Editorial – Black Woman and Child ( Spring-Summer 2008 )

You don’t have to look too far these days to find tips, suggestions, programs and movements dedicated to “saving” the planet – most with good reason and good intention. But another environmental strategy, growing in popularity, smacks of a sinister agenda that has existed for generations and continues to recreate itself. That is the issue of Population Control.

According to groups like the Sierra Club (an environmental organization founded in 1892), the Population Institute (established in 1969 to address “population issues”) and the well-known Planned Parenthood (a “women’s health” organization founded in 1916) – overpopulation is responsible for a laundry list of social problems, including infant mortality, famine, poverty and, more recently, global warming and most forms of environmental damage. However, this perspective becomes suspect when most of these birth control efforts are aimed at poor women and women of colour. The so-called “Third World” women. Women very similar to you and me.

Some people (you probably know them) are always looking for someone to blame. In times of economic or employment crisis, they blame the immigrants – people like us. In today’s environmental crisis, they blame overpopulation – of people like us. They don’t blame the excessive lifestyle of Western waste.

The populaton control agenda gives these same people an excuse to advance white supremacist values over human rights. Environmentalists promote the ideology that there is a “perfect population” that the Earth can support. Not surprisingly, “perfection” goes beyond numbers – it’s about race and ethnicity too! In addition to birth control policy, this belief has impacted immigation, welfare policy, criminal law and sentencing, the treatment of First Nations groups, decisions of war and political intervention. Black women around the world have long endured forced sterilizations, illegal abortions and foreign aid with strings attached in pursuit of this “perfect population.”

In short, population control translates into a healthier planet and better living conditions for wealthy, non-melanated people and the children they are encouraged to have. It has not escaped my attention that Essence displays full-page advertisements for every imaginable birth control system while white-oriented mainstream magazines discuss fertility issues and advertise ovulation predictor kits.

In her academic paper, “Population Control and Environmental Protection: Misplaced Coercion,” Jennifer Simpson reveals the scandalous practices often tied to birth control programs: “Oral contraceptives, IUDs, Norplant and Depo-Provera, have been administered in less-developed countries even when they have been banned or untested in developed countries.”

And while our reproductive efforts are being discouraged, the fertility industry is booming. According to Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: “The multiple births that result from these technologies point to the contradiction of a public not willing to pay the expenses of one additional child born to a welfare mother, yet willing to support seven children born to a white couple.”

Thinking about population and the environment means not thinking about the far-reaching after-shocks of slavery and colonialism. It means ignoring corporate pollution. It means not thinking about the environmental effects of military misbehaviour. It means not talking about land redistribution. Or developing a worldwide clean water system or accessible health services for everybody.

So rather than talk population problems, let’s talk environmental solutions. Let’s even dare to implement changes that impact the affluent lifestyles that are posing the real problems on this planet.

In my opinion (and I am not alone), these people argue for population control because they don’t want to share. We could all live comfortably if we worked at equitable distribution of food, land, water, money and other basic needs. It’s not a population problem. We have a consumption problem.

How can food supply be an issue in a world where food is mass-produced, packaged, and discarded after the expiry date or left to spoil? Is water an issue? Let’s limit water supply to only a few hours a day – outside of North America, many of us are used to that. Drive less, or not at all. Give up foreign fruits and vegetables. Put real money into development projects in countries where workers and resources have been exploited.

Why not focus on sharing and sustainability rather than obsess over who is having how many children? For me, the bottom line is: Talk to me about population control when we’ve exhausted all other options.

Nicole Osbourne James

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