Race, Racism + Sperm Banks

Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon love their daughter, but have sued the Midwest Sperm Bank that made her conception possible because of the racial realities of their chosen community.

 

Jennifer Cramblett and her attorney Tim Misny.

Jennifer Cramblett and her attorney Tim Misny.

This case not only demonstrates that two white women can sue and potentially settle for large sums of money over the racial identity of their child, but that whiteness is a commodity that puts a price tag upon a contractual agreement.

Two issues are central in this suit.

First, the Midwest Sperm Bank and the couple have a contractual agreement for the delivery of sperm. Because sperm from a different donor was delivered, this contract between the two parties may have been broken.

Second, the issue has to do with the conception of a biracial child in a white homogenous community. The plaintiffs, Cramblett and Zinkon, assert that the racial characteristics of their daughter pose a “problem” that they must now deal with in a variety of ways that are financially costly and emotionally taxing.

Sperm Bank Advertisement, London

Sperm Bank Advertisement, London

Race and ethnicity are crucial in the marketing of sperm. Future parents typically select sperm donors based on physical, racial, and sometimes religious characteristics that represent one or both parents. Although race or ethnicity are not often explicitly discussed by couples, they do inform lesbian couples’ decisions of sperm donors. According to research presented by Ryan, Moras and Shapiro in a paper presented at the American Sociological Association (2010) this type of choice is often based on an attempt to match the resemblance of relatives of both partners. Thus, it’s not surprising for Cramblett and Zinkon to pick sperm that physically and racially matched the non-biological partner. Even in the era of assisted reproductive technologies, women’s reproductive choices continue to be highly shaped by racial concerns of the children, including for this white lesbian couple.

However, in my article, “Skin tone, biracial stratification and tri-racial stratification among sperm donors,” (Racial and Ethnic Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2014) I examined an online sperm bank catalog.  In my study, I tested three hypotheses related to skin tone, black-white polarity, and tri-racialism.  I found that the selection of donors did not reflect any general preference for lighter skin tone donors, a higher selection of white donors in the black-white polarity, or any trend towards tri-racialism.

Cramblett and Zinkon are asking the court to find in their favor because they believe they have personally suffered emotional, economic, and physical harms for conceiving a biracial daughter. The case’s argument is based upon individual harm to this couple and their daughter.

The court is essentially being asked to pay the couple for the cost incurred due to white racism and the loss of white privilege.

On the one hand, this case demonstrates that white racism still exists in our supposedly post-racial society and has emotional, economic, and physical impact. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, we have documentation of the cost of racism, yet when the court has been asked to compensate by people of color for this cost they have generally answered with a resounding “no”. For instance, it wasn’t until 2013 that there was any acknowledgement by North Carolina that African American women who were forcibly sterilized. North Carolina has not paid reparations to these women. This reality raises a number of questions.

Among these questions: why should this white lesbian couple be paid for the sperm bank’s mistake and to raise a biracial daughter when so many others have been denied this?

~ Guest blogger Carol Walther is Associate Professor of Sociology, Northern Illinois University