Saturday, June 28, 2008

A White Cultural Crisis?

Photo courtesy of Time Magazine

By now I'm sure you've heard of all those pregnant teenage girls at Gloucester Highschool, the debates over whether there was a 'pregnancy pact' or not, whether there needs to be more sex education or condoms tossed around etc. If not here is part of the piece in Time Magazine that contributed to this local news story becoming a national one:

"As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies — more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there's been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. School officials started looking into the matter as early as October, after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. "We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy," the principal says, shaking his head.

The question of what to do next has divided this fiercely Catholic enclave. Even with national data showing a 3% rise in teen pregnancies in 2006 — the first increase in 15 years — Gloucester isn't sure it wants to provide easier access to birth control. In any case, many residents worry that the problem goes much deeper. The past decade has been difficult for this mostly white, mostly blue-collar city (pop. 30,000). In Gloucester, perched on scenic Cape Ann, the economy has always depended on a strong fishing industry. But in recent years, such jobs have all but disappeared overseas, and with them much of the community's wherewithal. "Families are broken," says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. "Many of our young people are growing up directionless."" (Read all about it here)

As I've mentioned in the past, American moments like this one reveal a troubling double standard regarding race. I've listened to lots of commentary about this weird phenomenon going on in Gloucester but have not heard a single person suggest that any of these girls being white contributed to their behavior. If these were seventeen black teenagers it would be assumed by whites and blacks that their 'blackness' was a significant factor. There would be talking heads on television every night debating the moral degradation of black culture, the pernicious influence of hip-hop music, the crisis of 'baby mamas' and so on. Even when there is some kind of cultural critique, such as the references to Juno or Knocked Up in this case, the critique is color-blind, no mention of the fact that both these movies were about white women (and men for that matter) making pretty dumb decisions. So here's the question, are the pregnancies in Gloucester signs of a white cultural crisis? Should we not burn up considerable airtime, type frantically at our keyboards, convene academic conferences and public hearings all across the country to examine this possibility? If not, why not? Wouldn't that be the just and equitable thing to do?

"Say: Observe equity in your judgment, ye men of understanding heart! He that is unjust in his judgment is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man's station."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 203)