Recently, my brother called to vent about an NPR report on teen pregnancy. Apparently a brouhaha had developed among some in the black community who saw the report as “racially biased”. They felt it reflected negatively upon African-American and Latino women. As a Washington D.C. based attorney, my brother tends to approach social issues differently than I do. He’s far more pragmatic in his thinking, much younger and very deliberate; even cutting at times. For me, one of the advantages of getting older is being able to look back on what has not worked. As an ultra-liberal, I tend to rely more on historical accounts as predictors of trends and change.
Ironically, we walked away finding agreement on one basic belief: it isn’t a stereotype if it’s true.
In fairness, the teen pregnancy debate has raged in minority communities for decades; the numbers have ebbed and flowed for generations. At the core of the debate is one unmistakable fact; people really don’t have to get pregnant. Out-of-wedlock births really are a matter of choice, a lack of foresight, and sheer irresponsibility. Fight the stereotypes as we might, being sexually active and getting pregnant really are two totally different issues.
Worse still is our inability to speak frankly about young men who exhibit no sense of commitment or responsibility in sharing in the care and support for the child they helped to create. Can anyone blame outsiders from looking astounded and disgusted at such behavior?
Statistically, the numbers of children born to young African-American and Latino mothers, albeit down from a decade prior, should horrify us. In communities rife with violence, poverty, and educational deprivation, sexually irresponsible behavior portends a perpetuation of powerlessness and dependence among our people. For children born from unplanned and often unwanted pregnancies, poverty, limited access to an adequate education, and a propensity for repeating the same cycle is often the result.
According to one source, 48 percent of non-Hispanic black women get pregnant before age twenty. Of this group, 97 percent are unmarried and have little recognizable means of financial or emotional support. Less than 23 percent of fathers remain in the lives of the child, or offer any financial assistance. Sadly, more than a quarter of teen mothers will be pregnant again less than two years after giving birth the first time.
In a nation replete with wealth, access and opportunities, it is imperative that we demand focus from each other. Although there are exceptions to any rule, to posit that a future facing these children is bleak is nothing less than an understatement!
Let us be clear, we have become a society bent on technology and a sense of the immediate: we do a disservice to young people when we make excuses for their irresponsibility.
If we are troubled at society’s tendency to lambast us with stereotypes, then let’s begin with corrective actions that make such claims lies, and not accusations verifiable with a simple Google search!