Document 17I: W. G. Alexander, "A Medical Viewpoint," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 175.
A Medical Viewpoint
By W. G. ALEXANDER, M.D.
THE exploitation of the Negro slave as a commercial asset was the precursor of American big business, and to make it profitable, it was necessary to reach into the future and apply what is called high pressure methods. High pressure methods in the slave business meant the encouragement of prolific reproduction; for the greater the number of slave children born, the greater the possible profits for the slave owner.
Through generations of the application of high pressure methods, the slaves themselves developed the belief that their own best interest depended on continual and increased reproduction, and from this belief it was eventually felt that eminence in the slave community was determined by the size of the family. Even to this day, Negroes who were born in the ante-bellum period, and those who were reared in the immediate post-bellum generation, proudly boast of having had from ten to twenty children. It takes more than one or two generations to eradicate beliefs, customs and traditions that have been built up by centuries of practice; and the majority of Negroes, especially those who have not had the advantage of modern contact, still believe that it is an interference with the will of God, and inimical to their own personal welfare not to have as many children as possible.
The same big business that was responsible for mass production of slave babies was also responsible for creating an economic status for the Negro that has placed and continues to hold him at the bottom of the economic dump heap. For the slaves and their successors were the victims of a doctrine that decreed that they must eternally be "hewers of wood and drawers of water." The dual tragedy —of unlimited and untimed pregnancies and of an income in inverse ratio to the number of children— has inevitably produced a health situation that results in high morbidity, and appalling mortality rates for both infant and adult life.
When mass production of Negro babies was profitable, the Negro parents were under no responsibility for the maintenance of themselves and their offspring, for the plantation gave them what was necessary for a rudimentary existence. But with the end of slavery this condition necessarily changed, and they had to assume the responsibility of self-maintenance. While there has been a remarkable and laudable improvement in the material aspects of Negro life, the modern standard of living with its demands for proper clothing, proper feeding, proper housing and proper schooling, and all other concomitants of present-day civilization, have continued to increase this responsibility. But by and large the Negro has been unable to improve his economic status proportionately.
Mass production of Negro babies, therefore, has become an anachronism — an economic fallacy, creating a living problem that is both a racial and a community liability. The economic situation of the Negro is such that often both parents must become wage earners. The physical load of even periodic employment of a woman whose vitality is being constantly drained by frequent and closely placed pregnancies is too heavy, and results in a disproportionately high maternal death rate from puerperal causes, and in the production of children who are handicapped with inherited low resistance —the basic cause for the high infant death rate among Negroes.
The economic betterment of the Negro, the health betterment of the Negro, and the betterment of community standards (which is an inevitable corrolary) demand a policy and a program that will at least modify his present unfavorable situation. Birth control offers the only reasonable solution. The imperative need for Negroes is an educational campaign that will teach them the necessity and the value of intelligent birth control, and make available for them the opportunities for acquiring and applying the approved methods of prevenception.
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