Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Wee Bit o' Racism Fueling Abstinence-Only Education?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the huge VIRGIN poster that I ran across in a largely African American neighborhood. I am glad to know that I wasn't just reading too much into the placement of this poster. The Boston Globe reported today:

The Romney administration plans to introduce a new abstinence education program in Massachusetts schools beginning next month, the state's most aggressive effort yet to use a controversial method of teaching Bay State teenagers about sex.

The campaign, scheduled to last through June 2007, will only target certain schools and will be aimed especially at teens in black and Hispanic communities, who tend to have higher rates of sexual activity. The proposal by the state Department of Health, quietly posted on its website earlier this month, would add an abstinence education program for 12-to-14-year-olds in an unspecified number of schools.

The campaign would be funded by a $50 million federal abstinence-only grant program, which provides money to states for initiatives that teach abstinence but deliberately do not address condoms and other methods of contraception.

Before I launch into articulating my concerns that the selective targeting of African Americans and Latino communities is fueled by a wee bit o' racism let me point you toward this study, in JAMA. If you want to prevent teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs and encourage young people to have healthier attitudes toward sex, then offer them comprehensive sexual education.

Now to my suspicions of Racism. There is no way we can consider this campaign to target these communities independently from the forced sterilizations in the 1950s and 1960s.

Moreover, stereotypes of the sexually permissive Black or Latina woman abound. Any young girl from either of those communities are likely to have internalized some of those racist stereotypes that mar one's self-esteem. People with low self-esteem tend to make really bad choices. And, to top it off, you keep them completely uneducated about sex, contraception, and STDs. How does that make sense?

The high rates of sexual activity in these communities could have a lot to do, also, with poverty and lack of education. You have parents working several low-paying jobs so that they can barely pay the bills. The schools are substandard and deteriorating. If you grow up in government housing, you learn pretty quickly what the rest of the world thinks of you. A young girl or boy growing up in these conditions is likely to think they don't count very much.

I find it unsurprising that you will find a lot of sexual activity in these neighborhoods. Why do people have sex? Love, companionship, it feels good? Duh.

Moreover, you have a powerful consumer culture that teaches women that their sexual appeal is what really matters. There are so few images of powerful, self-possessed women, and particularly women of color. There are, however, a great deal of sexually charged images of Black and Latina women with their salacious booties and bling bling. The clear message is that women are to find power in embracing and flaunting their sexuality.

You also have a community that is deeply suspicious of the white medical establishment, fearing that birth control and abortion are plots to prevent these communities from reproducing. Black children and Latina children fear, with good reason, that they are simply less valuable than White children.

How sucessful do you think a moralizing abstinence only education, funded and encouraged by white, conservative Christians likely to influence the sexual habits of these young people.

Before I end this post, I must share a few examples of "letters to the editor" in my hometown newspaper, decrying the birth of the 17th child to a Russian couple. I am including these letters to illustrate how screwed up we are about poverty and sexuality. Poor people should simply not "breed."

Church support, not taxpayers

I would have liked to have had many children but stopped at two because I couldn't afford more without going on public assistance. I appreciate that the Chernenkos feel their family is from God, but in fact taxpayers are enabling them to have their family. If the Chernenkos' church thinks this is from God, then the church should pay for the family's needs. They seem like a wonderful family, but I would like to support my own family. Public assistance is necessary for those who need it, but it should not be abused.

Thanking God and taxpayers

I feel like such a fool. My wife and I waited to start a family until we felt like we were financially capable of raising our own children. We did not feel it was society's responsibility to provide for our family. Now I know that all I had to do was rely on "God" to find a way for me to breed indiscriminately.

Perhaps the "religious persecution" they felt in their home country was a society unwilling to shoulder the financial burden of providing for their children.