Reproducing Race in an Era of Reckoning

Dov Fox


What place should racial preferences have in the families people make? Prospective parents in search of a romantic partner, sperm or egg donor, or child to foster or adopt might have all sorts of reasons for caring about race. Maybe they want their family to be seen as bound by biology, or they hope to shore up whatever emotional ties they ascribe to racialized forms of resemblance. Racial considerations could also matter to would-be parents looking to entrench cultural privilege or preserve marginalized communities. An emerging school of critical race scholars like Dorothy Roberts and Patricia Williams are particularly troubled by racial matching in the buying and selling of reproductive materials. The most developed and sophisticated line of reasoning comes from Camille Gear Rich, whose influential article serves as my point of departure.

Rich condemns the role of race in fertility market for expressing the eugenic logic of racial purity, and even promoting it. I see two problems with this argument. First: while we should resist practices that send the divisive message that families should be separated along racial lines, reasonable people can disagree about whether, when, and why colorblindness is worth aspiring to in efforts to make a family. My second objection has to do with how protests against racial matching single out people who reproduce using a donor, surrogate, or IVF. It’s not as if their parental dreams are distinctively consumed by race. These would-be parents don’t think and act on racial considerations in ways that tend to be any more pervasive or contested than people whose kids come from one-night stands or online dating, foster care or adoption. Selectively criticizing the single, same-sex, and infertile people who turn to assisted procreation demeans the families they form and perpetuates their historic exclusion from those intimate relationships.