I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the case of poor Ms. Jennifer Cramblett. In 2011, Ms. Cramblett, along with her partner Amanda Zinkon decided they wanted to start a family. They found a sperm bank and selected a donor. After a couple of months of artificial insemination, Ms. Cramblett found out she was pregnant. Hooray! But, Ms. Cramblett’s joy was soon turned to pain when she discovered that the sperm bank made a huge mistake. Instead of sending her sperm from a blond, blue-eyed white male, as agreed, Ms. Cramblett was sent sperm from the complete opposite: a black guy.
While dismayed, anxious, and hurt, Ms. Cramblett courageously went forward with the pregnancy and on August 21, 2012, she gave birth to a beautiful (obviously) mixed-race girl named Payton. The joy of being a new mother gave way to anxiety surrounding how she would raise her child. Ms. Cramblett and her partner were both white women living in Uniontown, Ohio, a town whose African American population was a whopping 0.14%. Ms. Cramblett herself never met a black person until college. Her uncle was an open racist. How was she to raise her daughter in this kind of environment? Where would she even take her daughter to get a haircut?
This newfound anxiety and anger, stemming from being forced to deal with issues of race through no fault of her own, compelled Ms. Cramblett to sue the sperm bank. In 2014, she alleged the sperm bank by failing to act properly caused her to undergo a “wrongful birth” and that it breached a warranty to her. For “personal injuries, medical expense, pain, suffering, emotional distress, and other economic and non-economic losses” Ms. Cramblett sought damages in an amount no less than $100,000. She also asked for the case to be heard by a jury.
Now let us take a moment to take a big picture view of what is happening in this case. A white parent is suing another party because she now has to deal with what black parents have dealt with since the beginning of this nation. The sperm bank gave her a refund. But in true white privilege fashion, Ms. Cramblett isn’t willing to just “join the club” of black parents, she wants the full costs of her membership to be paid. All the while, Ms. Cramblett says,
“I am happy that I have a healthy child. We love her more…to this day, she’s made us the people that we are. Never trade it for the world…”
*insert emoji eye roll here*
Since the case was originally filed, some things have happened procedurally, but those aren’t really important for this article. What is important, or shall I say, what I think could be important is what this case could mean for African Americans if Ms. Cramblett were to win her case. One word (don’t shoot me):
I know. I know. At this point, most African Americans would probably consider the idea of reparations dead in the water (if it even got wet), but recent polling says that 51% of millennials were in favor of reparations in some form. So there is legitimate reason to keep up hope around this issue.
Now, how does Ms. Cramblett’s double wheatgrass shot of white privilege relate to reparations? Simple. What she is asking a jury to do is:
1) determine whether there is an added racial cost to raising a black child in America, and 2) if so, determine what that added cost is.
If a jury were to do as Ms. Cramblett asks, this case could bolster the argument for reparations.
What Ms. Cramblett is asking for is known legally as “compensatory damages.” Generally, compensatory damages are a sum of money awarded to a person who has suffered a loss or injury with the sole purpose of making them “whole” (placing them in the position they would have been had the loss or injury not occurred.) Under this definition, Ms. Cramblett cannot recover all of the costs of raising a child, because had the agreement gone as planned, she would have been raising a child anyways, just a white one. Ms. Cramblett’s “loss” is the added costs of raising a black child. Things like therapy, relocation, and associated emotional distress.
The primary argument for reparations is that descendants of slaves should receive compensatory damages for all of the forced and uncompensated labor America received as a result of the slave trade. If we can agree that America benefitted from centuries of free labor, the next question would be how does one calculate the amount which would make those descendants “whole?”
That is why this case (possibly) matters. One factor in determining the proper amount of compensatory damages for slave labor could be the added cost of raising black children in America. The argument being, as a direct and proximate result of the slave trade, black children specifically face various harms in the form of discrimination, both overt and covert, and parents of those children must incur costs to combat those harms.
That is what Ms. Cramblett is asking for: money to cover costs she will incur due to raising a black child in America. Costs she must bear through no fault of her own.
So why isn’t my black mother not entitled to the same?