I love Comedy. My husband and I collect dvd’s of comedic standups we love, I am an avid viewer of comedy central standup hours, and I even have a comedy digital playlist on Imeem. When I was a little girl, my mother would banish me from the room during Def Comedy Jam, though I would find a way to either sneak the channel on my television or watch from a hiding place in the dining room. One major comedian during the late 80’s of my childhood was the late, great Robin Harris. A native Chicagoan and comedic powerhouse, Robin Harris was the inspiration for such comedians as Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. I myself was and still am a fan of Mr. Harris’ work, and his trademark characters, “BeBe’s Kids”.
While ranting about the unsavory wards of his fictional girlfriend Jamikka, Robin would tell an intriguing and very funny tale of how he came to deal with the kids she babysat, “BeBe’s Kids.” When extremely frustrated with one of the children, Robin would call them a , “TestTubeBaby!” to the great amusement of his audience. We retold the joke to our friends. We took it to school. We laughed while trying to replay the account to coworkers. It was the funniest thing we’d heard! And we couldn’t stop saying it. Calling people, “test tube babies” and snickering. It was a joke.
But while most of black america was laughing at this new joke and the “crazy things white folk do”, we were unknowingly growing a barrier between ourselves and a perfectly acceptable, if not dynamic route to parenthood. We do and say so many things in my community without thinking about the ramifications and implications. This joke, was more powerful than it seemed, and caused countless African American families to shun the practice of In-Vitro Fertilization.
We wouldn’t dare have a “test tube baby”. Folks weren’t gonna be laughing at our expense. And meanwhile, while we were busy hiding behind our pride, other ethnicities were reveling in the new-found science that was helping them reach their dreams.
Now this is not to say that other races weren’t hesitant to assisted reproduction, in fact Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics from 1998 show that there was only a 26.5 percent change in the amount of ART procedures and clinics between 1996 and 98 and that in 1998 there were only 360 ART clinics in the U.S. But, I do believe that stigmas tend to be hard to shake in the black community.
I look at friends and acquaintances now, who still, yet another 10 years later, see IVF as a last resort technology. Or a strange and far-fetched therapy that we add to the list of things that we think “only white chicks do or can afford”. Its funny when you think about it, how hard we still have to fend off the stereotypical thinking we were brought up with.
But, maybe these are just the ramblings of an over-observant writer and librarian who is up at an odd hour…yet, somehow,…I don’t think so.
R.I.P. Robin Harris, and hopefully R.I.P. to the stigma of the “Test Tube Baby” in the black community.