Sunday, December 30, 2007

BMD Examines: The Power (and politics) of Presentation

Phillipe Copeland challenges the spin of image and perception when it comes to the examination of white teenagers and pregnancy versus that of black teenagers.

Phillipe writes: "For many the unmarried, black teenage mother has become a virtual icon of the alleged depravity and decline of "black culture". How often do you hear pundits, politicians and intellectuals bemoaning the depravity and decline of "white culture" because sometimes a young white woman gets pregnant when she didn't plan to? Like so called "black on black" crime, it appears that the rules are different when a white teenager gets pregnant."

It seems that in the wake of the Jaime Spears revelation we have an opportunity to see with clear lenses how a set of circumstances for black teenagers can be used to focus the collective conscience on carelessness, moral depravity and a dearth of hope while that same situation in the life of a white teenager acts a perfect opportunity to focus on maturity, courage and the potential to overcome obstacles.

What do you think about the disparity in portrayal? How much of its negative effects do you think would be avoided by pulling our children away from the television where they are constantly being packaged in one stereotypical way or another?

Do you think that as parents of black children it is imperative that we provide our children with every opportunity to be encouraged and self affirming, even when the action is less than skillful? Generations of young people having babies has proven that as difficult as it might be, the ultimate outcome is not always so grin and detrimental.

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Blogger Denmark Vesey said...

I think the stereotype of the unwed teenage black mother has finally caught up with the reality that teen pregnancy is not a race issue at all, but a class issue.

Interpreting pathology as race phenomena is a national pastime and a collective exercise in intellectual laziness.

Is there really such a thing as “black teens” and “white teens” anymore? Or are they simply American teens? Black and white teens alike consume the same MTV, the same rap, the same "Knocked Up" movies and the same processed fast food.

They attend the same schools. They wear the same Nikes. Both groups attend church less than every before.

America is no longer divided between "Good Times" and "The Brady Bunch". Like Eminem said: "What do you do when your mother does more drugs than you do?"

The so-called suburbs are just as ghetto as the projects.

A society that promotes sex to teens and discourages marriage as much as we do, should be happy the teen pregnancy rates are as low as they are.

Is there really a stigma associated with teen pregnancy anymore? If it is, it is not because of any moral failure on the part of the teens in question - but more of a critique of his or her future earning potential.

Stigma? What stigma? It’s not because the kids are having sex. We give them condoms and birth control pills SO they can have sex. Is this presumed stigma because the teen is unmarried? Hardly. Marriage, like religion, is mocked in this country.

That's where Bill Cosby made his mistake. He approached an American problem as if it were a "black" problem.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I hit my sons over the head with the message that you don't have kids till you're married because I know that they aren't getting that message from society. And to say that it's preferable to have parents be married is perceived as being not open-minded.

I also think Denmark's comments are very true.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Phillipe Copeland said...

I'm probably misunderstanding what Denmark is saying. If so, I happy to be corrected. My understanding is that the idea that the issue is "class" rather than race does not take into account that class in our society is racialized. What I mean is that within various classes of Americans, race is still a significant factor. Poor blacks and poor whites share similar challenges but their experiences are not identical. Likewise with the middle class. To be black and middle class and white and middle class are not the same. Likewise, a black teen mother and white teen mother may be morally equivalent in the sense that neither is better than the other but they are not yet socially equivalent. I would agree that the cultural issues you described should be discussed, but in addition to not instead of talking about race.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Jasai said...

Phillipe, I think those are important clarifying points you make. We can not underestimate the effect that the differences in presentation have on the psyche and subconscious of our young people.

Even if we take into account that many young people may listen to the same music and find themselves interested in the same popular culture components, there is no denying that the images, accompanying narratives and resulting perceptions of our teenagers finds a home in the place where they form opinions about the value of people and social order.

Discounting this reality is a great disservice to our young people who are left to decide that the way they feel about themselves (even if they don't know why) is irrelevant and a figment of their imagination – because of course all kids listen to the same Snoop, wear the white T and spit the same slang. The larger problem being that this lowered self esteem as a result of images taken in, fuels subsequent behavior, creating what we are now experiencing as this unfortunate self-deprecating cycle.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

There is a perception problem here. I think it may come down to means. Too many poor black girls get pregnant. So they then are forced to live of the system. Whereas a pregnant white girl like Jamie has the means to raise her child without the intervention of the system. Jamie and girls like her are almost immune to the statistics and stereotypes because it's so unusual for cases like hers to be seen by the masses. We can only make judgments based on what we see and we see are black faces in the welfare offices and white faces on tabloid magazine covers.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Aly Cat 121 said...

It's always going to be one sided because he who controls the media also controls the mind.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Kundalini Yogini said...

Sitting here just now, listening to the dharma it struck me that this is the way it is.

And i would have to say that gratefully, he who controls the media only controls the mind of the man who chooses to consume it.

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Trula said...

I am a former teenage mother. Based on my experience and from talking with other teen moms from varying class/race backgrounds, I think the primary cause of teen parenthood among underage teens is uninvolved parents.

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