hoping to conceive would be unhappy about receiving the wrong donor. But let’s be honest, if Jennifer had found out she was pregnant with the wrong White sperm, the couple would not be seeking the same kind of damages from the sperm bank to compensate for “cultural deficiencies." According to the suit when Cramblett found out she was carrying a Black baby:
“All of the thought planning and care that she (Jennifer) and Amanda had undertaken to control their baby’s parentage had been rendered meaningless. In an instant Jennifer’s excitement and anticipation of her pregnancy was replaced with anger disappointment and fear.”
The couple is angry, afraid and disappointed about the financial, emotional and social burden of being forced to raise a Black child. In other words, White racism costs money, even for White people, and they want to be compensated for having to adjust their lives and expectations to live with it. Having to account for racial prejudice in where you live, what schools your child attends, and how you socialize is quite the burden. The damages sought in the lawsuit are no less than $50,000 for the sperm mix up and no less than $50,000 for the challenges associated with raising their colored child. They’re almost halfway to the child rearing costs that the government gave. I’m not mad at them for suing either, my question is: Can anyone else get in on this deal?
If the judge is going to determine future reparations, basically the cost above and beyond whiteness in order to function as black in America due to racism, there should be a line of people ready to sue and get damages as well. If living around bigots places a special burden on the parents of Black children, why should the ability to sue be limited to those who accidentally have Black kids? What about all those White couples that adopt Black children? It’s true they made a choice to adopt Black kids, but couldn’t they get a court mandated subsidy for the additional racial burden they’ll have to face? What about Black families that adopt White children? (It does happen, DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys / Denver Broncos is one famous example) Do they get less of a tax credit because White kids are easier and cheaper to raise? Most importantly couldn’t this suit open the door for every African American parent raising a Black kid in a majority White neighborhood in America? School discrimination, racial bullying, protection against police harassment and violence…the costs of raising a Black kid are pretty high nowadays.
The costs of racism, and the reparations African Americans are due as a result, have never been hard to calculate. The challenge has been getting the White majority to believe that such racial burdens even exist. Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon for the first time in their lives are feeling those costs and they want the legal system to help them out. They can suffer through the burden of being women in a nation where women make 75% of what men do for the same job. They can deal with the emotional trauma of being an out lesbian couple in a town full of small minded bigots. But raising a Bblack kid? Now THAT was a burden they weren't ready to withstand, and good for them if the court decides to compensate them to the fullest for the challenge that was unfairly foist upon them. I’m just hoping when it’s all said and done that the lawsuits don’t stop there. Anyone with a Black child should be lining up outside the nearest courthouse. It may not be reparations, but it’s a start.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and an analyst for CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera and Fox Business News. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJasonJohnson