Reviewed by Associate Editor Sam Baron
In “Blackened Fertility: The Lasting Discourse of African American Female Reproduction After the Civil Rights Movement”, author Osaremen Okolo attempts to shed light on the invidious and false narrative of blackened “hyper-fertility”—the idea that African American women are more likely to be fertile and reproduce than their white counterparts. In the paper, Okolo finds that contrary to the popular narrative of “hyper-fertility”, African American women are actually less likely to be fertile than whites, and have an increased likelihood to encounter fertility issues while trying to conceive.
Okolo argues that the proliferation of this misconception of blackened “hyper-fertility” was widespread even before the Civil Rights Movement, and thus its provenance has largely racist underpinnings. Despite empirical evidence suggesting the narrative was false, Okolo points out that the “hyper-fertility” narrative became so pervasive throughout American society that the phenomenon was even cited in official government documents, legislation, and reports. Okolo further argues that because of this gross mischaracterization of black fertility, African American women suffered immensely not only socially, but also when seeking out fertility treatment and resources. She substantiates such claims with interviews with former government officials in charge of instituting policies which further promulgated the supposed veracity of the narrative, and while doing so, she notices a distinct lack of voices from African American women themselves.
The paper proceeds in a chronological fashion, first beginning with a brief introduction of the narrative, and then continuing onto a discussion around the “threat” of black overpopulation in the years following the Civil Rights Movement. In Part II, Okolo builds off the fear of black overpopulation to reveal that the United States government instituted a policy of sterilization of many poor African American women. And how ultimately in Part III, the Clinton Administration further institutionalized the “hyper-fertility” narrative as a weapon to paint African American women as “Welfare Queens” in order to mass mobilize its political capital for welfare reform to achieve the Administration’s paramount goal of a balanced budget.
Although Okolo presents an original, well-sourced and in many ways, captivating paper on the struggle for recognition of African American women’s fertility, the paper leaves much to be desired. In many instances throughout the paper, Okolo writes in an almost polemical fashion, harshly critiquing the misguided policy that supported the basic tenets of the false “hyper-fertility” narrative. She also often injects her opinion into places where the research she cites speaks for itself, thereby undermining the legitimacy of her argument.
In aggregate, however, Okolo does an excellent job at elucidating the impact of a harmful narrative which affects many African-American women today.