Tag Archives: racism

Zero Shame Game

At the Washington Post, Patrick Welsh wrings his hands over the more supportive treatment pregnant teens and teen moms are receiving from some school districts. He is dismayed that teen moms are openly flaunting their motherhood.

The somber statistics about teen motherhood are the reason the day-care center, run by the local nonprofit Campagna Center, was opened in T.C. Williams two years ago. The idea is to keep the girls in school, let them get their diplomas and help them avoid the kind of fate described earlier. I’ve been a teacher for more than 30 years, and I want the best for my students and to help them succeed in every way possible. I know that these girls need support. But I can’t help thinking we’re going at this all wrong.

On the surface, Alexandria seems to be striving to stem teen pregnancy. Every high school student is required to take a “family life” course that teaches about birth control, sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. The Adolescent Health Center, a clinic providing birth control, was built a few blocks from the school. The city-run Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors workshops for parents and teens. But none of this coalesces to hit the teens with the message that getting pregnant is a disaster. And within the school, apart from the family life class, the attitude is laissez-faire, as if teachers and administrators are afraid to address the issue for fear of offending the students who have children.

Once a girl gets pregnant, though, the school leaps in to do everything for her. But I wonder: Is it possible that all this assistance — with little or no comment about the kids’ actions — has the unintended effect of actually encouraging them to get pregnant? Are we making it easier for girls to make a bad choice and helping them avoid the truth about the consequences? 

Heavens! Helping people without censuring them? As one nurse observes, “There is zero shame.” Zero shame! Ooooh God, Nooooo! How can we expect people to act more like us responsible middle class types if we don’t instill them with self-loathing?

In fact, as you no doubt suspected, these people are bringing it on themselves. (Aren’t they always, those lazy, shiftless people?) Our anguished writer cites the same school nurse to dredge up the “pregnancy pact” myth spread last Summer by a high school principal in Massachusetts. Say, whatever happened to that story? Oh, that’s right — two weeks after Time.com fomented another reason for adults to fear their irrational teens, it was refuted. By the mayor. So whatcha bet that the school nurse in this article has no direct knowledge of such a pact among her students; that she overheard some “buzz” somewhere (conservative talk radio? news headlines next to her email? an opinionated colleague?); and that she parroted this bit of conventional wisdom for the benefit of our gullible writer?

And if you detect a slight trace of racial privilege mingled with the classist overtones, your nose will soon get out of joint. Welsh notes that overall teen pregnancies have dropped significantly:

The birth rate among teens, after falling 36 percent since 1990, went up 3 percent in 2006, the first increase in 15 years. And most of the rise is due to pregnancies among Hispanic girls.

Sensitive liberal guy that he is, Welsh hastens to note that white teens get pregnant, too, but it’s a class thing, and where he lives, class translates into ethnicity. Fair enough. Poverty and disadvantage hit people of color a lot harder than people of, um, non-color. But this is the point where Welsh starts dredging up the “pregnancy pact” myth and quoting high school students of, um, non-color whose disapproval is hard to conceal. These Hispanic teen moms “are living in a dream world” so says a girl in AP English. I was relieved (surprised, too) that Welsh got around to talking to at least one of the young women he spends so much time discussing with other people.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I’m torn about T.C’s teen moms and the Tiny Titans center. As upset as I get at the recklessness I see in some of the girls and their boyfriends, I can’t begrudge someone like Cynthia Quinteros the help she needs to raise her one-year-old son. “If it wasn’t for the day-care center, I would have to quit school to take care of Angel,” says the 16-year-old. “My mother is a single mom, and my brother is 11. My mom has to work.”

Cynthia’s days are grueling. She gets up at 6 a.m., feeds and dresses Angel and is at school by 7:50. She drops Angel off at the center, eats breakfast in the cafeteria and heads for class. Her mom picks her and the baby up at 3:15 p.m. At home, Cynthia eats, plays with Angel, starts homework and then leaves at 4:50 for her supermarket cashier’s job. She gets home at 10:10, does a little homework and goes to bed.

See? He’s a nice guy! He’s “torn”! He doesn’t “begrudge” Cynthia. He’ll even go into details about her “grueling” day — and, indeed, he chose the right word. But it doesn’t take him long to revert to ethnic stereotypes — and with Cynthia’s corroboration: a lot of her friends “actively tried to get pregnant” (but not Cynthia; she missed a Depo shot one day.) And according to a medical director, “most of these girls and their families see no problem with being unmarried and having a child at 16 or 17.”

Waiting for the “drain on public services” argument? Here it co-oo-omes!

Most of the mothers are in free and reduced school-lunch programs, and few have insurance. So when they get pregnant, a whole tax-supported industry kicks into action: The Health Department assigns a nurse to the girl, a group called Resource Mothers is notified to pick girls up at school or home and drive them to doctor’s appointments, and the Campagna Center plans day care for the child. The school dietitian plans nutritious meals for the mothers. The federally funded WIC program provides free formula, milk, cheese, peanut butter and the like to the teens and their babies. In Virginia, girls from 13 on up are eligible for free reproductive services — prenatal care, hospital visits and delivery.

According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teen childbearing nationwide cost taxpayers $9.1 billion in 2004. Teens 17 and under — the ages of most of the girls at T.C. — account for $8.6 billion of that total, or an average of $4,080 per teen mother annually.

Welsh repeatedly singles out Latina teens and “the rising birth rate among Hispanics” as sources of trouble for befuddled and overworked social workers, educators and health officials. Get it? They are a burden. They’re a drain on tax dollars that should be going to bailing out the financial industry or failing to reconstruct countries we’ve bombed into chaos and desperation. Damn these poor people and their grubby demands!

Look, no matter what age a woman becomes a mom, our society is not prepared to support the needs of children. Period. If “shame” needs to be directed at anyone, it’s the opponents of universal health care, education and a living wage. It’s the unthinking voters who have consistently clamored for tax cuts and psuedo-patriotic war-mongering. We’re momentarily in a “season of Hope/Change/Transformation/Whatever” but all along there have been these undercurrents of resentment against Hispanics and of frustration with our broken social safety nets. An article like this only feeds the fire.

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In Contempt (10/14/2008): Backfire

Backfire cartoon
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You Mean, Like Gwen Ifill?

FoxNews commentator (I think it’s Cal Thomas sans mustache) includes Maxine Waters, Cynthia McKinney and news anchors among a list of “angry black women.” Not that I think such a description applies to any of these women (nor, for that matter, Michelle Obama, the subject Thomas discusses), but at least they would have had opportunities to express anger or outrage in a political forum. That’s what politicians do, after all. But when the hell do any news anchors express anger?

Oh, here we go!

Thomas video found via TerrenceDC at Pam’s House Blend, who has some smart observations on this “angry black woman” meme.

Barack Obama and Racial Paranoia

Barack and Michelle Obama went on the Today Show this morning to perform some serious damage control following Monday’s performance by Reverend Jeremiah Wright before the National Press Club. Indeed, to be fair, we should view both television appearances as performances, one by Wright, the other by the Obamas, in a larger drama playing out several conflicts at once: between two generations of African Americans, between two strains of political philosophy on the American Left, and between Black political actors and the American media over how to define the image of political participation by African Americans. As an example of the latter, consider Maureen Dowd’s snarky portrayal of Obama as the Sort of Angry Black Man and Wright as the Really Angry Black Man. (Cripes, is she annoying.)

That is by no means an exhaustive list. For example, I have not mentioned Michele’s role as supportive wife, and the balancing act she has to perform as providing “strength” as his advocate while “softening” her husband’s image via her very presence. Better minds than mine can explore the implications of this role for women in political life, and Black women, especially in the context of this conflict over the image of Black political participation.

What strikes me is the relevance of a theory I recently came across in a new book written by communication and anthropology professor John L. Jackson, Jr., Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness. Don’t let that subtitle fool you; I think it was an editor’s choice, because Jackson is not ranting about the “excesses” of “P.C. culture” like some Limbaugh boor. Rather, he puts forward a rather thoughtful thesis:

Racism is characterized by hatred and power: the hate people express for other racial groups and the relative power they possess to turn that hatred into palpable discrimination or material advantage. The concept of racial paranoia, however, stresses the fears I’ve been talking about, the fears people harbor about other groups potentially hating or mistreating them, gaining a leg up at their expense. Racial paranoia is racism’s flipside, even if those two analytically discrete sides can sometimes effortlessly meet. (p. 4, Introduction).

Examples Jackson cites in the Preface and Introduction are Dave Chappelle’s perception that one of the crew member’s on his show was laughing inappropriately at his use of black face; and the Reverend Louis Farrakhan’s promotion of a theory that the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers had deliberately dynamited the dams near black neighborhoods in New Orleans to spare white neighborhoods from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. I thought especially of the latter when I read that Wright in his press conference had repeated the old theory that the C.I.A. had brewed the HIV virus and tested it on vulnerable populations, including poor working class people of color. Such assertions put Obama and any other Black politician attempting to appeal to “mainstream white voters” on the defensive. Indeed, much of Obama’s reluctance to distance himself from Wright stems not only from his personal relationship, but also from the differences in perception that Jackson identifies among Blacks and Whites regarding events that disproportionately affect the Black community, such as the spread of AIDS and Hurricane Katrina. Regarding the latter, Jackson relates an appearance by Chuck D. on Tucker Carlson’s thankfully now-kaput MSNBC show; typically, Carlson plays the Reasonable White Guy flabbergasted that anyone would believe Farrakhan’s theory and that Chuck D. – “a smart guy” in Carlson’s disingenuous words (p. 7) – would not immediately denounce it.

Carlson is a perfect example of America’s too-quick willingness to dismiss the significance of racial paranoia. Of course, such dismissal allows everyone to sleep better at night, believing that a few racial cranks say nothing meaningful about more general racial suspicions in American society, but we can’t begin to understand race today (or the volatile racial fault lines of contemporary national politics) without taking such beliefs (as wild as they may seem) quite seriously – not as points of fact but as organizing principles for how people make sense of their everyday lives and the forces potentially allied against them.

I have only begun to read this book, obviously from the source of my quotes, but I really appreciate Jackson’s approach. In calling such fears “paranoia” Jackson does not “mean that they’re not after you.” He doesn’t off-hand dismiss these fears, but sees them as rooted in a post-Civil Rights environment in which readily identifiable sources of discrimination such as Jim Crow laws have been largely eliminated, yet more subtle practices continue and social inequities along lines of racial and ethnic identity persist without a larger narrative to explain them. As such, the demand for Obama to completely renounce Wright – sever ties, hit him with a shovel and bury him in ditch, or whatever means would truly satisfy the Sean Hannities of the world – are inherently racist in nature, reflecting the institutionalized blindness Whites enjoy as a social privilege.

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In Contempt (4/29/08): Credibility

in contempt 4/29/08

Click the image to see the full cartoon.

And the full explanation for it.

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Cops Shoot Unarmed Black Man, Get Off Scot-free; repeat ad nauseum

I have nothing original to add to the discussion of the police murder of Sean Bell and the judge’s decision to let the guilty cops go free. Maybe because I’m too pissed off, or nauseated, or both by the loss of life, the criminal murder of an innocent man, the inherent racism of the police state, the loss to the man’s wife and young daughter and the rest of his family – I could go on. But others are writing more eloquently than I can muster today, so I link with approval to them.

Holly writes at Feministe that the police murder of black men is a feminist issue. She makes a strong, eloquent case.

The problem is that this disproportionately affects communities of color. The black men who are most often slaughtered by such violence, and all the women and children in their lives too, their loved ones, friends and relatives. A system that is all too eager to exonerate “the thin blue line” and continue business as usual. All of these are feminist issues. Racism must be a feminist issue, for any kind of feminism that counts. Police brutality must be; the biases of the criminal justice system must be.

The SuperSpade is rightly flabbergasted and bitter:

I know there will be rallies held in New York to protest this miscarriage of justice and if you are in the area, you should go. After the marches though, Bell’s story like Amadou Diallo and others will be filed in the Black consciousness as the continuing saga of injustice that has plagued Black folk since we were kidnapped from Africa. Surely this is worth Black folk being bitter right?

Mikhael B. Reid expresses her outrage and posts links to cartoons she has done on this case and on police brutality.

I’ll post more when I find it.

Oh, And: Barack Obama registered the predictable “we are a nation of laws so don’t go crazy in the streets” admonishment. Not that I expected him (or think he should) advocate rioting, but it would be refreshing to hear a prominent politician say something like, “We are a nation of laws, sure, but I don’t see how the police can be allowed to gun down a person in cold blood and get away with it. Something is wrong with our justice system. Cases like this make the law seem like a sham to protect the power of the state against the rights – the very lives – of the people.”

UPDATE: The Village Voice reports that the Justice Department will begin investigating civil rights violations pertaining to this case. And that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to take measures that will build up public trust in the police department.

Curiously, Bloomberg announced that one of the ways they hoped to instill public trust in the NYPD was by bolstering the staff at the Civilian Complaint Review Board so that now “complaints are dealt with swiftly and efficiently.” What Bloomberg didn’t mention was that since bolster the CCRB last year the NYPD has “swiftly and efficiently” been dumping a record number of the agency’s substantiated cases.

Roberto Lovato analyzes the political implications of this case for Obama, although I could give a crap less. However, I agree with his conclusion:

Beyond Obama, all of us need to raise our voices and point at the abyss of our country’s institutional racism as was painfully and transparently reflected in today’s verdict. We might want to start by pushing Obama, Clinton and McCain — and the mainstream media — to speak honestly and continually about what the 50 bullets in Sean Bell say about justice in the 50 states of our tattered and bloodied union.

Arizona Legislator tied to Neo-Nazis

Russell Pearce, the Arizona state representative who is pushing through a bill to destroy Mexican-American studies and Chicano studies programs in publicly funded schools and colleges has Neo-Nazis among his political allies. So reports Steven Lemons of the Phoenix New Times.

Are pro-neo-Nazi values American values? Why of course they aren’t. So that means ol Russ is just plain un-American for encouraging such varmints. He should be stripped of his salary and legislative position tout de suite and returned to the wilderness of Mesa to dwell the rest of his days. Perhaps some waggish Democratic legislator could propose a law to ban Pearce and his ilk from the state capitol forever.