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News Posted on January 27, 2017

Camille Gear Rich Delivers 2017 Bodenheimer Lecture

Camille Gear Rich, Associate Provost for Faculty and Student Initiatives in the Social Sciences and Professor of Law at the USC Gould School of Law, delivered the 2017 Brigitte M. Bodenheimer Lecture on Family Law in the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom on January 19. Speaking to an audience including numerous King Hall faculty members, Rich gave a talk titled “Contracting Our Way to Inequality: Race, Sperm, Contracts, and the Making of the American Baby Market.” Video of the lecture is available here.

Rich, who is also director of both PRISM: The USC Initiative for the Study of Race, Gender, Sexuality and the Law, and of the USC School of Law's First Generation Legal Scholars program, began her talk by mentioning that she was formerly a research assistant for King Hall’s Professor Angela Harris, who was in attendance for the lecture. Professor Rich then spoke on the implications of Jennifer L. Cramblett vs. Midwest Sperm Bank, in which the sperm bank mistakenly gave Cramblett a vial from an African American donor rather than the white donor she requested, resulting in what her suit calls "an unplanned transracial parent-child relationship for which she was not, and is not, prepared.”

Rich said that the suit revealed an American consumer base that expects racial segregation of sperm and is prepared to litigate over intrusions that disrupt their expectation of a mono-racial family. Though consumers often say that in selecting a white donor’s sperm they are merely expressing a private preference, the greater demand and higher prices paid for white sperm indicates a “commodification of whiteness” that prompts questions “about our progress to racial equality” and 14th Amendment Equal Protection guarantees, Rich said.

“I do believe there is something fundamental behind our Equal Protection guarantee that should make us skeptical about these markets based on race,” said Rich. “There are all of these problems that spin off from this categorization based on race that we aren’t quite prepared to talk about or deal with, but in some ways they all boil down to questions about what we consider dignity. Do we feel like we’ve created a world in which people can walk with dignity when we still know that in certain areas people are creating commodities that are based on access to and exclusion from racial privilege?”