“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” This is a recent controversial tweet from Republican Congressman Steve King from Iowa. As someone in the field of bioethics, an Iowa resident, and as a white woman who recently adopted a black son, King’s quote is particularly disturbing.
Recent genomic studies have found that all human beings actually share 99.9% of the same DNA. We are coming to understand so late in the game that race is entirely a social construction, not a genetic fact. So if the human “race” is the only race as genomic studies have revealed, whether a baby is born in Zimbabwe or the middle of Iowa, no baby is “the other.” This means that there is no superior ethnicity or culture in this world or in world history. There are no superior babies, as King believes. The skewed Western philosophy and lifestyle that King idealizes is not the quintessential apex of all being, but is just another way of being. In fact, when scrutinized, this way of being is an existence that has resulted in the hoarding and abuse of most of the world’s resources. It is a way of being that has forced much of the world’s populations to suffer from its greed and insatiability.
The America that I call home is not a homogeneous nation with monolithic ideals. Instead, it is as it always has ultimately been – a country comprised of immigrants. The United States is just as varied in culture, ideals, and roots as any country would be that is 320 million people strong and wholly comprised of immigrants of vastly different cultures and backgrounds (excluding the native peoples who are the true people of this land).
So why must King and the Trump administration rhetoric contend that our differences in culture and background can only divide us, and not, instead, make us stronger? Why must all people who call themselves “American” be burdened to conform to King’s privileged, white-male conjured image of what it means to be the ideal American? I posit that it would be more advantageous and sagacious to, instead, rid ourselves of the bigotry, racism, and self-righteous ideology that has plagued this country for all of its history. Mr. King, our hope should not be to conform to your image, but to realize that our existence is interdependent on all others’ existence. Our lives are all interwoven as one fabric, and our well-being and thriving depends on that of our brothers and sisters, no matter what land or culture any of us are from.
Political philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote The Irony of American History in 1952. My hope is that the last words of this work may still haunt our country’s conscience today. He wrote all those years ago, “If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature of history but by hatred and vainglory.” Our hatred and vainglory is evident in our national history of religious bigotry, racism, sexism, classism, and a belief in our own invincibility and infinite deservedness. Our vainglory and hatred is undeniable in our international policy; they are written in the books of history with the blood of those whom we deemed “the other.” Our hatred and vainglory continues with Muslim bans, deportations of innocent people based on ethnicity, and with senators who work to take away basic healthcare for millions of America’s poorest people. Our hatred and vainglory is apparent in the militarization of our police forces, the pursuit of legalizing racial profiling, the desire to defund public schools and food programs and leave hungry and disabled children behind…and the list goes on. This same vainglory and hatred rings out so undeniably clear again in the words of Mr. King.
As I go to rock my son to sleep tonight, I will remember that I am literally holding and loving as my own someone King would call “somebody else’s baby.” He is my son, my whole heart, my world. Our skin is different colors, and yet he and I are 99.9% the same being. Our lives are irrevocably interwoven, as is our love and our futures. And this ideology goes beyond just my son. Ubuntu is an African philosophy and ethic that is direly needed in the United States in these days. Ubuntu has been described as the honoring of the humanity of all people with the realization that our lives are all inseparably interconnected. My humanity and my son’s is bound up with yours, Mr. King, as our futures are bound together. My hope is that all of our vainglory and hatred may someday soon crumble under the weight of this reality.
Darcy Metcalfe is an ordained Presbyterian minister serving in Iowa and also studying for her Ph.D. in bioethics in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Iowa. Her bioethics interests are ethics regarding genetic research with vulnerable populations.