Employees of color within the abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America are publicly accusing the organization of racism. The employees’ goal, according to Buzzfeed reporter Emma O’Connor, is to call out the “hypocrisy at their own organizations” and proclaim that the time for “white feminism” is over. NARAL, a defender of Planned Parenthood’s eugenicist founder Margaret Sanger which used her name in fundraising efforts, has its own checkered past and racist founders. Live Action News previously detailed that two of NARAL’s three member pre-formation planning committee were men who held and promoted radical racist, eugenicist ideas about population control.
Now, Buzzfeed claims “dozens of current and former employees in the reproductive rights field” have “provided screenshots of emails, text messages, internal staff surveys, union proposals, and other internal documents to support” allegations of racism within NARAL and Planned Parenthood. However, Buzzfeed did not produce corroborating evidence for their charges other than the claims by “reproductive rights” staffers, most who remained anonymous because they allegedly “fear professional retribution.”
“Staff at NARAL told BuzzFeed News that it was an ‘open secret’ that the organization is ‘by and for cis white women,’ and that the board is more committed to the appearance of diversity than the reality of it,” O’Connor wrote. “One woman who worked at NARAL in 2018 said that when she asked a member of leadership why they didn’t do more outreach to women of color, she was told that NARAL’s ‘target was suburban women.'” O’Connor also said staffers accused NARAL’s donors and volunteers of being a “majority white, middle class, and centrist….”
A lack of inclusiveness to bring in a more diverse board reportedly led one woman of color to resign her position at NARAL, Buzzfeed stated. That woman was Renee Bracey Sherman, who resigned from NARAL’s board in 2017 after allegedly being dubbed a “problem child” by the board. Her attempt to fight against efforts “she saw as exclusionary to women of color” were met with “resistance and eye rolls,” Buzzfeed reported.
“[…A]nti-Blackness and refusal to address racism is why I quit the board,” Bracey Sherman tweeted in June. “I literally asked the incoming board chair if she was going to address the racism and she gave me that roundabout white girl answer of no.”
Former NARAL board member Dr. Daniel Grossman confirmed to Buzzfeed that he “saw the way [Bracey Sherman] was treated by others on the board,” but O’Connor failed to ask Grossman why he remained on NARAL’s board two years after Bracey Sherman resigned and only recently announced his retirement.
Grossman has been deeply entrenched in the abortion rights movement and is behind efforts to expand the use of the abortion pill. He also has ties to Planned Parenthood, which the Buzzfeed reporter neglected to mention. In addition, O’Connor failed to ask Grossman if he planned to resign from his involvement with other abortion rights organizations after acknowledging that those groups have “created and upheld structures that limit the success of Black and Brown scholars and staff.”
Former NARAL deputy national political director China Dickerson told Buzzfeed she left NARAL recently after being “labeled a problem” for “pushing for more intersectionality in NARAL’s work and pushing back on racist or discriminatory attitudes.”
“Every single time we wanted to in a way embrace reproductive justice, to talk about the people most impacted, it was essentially a ‘no, because our audience is white middle-class women and they’re not gonna understand,’” she said.
Alleged former NARAL staffers and interns are emerging on Twitter, reporting toxic conditions at the abortion rights organization. In a series of tweets another former NARAL staffer stated, “After repeatedly calling the org in for racism/classism/transphobia NARAL leadership began began extensively surveilling my social media and community activism and tracking it in private group chats.”
According to Buzzfeed, Black and Brown staffers at NARAL “felt tokenized” and accused the organization of having a “race equity and inclusivity problem”:
Twelve current and former employees who worked at the organization from 2014 to present told BuzzFeed News that the few staff of color at NARAL were concentrated in lower-paying roles and on the finance and operations side of the organization, rather than in roles that interact with members or have a say over the organization’s direction.
“All of the NARAL staff who spoke to BuzzFeed News said that when people raised issues about diversity, pay equity, or microaggressions, they were ignored, dismissed, and sometimes reprimanded,” Buzzfeed added.
While NARAL denied some of the accusations, president Ilyse Hogue put the responsibility for NARAL’s shortfalls directly on herself but did not go so far as to offer her resignation. Hogue told Buzzfeed that “diversity, equity and inclusion is both an ethical and a strategic imperative not only for NARAL, but also for our broader movement.”
Hogue’s claim about diversity may fall on deaf ears. After all, staffers told Buzzfeed that after NARAL leadership previously acknowledged problems of diversity and created a diversity initiative to address them, NARAL filled that position with a white employee. “A full year after that hire,” staffers said, “NARAL has not had a diversity and inclusion training.”
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