Actually, she is backing off. Here’s the thing about her now-famous MSNBC promo: Either she’s saying something radical or she’s saying something so banal that it’s barely even worth saying. The radical interpretation is that she thinks parents should have less say over how their children are raised and that “communities” should have a larger role. The very, very banal interpretation is that she thinks communities should do more to improve children’s lives and that thinking of them as “our children” might help forge that mentality. The money line in the promo that pointed to the radical interpretation was “We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents” and embrace a more “collective notion” that kids “belong” to the entire community. Does that mean the community should be a child’s foremost tutor in values? That’d be pretty radical. Sarah Palin had some fun with the idea:
Dear MSNBC, if our kids belong to you, do your kids belong to us too? If so, can we take them hunting after church in our big pickup truck?
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) April 9, 2013
Or, rather, did Harris-Perry mean something so prosaic that no one would seriously offer it as some type of mission statement in a promo? We have our answer:
I started asking myself where did I learn this lesson about our collective responsibility to children. So many answers quickly became evident.
I learned it from my mother who, long after her own kids were teens, volunteered on the non profit boards of day care centers that served under-resourced children.
I learned it from my father who, despite a demanding career and a large family of his own, always coached boys’ basketball teams in our town.
I learned it from my third-grade public school teacher, who gave me creative extra work and opened up her classroom to me after school so that I wouldn’t get bored and get in trouble…
I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.
Etc etc etc etc etc. The one interesting passage in the piece:
I’ll even admit that despite being an unwavering advocate for women’s reproductive rights, I have learned this lesson from some of my most sincere, ethically motivated, pro-life colleagues. Those people who truly believe that the potential life inherent in a fetus is equivalent to the actualized life of an infant have argued that the community has a distinct interest in children no matter what the mother’s and father’s interests or needs. So while we come down on different sides of the choice issue, we agree that kids are not the property of their parents. Their lives matter to all of us.
It’s not just pro-lifers who think the life of a fetus and of an infant are equivalent. Some pro-choicers have no qualms about disposing of either provided that you kill the infant quickly enough after birth. But lay that aside. The reason most pro-lifers oppose abortion isn’t because they think the community’s claim should override the parents’, it’s because they see the baby as an individual with rights irrespective of its state of development. You can believe that a child “belongs” to its parents, i.e. that their interest should trump the community’s except in cases of extreme abuse, without also believing that the child is chattel that the parent can destroy with impunity. It’s bizarre that a pro-choicer would even attempt to use an example like this in the course of lecturing about child welfare. Here’s a solution to the problem of resources for children being too scarce: Kill more of them in the womb and it never arises, right?
Exit quotation: C’mon.
— Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) April 8, 2013