Abby Johnson felt the need to speak up about race.
In a June 25 YouTube video titled “My biracial boy,” the 39-year-old anti-abortion activist used her five-year-old adopted son as a jumping off point for a 15-minute manifesto on the roots of racial unrest in the United States. She made the video private a few hours after publishing it, but said she plans to make it viewable again soon. Other have reposted saved copies of her video.
Wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt printed with lyrics by Vanilla Ice, Johnson said in the video that her son is now an “adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy [but] one day he’s gonna grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking, maybe, brown man.”
Johnson said that while her four other sons “are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys,” her biracial son will likely be racially profiled by police when he grows up.
“That doesn’t make me angry,” Johnson said.
“I realized I’m gonna have to have a different conversation with [my son] than I do with my nerdy white kids,” she said.
With the voices of her children audible in the background, Johnson explained that she knows black men are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes than white men, and because of this, a “smart” police officer will be more careful around her “brown” son than around her white ones.
“I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes; so statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my [child’s name] walking down the road, as opposed to my white nerdy kids … these police officers know in their head … that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons. Okay. So the fact that, in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics,” she said.
“I’m a researcher by nature,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that, according to her research, high rates of incarceration of black men is caused by black fatherlessness. She then claimed that, according to her research, there is a push to make black fatherlessness culturally acceptable.
“There are studies out there that are trying to redefine black fatherhood. They are essentially saying that the seventy percent number is a lie because black fatherhood looks different than white fatherhood; that black fatherhood actually does look like a black man coming in and out of the home and not being a consistent presence in the home, and that version of fatherhood is equivalent to a white father being consistently in the home,” she said.
“Okay, I don’t want to cuss on here, but that is B.S., and that is racist,” Johnson continued.
“[B]lack fathers do not get a pass. Just because it is culturally different, just because black fathers don’t want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women,” she said.
Johnson did not specify which studies she read that attempt to redefine black fatherhood.
Apparently referring to the ongoing racial unrest following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, Johnson said, “Yeah, we’ve got big issues right now in the black community, but at the root of it the root is not with bad cops. The root starts in the home.”
“It’s not because of bad cops, [but] because of bad dads,” she said.
The video’s settings were changed to “private” a few hours after it was published.
I called Johnson on Thursday to ask some questions about the video. Here is our conversation:
SF: What were you hoping to achieve with this video?
AJ: I wanted to give my opinion and how I’m feeling about this whole situation. Particularly as a woman whose family is affected by this, because we do have a son who is biracial. We do recognize that we do have to have different conversations with our son. It’s not something we shy away from in our house. Race is not something we shy away from in our home.
SF: What study were you referring to, when you said you read that black men aren’t expected to be monogamous or raise their children?
AJ: I’ve seen several of them. There’s quite a few out there that show basically redefining black fatherhood, sort of showing that black fatherhood expectations are different. The expectation is different in black homes than in white homes. That was surprising to me. For me, fatherhood is fatherhood. It was just interesting to see that people were trying to differentiate fatherhood based on race.
I talked about that with some of my black friends, and they were really appalled by that. They were really outraged. I’ve had several discussions with one of my friends in particular about that. We both said this is something that needs to be addressed, by not just the black community but by everyone.
SF: Do you think black people might see your video and start to think differently about fatherhood?
AJ: I don’t know. Right now, tensions are very high, and I think in general, if you’re a white person and you’re not part of the Black Lives Matter movement, which I’m not, then your opinion is not valued. You’re seen as a racist. You’ve done a good job to paint me as that, anyway. I’m sure this article will do the same.
I think if you’re not on this “social justice warrior woke” train of thought, you’re considered a racist. I don’t think that’s fair. I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve ever discriminated against someone because of their race. I can’t remember a time when ever in my life I have acted on any sort of prejudice.
Of course we all have fleeting prejudiced thoughts that we all have to check. That’s something we all have. I just can’t ever recall a time in my life when I’ve actually been racist toward someone. But I think we’re living in times where it is the popular thing to call someone a racist. If your views don’t align with someone, you call them a racist, and if you disagree with what they say, you call them a racist.
I took my video down for a moment. I wanted to talk to my husband. I’m gonna put it back up. My family was getting threats from the supposed Catholic community.
SF: Who was threatening you?
AJ: People who subscribe to you. It’ll get worse once you put this out.
SF: What kind of threats are they making?
AJ: People saying they’re gonna call CPS, they’re gonna do everything they can to remove this child from my home. That’s ridiculous. And, this probably wasn’t a Catholic person, but one man messaged and put up a comment that said I didn’t deserve to be a mom, and someone should shoot me and put me out of my misery?
SF: Did you screenshot that comment?
AJ: I immediately deleted it. I don’t want to look at that.
This is the kind of hate that’s being spread right now. What you’re doing right now will only add fuel to the fire. That’s probably what you want. It’s just a very tense time, and it’s unfortunate people can’t share the things they want to share; they can’t share the things they discuss with their friends, with their family. They can’t talk about things without receiving threats, without being attacked from within the Catholic community. It’s a sad time.
SF: If we could, I’d like to go back to those studies you read that showed that there’s a push to change notions about black fatherhood. You said there was more than one. Do you remember where you saw those studies?
AJ: It led me down a rabbit trail. I looked up fatherlessness in general in homes, and that led me to fatherlessness in the black community, not that it was seen as appropriate that they weren’t in the home, but it was saying: In black culture, it’s acceptable for black men to be regularly in and out of the home, and more often than white fathers.
It did talk about black fathers being more likely to do more domestic things with their children, bathing their children, one study talked about that. Feeding their children, things of that nature. But there were other studies showing that fatherhood just looked different in the black community.
To me, it simply appeared they were trying really hard to justify the 70%, and to reduce the 70% number that’s been hanging out there for years and years. Instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem, it seemed like they were trying to justify the number.
SF: Are you aware of statistics that show that black men are more likely to be arrested more often for the same crimes that white people commit, and given harsher sentences when they are charged than white people who are charged with those same crimes?
AJ: I just simply looked at the statistics that were out there. Black men are disproportionately incarcerated.
SF: Is it possible that they don’t actually commit more crimes, but that they’re incarcerated more often anyway?
AJ: I don’t know. I’d have to look at numbers showing that. I don’t have that data in front of me. I think it’s possible. I think we just have to look at data as it comes. I’m always interested in looking at data. I can say that I am a person who, in general, appreciates data over emotion.
SF: If black fatherlessness is at the root of black incarceration rates, what is at the root of black fatherlessness? What do you think is the cause for that?
AJ: I’m not sure. I’m not a historian. I don’t have all the answers to everything that ails us in our society. I think there has to be something at the root of that. I think Alveda King has talked about that a little bit. Cultural expectations are different for various reasons. I don’t know all those reasons. I’m not a sociologist.
SF: If you know police officers are more likely to see your son as more of a threat than your white sons, do you discipline him in different ways from your white sons?
AJ: No, that’s a disgusting question.
SF: You said it would be smart for a policeman to treat them differently, so wouldn’t it be smart for you to treat them differently?
AJ: That’s a disgusting question. For you to think I would treat my children differently. The fact that you can’t see the difference is disgusting.
SF: Does the pro-life movement have a racism problem?
AJ: I think racism exists, yes.
SF: Do you think this video will help?
AJ: I didn’t create this video to extinguish racism. I created it to share my thoughts.
SF: You said you took the video down, but you’re going to put it up again. Why is that? Will there be a disclaimer or an explanation when you put it up?
AJ: I don’t need an explanation.
Here are some useful links for further reading. I will continue to add to this list.