Amsterdam News, New America Media
NEW YORK—Parents, educators and elected officials gathered at the Department of Education HQ at the Tweed Building on Tuesday to denounce the birth control gaffe made by controversial Schools Chancellor Cathie Black.
Apparently, Black, a mother of two, objects to fruitful loins in the inner city. Last Thursday night, speaking at a task force meeting about overcrowded classes at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s downtown Manhattan office, Black quipped, “Could we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us.”
To what appeared to be nervous laughter, Black compounded the faux pas by adding that concerned parents are faced with “many ‘Sophie’s choices,’” referencing a movie where a mother has to make a choice regarding handing one of her two children over to the Nazis.
“She made a joke,” declared staunch defenders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who aggressively ushered in the unqualified, waiver-requiring former chairwoman of Hearst Magazines into the position that heads the city’s 1,700 schools, with their 1.1 million public school students.
Running interference on Tuesday at her first press conference since the comment, Bloomberg answered 13 of 15 questions asked of his schools chancellor, and then butted in again when she was asked about her birth control remark.
“Let me say it for her. Yes, she made a joke,” Bloomberg insisted for the umpteenth time in the wake of this latest controversy. He had made the same defense after he was booed at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebration at the National Action Network on Monday.
As Bloomberg and Black held Tuesday’s news conference at the Department of Education, regarding the city seeking $10 million to fund programs for students in need of additional tutoring, Bloomberg said, “She made a joke. Should she [have] made the joke? In retrospect, probably not.”
Council Member Jumaane Williams called Black’s comment “simply astounding. Given the history of government-sanctioned sterilization programs and medical experimentation on communities of color and the large numbers of students of color in the New York City school system, the statement shows an unacceptable level of insensitivity.”
While the Department of Education did not respond to an AmNews request for comment, they did issue a statement last week saying, “Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously, which is why she was engaged in a discussion with lower Manhattan parents on the subject. She regrets if she left a different impression by making an off-handed joke in the course of that conversation.”
At a rally at the Tweed Building on Tuesday, Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron wasn’t buying it, “Once again she has shown that her inexperience and the fact that she is unqualified does not bode well for the public school students of this city. Bloomberg should admit that his choice was the wrong choice, and Cathie Black should resign immediately. Her comments are blatantly ignorant and racist.”
Barron said, “Our children’s future is not to be played with. A child dies in ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ Those comments and references are no laughing matter.”
Council Member Leticia James said in a statement that “within a week of Cathie Black taking over for former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, she has already shown her lack of experience in the field,” and called her statements “simply irresponsible.” She added, “By stating birth control is a ‘simple solution’ to overcrowding, it implies that the birth rate is the only contributor to the overcrowding in schools; not the lack of funding for public school education and the continual closure of schools, specifically in urban neighborhoods. Mass entry of students into the public school system from private and parochial schools, the extensive unemployment rate and poor economy over the past few years may also play a role in overcrowding. Other reasons could be an increase in population due to relocation from other states or countries, as well as new housing developments being built throughout the city.”
“Wealthy families are not concerned about overcrowding, so Cathy Black was obviously talking about people in the lower income bracket in a city where 85 percent of the students are Black or Latino—so she means us,” said Barron, who hosted two rallies protesting Black’s remarks. “She’s not telling rich white people to have fewer children. Are we about to hear about eugenicist William Shockley or former Education Secretary William Bennett, who said that the crime rate could be reduced by aborting ‘every Black baby in this country’? It is a slippery slope when you start talking about birth control and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ with reference to overcrowded classrooms, but ignore the real factors like funding, the lack of resources and the hijacking of public schools by charter schools, and treating New York City public schools like a for-profit business for Bloomberg and his cronies.”
“Like many New Yorkers, I cringed when I heard that Schools Chancellor Cathie Black offered a smug reply…in response to the genuine concern about the overcrowded classroom situation in our public schools,” said State Sen. Reverend Ruben Diaz. “Given her attitude, can we expect that Cathie Black will be holding parent-teacher meetings where she will advocate for parents to either stop having sex, or to embrace abortion and sterilization as a solution to school overcrowding?”