From racist billboards to the billboard charts - Ryan Bomberger's rebranding

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Re-posted from the Political Research Associates blog.

Emerging anti-choice leader Ryan Bomberger took center stage mid-September at the Christian Right’s Values Voter Summit. Prior to walking on stage, Bomberger was introduced as an Emmy award-winning creative media professional, who was adopted by a Christian family after his biological mother, raped, carried him to term. After that compelling introduction, the lights dimmed as the mega screens displayed Bomberger’s recent work—an animated anti-Obama election short. For the politically conservative, largely Caucasian audience, this eased any concerns that Bomberger might be among the majority of African Americans in favor of President Obama’s reelection.

Bomberger continued aligning himself with this audience by proudly stating, “I’m as black as Obama. That means I’m half white, half black. That doesn’t make me an African-American. Just…simply…American.” This declaration of his racial identity implicitly criticizes President Obama’s identification as African American and sniffs of birther rhetoric—especially given Bomberger’s subsequent statement affirming he was raised in “Pennsylvania Dutch Country and loves ham loaf.”

You might not know Bomberger and his organization, The Radiance Foundation, by name, but you likely saw or heard of their controversial anti-choice billboard campaign, “” The vicious campaign targeting the African American community—specifically women—launched in 2010 with eye-catching billboards including the faces and bodies of African American babies and toddlers alongside statements comparing poignant moments in Black history or current concerns such as urban violence to abortion rates. The taglines included “The 13th Amendment Freed Us, Abortion Enslaves Us” and “Black Children are Endangered Species.”

Although his media savvy is part of a new area of activism, Bomberger’s use of degrading language is quite old and racist. In fact, Bomberger’s point of view about African American women’s sexuality, reproduction, and family formation is part of a long history reaching back to chattel slavery when enslaved African women’s reproduction was legally owned and regulated for the sake of production. Bomberger’s perspective gives a clear nod to Reagan-era Right wing propaganda, which planted middle class tax burdens and the complex ills plaguing inner city communities squarely at the feet of poor African American mothers thought to be having too many babies. Today, Bomberger, along with a host of Right wing anti-choice actors, are again zeroing in on African American women by accusing us of committing Black genocide  because some in our community have chosen abortion.

Like our historical foremothers, African American women leaders along with women of color allies strategized and successfully pushed back these initial Right-wing efforts and got billboards removed from our communities. To learn more about these earlier campaigns and how women of color fought back, read the piece I co-wrote for the National Women’s Health Network and Miriam Zoila PĂ©rez’s 2011 Colorlines article, “Past and Present Collide as the Black Anti-Abortion Movement Grows.”

Bomberger hinted that we should stay tuned for new campaign efforts that will be launched this fall. These efforts will include anti-choice television ads cloaked as adoption public service announcements, touring and speaking at major conservative anti-choice events, and even music—Bomberger broke into song during his breakout session at Values Voters, giving a teaser of just one line of the Pop and R&B-sounding ballad dedicated to his biological mother. He was quick to let the audience know that he had CDs of the song that is now available on iTunes.

It seems that Bomberger is shifting his focus, at least for now, from the African American community to another aspect of his identity—an adoptee of a rape survivor—in order to situate himself as an authority on women’s reproductive healthcare access. He stands poised, as he spoke twice at Values Voters, to be a key voice in the Right’s movement to reduce abortion access even in cases of rape. After GOP senate hopeful Todd Akins was asked by GOP leadership to step out of the race due to his grossly illogical and dangerous statement about women’s biological capacity to fight off unwanted pregnancy due to rape (“legitimate rape”), Bomberger wrote, “As one born as a result of rape, I feel those who demanded that Congressman Akin step down allow the pro-abortion narrative to remain…”

Yet, what Bomberger seems to miss when he credits his biological mother‘s brave choice to keep him, is that she made a decision—hard, I am sure, but one that made sense to her and was protected by the law—and every woman deserves the same opportunity.

Stay tuned for my comprehensive article for PRA considering Bomberger and new opposition attacks on reproductive justice…

Malika Redmond is a participant in a collective of Black women bloggers supported by Strong Families. She is the Lead Gender Justice Researcher for Political Research Associates where she exposes oppositional strategies to suppress gender equality so that we may create loving, compassionate, and accountable realities. You can read her blogs here.