Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 12, 2024

Lawsuit highlights institutional racism

By STEPH SAXTON | October 23, 2014

In 1783, Belinda Royall sued for reparations after surviving the Middle Passage and 50 years of slavery. She was given 15 pounds as compensation. This was far from a complete loss, since it was the first time a court had agreed that racist mistreatment of black individuals in America deserved reparations. Now a new litigation, over 200 years later, has come to light.

The Brown vs. Board of Education case — declaring “separate but equal” arrangements unconstitutional — was in 1954. This year, which marks the 60-year anniversary of this momentous trial, another case is rising with enough force to make our country reexamine the scar it so reluctantly revisits: the disparity in treatment between white and black Americans.

A lesbian couple recently filed a case against the Midwest Sperm Bank in Ohio that accidentally gave the couple the wrong sperm. The process of choosing a donor is expensive, time-consuming and very heavily considered. The mix-up alone is enough for a lawsuit. However, the Crambletts are going a step further by fighting for compensation for being given sperm from an African American donor, resulting in a child of a race they weren’t prepared to raise.

Mother Jennifer Cramblett says that they will have to travel away from their all-white neighborhood to get their child’s hair done, and they’re scared about the psychological toll an all-white upbringing could take on their lone black daughter. She says that she was raised around an intolerant, racist family and worries about its reaction to her daughter of color. For these reasons she wants $50,000 from the sperm bank as reparations for the inconvenience and to help relocate her family to a more diverse neighborhood.

If the court rules that Cramblett is due her requested compensation, they are agreeing that her daughter of color will receive different and lesser treatment and that the introduction of a black member to an otherwise white family is an inconvenience worthy of compensation.

While Cramblett received backlash accusing her of being racist, she is merely communicating what most of the country refuses to admit — that raising black children is different than raising white ones, and black children face a future of lesser treatment. This case doesn’t argue that Cramblett sees the world as “colorless” and just wants the sperm bank to pay for their mistake. Instead, the case argues that yes, people have different skin tones and should be treated accordingly.

Furthermore, Cramblett is not suing for the blunder of the sperm bank. She is suing for compensation for being given this “other” treatment without asking for it. If she receives reparations, what will this mean for people of color across the country? How will this affect the precedent for future race-driven court cases? How will this affect the notion that integration is progress if a lone black child surrounded by white kids, even in a privileged neighborhood, is deemed negatively affected by their living situation by the state?

This case will drive the court and (hopefully) the rest of America to reevaluate how our institutions work for some and not others and what a good living environment is for different races.

Steph Saxton is a freshman Writing Seminars and Political Science double major.


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