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Media Fuels Gloucester Girls' Double Standard

Black America Web.com, Commentary, Tonyaa Weathersbee Posted: Jun 25, 2008

It seems that in Gloucester, Mass., a fishing town described as white, Catholic and blue-collar, students who walk the halls of the local high school this fall may find themselves bumping into classmates who will be returning with their own bump. Seventeen girls at Gloucester High School are pregnant -- more than four times the number of pregnancies that the school of 1,200 has had in a year.

Time magazine recently reported that the pregnancies may have been part of a pact that the girls entered into to give birth to and raise their children together. But the principal of the school, Joseph Sullivan, has been silent since making that assertion -- possibly to quench the media firestorm ignited by that sordid tale. The mayor of the town, Carolyn Kirk, is vigorously denying that there was any pregnancy pact -- saying that Sullivan now claims his memory of the details is foggy.

Me, I believe Sullivans memory is just fine. Its his courage that has lapsed.

But Kirk and others neednt worry too much about the towns reputation because ultimately, the Gloucester girls will receive more of societys sympathy than its scorn. The fact that the media is focusing on whether there was a pact and whether the girls are victims of a celebrity culture that spawns movies like Juno and Knocked Up, says that when white kids do something that smacks of antisocial behavior, people are quick to dig for explanations.

When black kids do antisocial things, people think that all they need are sermons.

By now, everyone should know that becoming pregnant isnt a wise career move for any teenager. Despite anecdotes of how some teenage mothers, like the singer Fantasia and others, grow up to become successful, studies too numerous to name here show that children who are born to teenage mothers are several times likely to grow up in poverty -- and to suffer all the problems that come with that package.

Yet it seems that over the years, as black teenage births continued to grow, many people seemed content to treat it as some kind of inner moral deficit; as part of blacks inability to control their sexual urges. As a columnist at a daily newspaper, I cant begin to tell you about the numerous calls I get from whites -- racists who have found a new best friend in Bill Cosby -- who are convinced that black immorality is the sole reason for our teenage pregnancy epidemic.

One caller, who claimed to be a middle school teacher, once left a rambling message on my voice mail about how disgusted she gets with all the little black girls in her class who gleefully share pictures of their sonograms with each other.

I wonder if shes as disgusted by what the Gloucester girls did.

Chances are she isnt. Because chances are sociologists, psychologists and all other manner of experts will be trying to explain why those girls happened to get pregnant at the same time. Theyll talk about the influence of popular culture, which brought us Jamie Lynn Spears, and phrases like baby bump. Its a culture which treats the public and vulnerable girls to aisles full of magazine racks with covers of the latest, unwed celebrity mom-to-be.

Theyll probably even coin this debacle as The Gloucester Syndrome, when its imitated at other, mostly-white high schools. Itll be treated as a trend, not as a depravity.

Hopefully, at some point, the talk will turn to the truths behind teenage pregnancy. One truth is that teenage girls, regardless of race, will make a baby if it they think it means love and acceptance.

Another truth is that they tend to get love and esteem in stable families; families whose influence is a buffer against all the silliness that they absorb from their peers and popular culture. Another truth is that economic instability, such as the type that has hit Gloucester and that has plagued black, inner-city neighborhoods for decades, makes growing stable families difficult.

Maybe then, that talk will force more people to see that black girls in inner-city schools wind up pregnant for many of the same reasons that the Gloucester girls did. They do it to follow their peers and the culture that theyre left to work with, not because they are immoral or stupid.

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