How I Would Talk About Abortion and Slavery to an African American Audience Were I a White Man
Last week I took exception to the way some people equate abortion and slavery because I think the comparison is sometimes made without due empathy by people that are viewed with suspicion in certain communities. The point of the post was not to say “don’t make the comparison.” The point of the post was to say, “To make the comparison effectively you must know your audience.”
Appropriately so, a couple of the folks in the comment thread asked, “Well, how would you do it?” I’m no expert, but I owe folks an attempt. I’ve written below a short stump speech I might deliver to a predominantly African American audience were I a white speaker trying to win supporters for ending abortion. In the sample I’m trying do a couple things:
1. Make the comparison between slavery and abortion without devaluing either slavery or abortion
2. Address the willful ignorance that’s a barrier in some cases by making uninvolvement unthinkable
3. Show some empathy and understanding of the suffering caused by slavery
4. Make an appeal for involvement in the pro-life cause without sounding like I’m the savior
Those are among the objectives. Let me know what you think. We’re all trying to get better at talking about things we care about. So the comment thread is open!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for coming out tonight. I’m deeply grateful that you would invest time away from your family, your work, and other commitments to be with us for so important an issue. I want to talk with you about what I believe is the most heinous, life-threatening tragedy in our lifetimes: abortion.
When you mention the word “abortion,” some people quickly tune you out. They think of sign-carrying protesters… or graphic images of unborn children. And whether because they’re squeamish at the sight of some images, or because they’ve become numb to the so-called “culture wars,” or because they honestly value choice in this issue, significant groups of Americans seem blind to the suffering, pain, and death caused by abortion.
The closest example I can think of would be the two hundred years of willful ignorance this society demonstrated as millions of African people were kidnapped, packed in ships, then sold and brutalized in the Transatlantic slave trade. We have no idea how many people were killed at sea during that demonic voyage. We have no idea how many were born into slavery… who lived their entire lives without even the hope of freedom. We have no idea how many were beaten to death… lynched… castrated… or hobbled. We cannot imagine the number of “quiet” deaths on plantations suffered by those whose enslavement lasted longer their hearts. We can’t count the screams of mothers separated from their children at the auction block or even at birth. While black women suckled the children of slaveowners… their own children were sold like cattle. We can’t endure imagining the debilitating effects of being repeatedly raped, having children by men who denied your humanity by day but claimed your bed by night, of knowing you had no control over your body. Who can count the number of restless, dreamless nights forcibly separated husbands and wives spent wondering about the other.
In our short time tonight, we cannot begin to detail the horrors and the torments of slavery. We can’t even adequately describe how those horrors still live with us. I don’t want in any way to presume I know what it was like. And I certainly don’t want to minimize the memory of such suffering. The experience wasn’t cheap. It was costly. We’re still paying the costs in so many ways.
And, I’m well aware that people who look like me were the ones sailing the ships, leading the auctions, and holding the whip. Some people who claimed to be Christians, as I am, either actively participated in and justified this brutality, or many of them quietly looked the other way. They were willfully ignorant. And they remind me of how easy it is for me to be ignorant, and how wrong it would be for me to borrow the suffering and pain of slaves without trying to enter into it. For after all, my Savior took my pain and suffering on Calvary’s cross that I might be free from sin and guilt to enjoy the Father’s love. I don’t want to betray the memory of African slaves, or betray the memory of Calvary’s cross.
But there were also those who looked like me and who looked like you who were liberators and defenders of black life. They were the resistant, the militant, and the strident. They spoke up and they spoke out. They sometimes led protests and wrote abolitionist tracts. They sometimes simply looked into themselves before looking into the eyes of the slave driver and saying, “I am a man.” Or, “I am a woman.” ”I ain’t taking it no more.” There were black Frederick Douglasses and white William Wilberforces, whose actions touched both sides of the Atlantic. There were black David Walkers and white John Browns, who made a call to arms to protect black life. And there were black Harriet Tubmans and nameless white women along the Underground Railroad getting their passengers to freedom by night.
Here’s what I would ask: Would you consider me one of those working in the spirit of black men and women, and white men and women, who gave their lives in the cause of life and liberty?
Because the reality is this: There is among us another form of willful ignorance destroying life by the thousands every day. There is another “looking the other way” by Americans who know better and should be better. There are significant numbers of people professing to be Christians either participating in, supporting, or playing blind bystander to untold human suffering. These are the people living in our day who remain uninvolved in ending abortion the way some remained uninvolved in ending slavery.
Were a black man to remain uninvolved in ending slavery he would be called a “sell out.” Were a white man to be uninvolved in ending slavery he would be worst than the slaveowner. And my brothers and sisters, if a black man or woman remains uninvolved in the ending of abortion when abortion destroys more black babies than any other thing since slavery… that black man or woman is a “sell out” to his children before they see the light of life! And if a white man or woman remains uninvolved in ending abortion… that white man or woman takes their place on the side of slave owners and slave merchants who were destroyers of life!
Ignoring suffering wasn’t right in 1830, and it’s not right in 2010. Black life should have been valued and protected in 1830 and 1950, and it should be valued and protected now!
I’m not here to tell you what you must do. I’m not here as some white savior from outside. I’m here as someone who needs your help. I’m here as someone making a plea on behalf of those who can’t speak. I’m here in quest for a future where all life–black, white, Asian, Hispanic–all life–receives the honor, dignity, care, and preservation befitting the image of God. For all people are made in God’s image. All people are made by God to reveal His glory. We dare not hide or tarnish the glory of God. So we dare not murder those made in His image.
There will be an account to give before God on that Great Day of Judgment. I want to be counted among those who fought for His glory and fought for life.
How about you? Will you join with me in making sure life is protected? Will you join with me in making sure the suffering of bygone generations of African Americans isn’t for nothing when it comes to this generation of babies in their mother’s wombs? Will you join with me in removing the scalpel from the doctors’ hands the way the whip should’ve been removed from the slave owners’ hands? Will you join with me in putting an end to abortion in America? Right now, a real baby in a real womb needs us to give our lives so that they may have one.
Thank you for your time.
I thought this clip captured the spirit of what I’m trying to see and encourage my brothers and sisters from other ethnicities to do: