Racism Falling Through The Cracks

Author(s): Leah Henry Tanner
Date Published: January 4, 2007
The struggle for reproductive rights and the campaign to do away with them are flourishing in the conservative political climate of early 21st century America. Reminiscent of attacks on women’s rights in the late 1970’s and the Reagan years, today’s assaults on reproductive rights are rooted in right-wing ideologies wrapped in a swath of “pro-family” values. Attacks on women’s reproductive and civil rights have also frequently gone hand-in-hand with racism, as with the involuntary sterilization of indigenous women in the late 1960s and 1970’s and late 1970s passage of the Hyde Amendment, which banned Medicaid-provided abortions to poor women. As in the past, today women of color and poor women are on the frontline in the battle to control decisions regarding their bodies. Organizations and individuals who seek to blame women of color for poor judgment in exercising their reproductive rights continue to use insidious tactics to take away their choices, sometimes permanently.

One organization that evidences such an assault on women of color and poor women is Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity (C.R.A.C.K). C.R.A.C.K. is a California-based organization founded in 1994 by former foster parent and PTA member Barbara Harris. After unsuccessfully lobbying the California legislature to pass a bill to penalize drug-addicted pregnant women, Harris formed C.R.A.C.K. and a program called Project Prevention – the latter offering $200 payments to drug and alcohol-addicted women if they undergo sterilization or obtain long-term birth control through Norplant, Depo-Provera, or an intrauterine device.

Mirroring the reigning “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush Administration, C.R.A.C.K. pitches its actions as a benefit to drug-affected women. Project Prevention, claims C.R.A.C.K., “is concerned primarily with the prevention of further drug and alcohol related pregnancies” and helps “prevent child abuse through supporting responsible birth control.” C.R.A.C.K.’s friendly face has attracted prominent supporters such as conservative radio celebrity Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who proclaims on the C.R.A.C.K. website that she supports the organization with both her money and her name. Meanwhile, Barbara Harris has set up 23 C.R.A.C.K. chapters throughout the United States, including chapters in Seattle, Houston, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Washington D.C., Detroit, and New Orleans.

Despite C.R.A.C.K’s compassionate public stance, critics contend that the program is rooted in racism. By targeting vulnerable women – in the Seattle area Positive Prevention (the local C.R.A.C.K. chapter) has distributed leaflets in poor and African-American neighborhoods – and by lacking a critique of race, class, and gender-based inequality in the U.S., critics of C.R.A.C.K. claim it to be an organization that targets the victims, not the problem. Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) is a Seattle-based organization that has opposed the tactics utilized by Barbara Harris and Seattle Positive Prevention coordinator Ella Sonenberg. Through the Black People’s Project, CARA has challenged C.R.A.C.K. and mobilized resistance to Project Prevention. The Black People’s Project has prepared an excellent educational packet called the CRACK PACK. Other organizations that oppose C.R.A.C.K. include the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment; the American Public Health Association; Family Watch; National Advocates for Pregnant Women; and the National Black Women’s Health Project. (CRACK PACK) For more information about CARA and the Black People’s Project contact CARA at www.cara-seattle.org.

What then, is the nature of C.R.A.C.K? One piece of evidence supporting the claims of critics is found in the kind of people who have emerged as leaders of the organization. One C.R.A.C.K. leader who demonstrates how right-wing ideology compliments C.R.A.C.K.’s agenda is the group’s Houston coordinator, Jim Woodhill. According to C.R.A.C.K. venture capitalist Jim Woodhill also sits on the group’s Advisory Board and is a major donor to the organization, garnering the 5 star rating reserved for donors of $3,000 or more.

Woodhill’s credentials root him in a politics that lends credence to the arguments of C.R.A.C.K.’s critics. For instance, Woodhill’s website (www.thewoodhills.com) notes that in addition to C.R.A.C.K., the Houston activist is a supporter of the Cato and Manhattan Institutes, and the American Civil Rights Institute – the latter the organization led by California businessman Ward Connerly that has spearheaded the assault on affirmative action around the country.

Institutes such as Cato and Manhattan point to the place where the politics of markets meets Social Darwinist racism. Whereas some classical liberals – including charter member and 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith – held that the government should take at least some steps to address poverty, Social Darwinism emerged as a 19th century strain advocating unfettered markets and blaming victims for their poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. This view holds that in market economies individuals are wholly responsible for their own position and that the “survival of the fittest” should rule the day. In Ideology and Political Choice, Vernon Van Dyke describes that 19th century Social Darwinist godfather Herbert Spencer, and others like him, dismissed the fact that “the free market sometimes works in inequitable ways,” and held that “if widows and orphans suffered and died, so be it, for society would then be rid of the unfit” (p.18). Van Dyke notes that such Social Darwinists are the “intellectual forebears of today’s libertarians and of many of today’s conservatives” (p.9).

The politics of Woodhill’s favorite institutes echo such ideas. Founded in 1977, the Cato Institute adheres to a libertarian ideology that opposes any and all government actions aimed at alleviating the social, economic and racial inequities of the market economy. The group opposes affirmative action, bilingual education, welfare, the income tax and the regulation of business and industry. Cato is also a critic of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Reflecting such views, now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 1988 article for the Cato Institute criticizing the Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. the Board of Education – the initial legal basis for the overthrow of America’s form of apartheid, Jim Crow segregation. The end result of Cato-inspired policies would be the unmitigated domination of society by those who own property and seek to use it as they see fit. Those who do not benefit from unfettered markets be damned (See No Mercy by Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado for more on Cato and Manhattan).

Similarly, the Manhattan Institute. Formed in 1978 by William J. Casey – who would later lead a campaign of terror against poor people abroad as Ronald Reagan’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency – this organization has promoted assaults on working people and people of color through book publishing, op-ed pieces, and sponsoring conferences and speaking tours. Among other things, the Manhattan Institute has opposed welfare, affirmative action and bilingual education.

Manhattan’s libertarian leanings are seen in its support for Charles Murray. In 1982 the Institute provided Murray with a senior research fellowship to complete his work on the book Losing Ground. Losing Ground became a Bible for advocates of what is known as “dependency theory” – the idea that welfare and social support to the poor produce a dependency among recipients that undermines the development of a “work ethic.” This idea that has most recently undergirded the countrywide campaign to replace welfare with “workfare.” What is more, Murray argued in Losing Ground that poverty, rather than a product of the inequality endemic to all market economies, stems from the cultural attitudes of many poor people. Murray, who advocates scraping the welfare system and affirmative action, helped inform the “conservative capitalism” of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. (See Conservative Capitalism in Britain and the United States by Kenneth Hoover and Raymond Plant for Murray’s place in American conservatism).

While conservatives and libertarians alike have voiced such views, Murray’s version dovetails nicely with a crass Social Darwinist racism. That is, if free market capitalism is seen as offering equality to all and the causes of inequality are found in the defects of the poor, attempts at economic redistribution and social support are futile. While in Losing Ground Murray placed the blame on a “culture” of poverty, his 1994 book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, co-authored with Richard Herrnstein, went further, placing the blame on genetics. In the Bell Curve Murray raised the possibility that racial inequality in the U.S. is rooted in the biologically determined intellectual inferiority of blacks as measured in IQ tests. Though the Manhattan Institute initially refused to support Murray’s “research” on biological determinism – research underwritten in part by the pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund – the Institute sponsored a luncheon to honor Murray and The Bell Curve shortly after its publication. While Manhattan remains critical of Murray’s genetic attack on people of color, they continue to peddle the “culture of poverty” racism found in Losing Ground.

Woodhill’s support for the politics of Cato and Manhattan indicate a less-than-friendly face behind the politics of C.R.A.C.K. Manhattan’s “culture of poverty” creed, Cato’s Social Darwinism, and the genetic determinism of Charles Murray build a bridge that takes us to the edge of ideas that informed the 19th century eugenics movement. Armed with ideas about the intractability of the defects of the poor, this movement cast itself as a “science” committed to the “betterment” of the (white) “race” through selective and enforced breeding. Its ideas justified attacks on redistribution and social support, programs to sterilize poor women and people with disabilities, and ultimately the genocidal policies of Adolph Hitler’s German Nazi regime.

If Woodhill’s support for Cato and Manhattan indicate the Houston C.R.A.C.K. leader’s willingness to flirt with Social Darwinism, his relationship with Scottish racist Chris Brand indicates a full-blown courtship – a courtship which places C.R.A.C.K.’s program in a camp compatible with eugenic racism, as critics of the organization have argued. In the summer of 2000, the Woodhill Foundation hired the former University of Edinburgh psychology lecturer as a public policy consultant. In an article in the Evening News (Edinburgh) Brand discusses his work with the Woodhill Foundation: “I am also giving advice on the scene here because there are questions about what can be done here. Scotland has quite similar problems, as we move towards the African lifestyle of single parents where babies have not been wanted by their mothers and their fathers are absent.” (July 22, 2000)

Brand gained notoriety in 1997 when the University of Edinburgh dismissed him after he claimed in his newsletter that sex between adults and children over 12 years old was not harmful. (The Scotsman, January 30, 2001) One of the more disturbing assertions on Brand’s rambling website reads: “As with experiences like losing a parent – which also do little harm on average – there may be initial distress or lasting harm in some individual cases of exposure to paedophilic advances; but such cases are evidently balanced by those in which the growing child actually draws psychological benefit and strength from the strange but affectionate experience.” (www.crispian.demon.co.uk/)

If such views were not disturbing enough, Brand has come down on side of biological determinism, eugenics, and sympathy for neo-Nazi politics. Brand notes on his website that he “freely agreed there was a Black-White IQ difference” and “that the difference was substantially genetic.” Brand further states that “The average Black American does better [on IQ tests than Black Africans] thanks to carrying a 25% White admixture.” In line with these ideas, Brand has endorsed the idea of eugenics and bemoaned its being discredited by association with the Hitler regime.

Brand’s own interest in C.R.A.C.K. appears to derive from his fascination with things racial and eugenic. He states, for instance, that C.R.A.C.K., “a charity founded by Mrs. Barbara Harris has been implementing Nobelist William Shockley’s eugenic proposals by paying drug-addicted girls for successful use of contraception.” After being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956 for his participation in inventing the transistor, Shockley was appointed to a position at Stanford where he formulated a theory he called “dysgenics.” Using the IQ tests of the U.S. Army, Shockley concluded that African Americans were inherently less intelligent than whites. Consequently, Shockley advocated the voluntary sterilization of people with IQ’s below 100 – this while repeatedly donating his “genius” to a purported Nobel sperm bank.

Given his ideas about race, it is not surprising that Brand has also voiced sympathy for actual neo-Nazis and their apologists. In the Spring 2000 William McDougall Newsletter Brand writes that Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist David Irving is a “proper historian,” who “maintains [an] impressive impartiality” and whose “books show a concern with evidence that would tire most modern British university students.” However, based on such “evidence” Irving questions the number of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust and denies “their systematic extermination in concentration camp gas chambers.” (BBC News, 11 April, 2000) David Irving lost a libel lawsuit against Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books in which he claimed that Professor Lipstadt damaged his reputation and threatened his livelihood. In her 1994 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Lipstadt had described Irving as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial” and referred to him as a “Hitler partisan.” Upholding the right of anti-fascists to name Irving by his true character, Judge Charles Gray wrote in his ruling that Irving was “a racist, an anti-Semite, and active Holocaust denier, who associates with right wing extremists.” (BBC News, April 11, 2000)

In his Spring 1999 William McDougall Newsletter, Brand also praised neo-Nazi and former Louisiana Republican state legislator David Duke, characterizing him as “handsome, dashing, daring, and likeable” and stating that Duke “has for some years maintained a responsible and useful website about race and IQ.” Duke has endorsed the genetic superiority of whites and peddled Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf from his state legislative office. He also endorsed a program such as C.R.A.C.K.’s when he wrote: “I see nothing wrong with encouraging unproductive people to have fewer children.” (The Emergence of David Duke and the Politics of Race, edited by Douglas Rose) As a state legislator Duke proposed an unsuccessful bill that would have offered AFDC recipients $500 to use Norplant. (Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment)

The willingness of C.R.A.C.K. to place Jim Woodhill in a position of leadership directly contradicts the group’s stated non-racist aims. Woodhill’s support for Cato and Manhattan, and, even more, his relationship with Chris Brand, illustrate that the organization’s aims are compatible with a libertarian assault on poor people and people of color as well as a crass eugenic program. As those of us who struggle for women’s reproductive freedom have long known, our struggle is not an isolated one. Rather, it is rooted in a broader struggle for gender, racial and economic liberty, and a struggle against right-wing ideologues who would turn back the clock to an era of unmitigated white male capitalist domination of American society.

Leah Henry-Tanner is the Executive Director of the Puget Sound Monitoring Project, a project of the Kitsap Human Rights Network located in Washington State