Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is a natural occasion for politicians to talk about America’s unfinished business. On Monday, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, delivered his own remarks on the theme at a holiday breakfast at the Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, North Carolina*—using his 10-minute speech to offer his esoteric theories about how the country needs to reckon with the genetic unreality of race and the allegedly genocidal aims of abortion rights in audio obtained by Slate.
He began by telling the audience of church leaders that his teenage daughter is working on a biology project focusing on genetics. “She’s doing this genetic study trying to figure out dominant genes versus recessive genes and how they played out in the family,” said Forest, who is white. “It got me thinking: When we think about things like skin color, what we’re talking about is dominant and recessive genes. That’s what got this battle over civil rights, this fight that Martin Luther King was fighting, was ultimately about.”
Forest asked, jokingly, if the approximately 50 attendees could imagine attending church based on whether or not they had attached or detached earlobes. “That’s how this thing about human dignity goes astray and how we put things into the wrong context at times,” he said.
He went on:
It’s important to remember that God did not create a black man and a white man and a brown man. He created Adam and Eve. He created a genetic code within Adam and Eve that gave the possibility for all the colors that we have now within humanity. That’s what He created. I believe that within Adam and Eve’s family, you saw white children and black children and brown children and everything in between. And you probably saw blond hair and black hair and red hair and green eyes and brown eyes and blue eyes and hazel eyes. You saw all that because God [and His] infinite creativity and wisdom.
Yet at the same time there are people who want to destroy that tapestry and they partition people into political identity groups and say: “You’re over here because your skin color is brown, and you’re over here ’cause your skin color is”—what are we? What do you call our skin color anyway? We’re not white.
“None of us are truly white. None of us are truly black,” he continued, while people in the room laughed. “We have a great variety even in this audience.”
This section of the speech was conceptually stunning, like John Roberts’ colorblind jurisprudence raised to the level of scripture—digging into the physical fictitiousness of race to deny the social reality of it. The use of race and racism as a means of division becomes identified with “political identity groups.” All this in a state where Republicans have fought to hang onto an explicitly race-driven set of political gerrymanders.
A few minutes later, Forest steered his remarks into a common, somewhat ahistorical, right-wing anti-abortion message.
“There is no doubt that when Planned Parenthood was created, it was created to destroy the entire black race,” Forest said. “That was the purpose of Planned Parenthood. That’s the truth.”
Forest is not the first politician to claim that Planned Parenthood’s modus operandi is to practice eugenics in black neighborhoods and that abortion poses a unique threat to black people. The history of reproductive medicine, eugenics, and race is a complex and vexed one. But contemporary politicians use it to play on the real fear black Americans have pertaining to medical racism, to push the narrative that they want to deny access to this particular wing of reproductive health care out of a love for black communities—even as black women continue to experience higher rates of maternal mortality, poverty, high blood pressure, cesarean deliveries, and stress from racial inequality.
“How the black community can’t come together and see that and understand the fight against that, I don’t know. How the white community can’t come together and see that and fight against it, I don’t know either,” he added. “And so we have a job to do. And the challenge to all of us is do we have the courage to do it? Do we have the fortitude to stand up and fight for what we know is right, for the ideal that God set forth ahead of us? Do we have the courage to do that? Do we have the courage of black, white, and brown to come together and march together and fight together and stand together to do the things that we know God would have us do?”
Forest’s office and campaign have not returned a request for comment.
Correction, Jan. 21, 2020: This post originally misstated the location of Forest’s speech. It was in Raleigh, North Carolina, not Cumberland County.