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LEWIS W. DIUGUID: Unwed mothers often face disparities due to race
Bristol Palin's pregnancy resurrected memories of all the black girls and women I've known ho've had an uncertain, unwelcomed future as unwed moms. Palin, 17, is the daughter of Sarah Palin. Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked the Alaska governor as his vice-presidential running mate, elevating Bristol Palin's pregnancy into the superheated intensity of the world news spotlight. The 44-year-old Christian conservative governor's daughter is an unmarried high school student. But her status as a single mom-to-be isn't expected to last long. The daddy-and-husband-to-be, Levi Johnston, is an 18-year-old, bad-boy former high school ice-hockey player. Although the media and public scrutiny on Bristol Palin's pregnancy has been continuing, it has been mostly positive and compassionate. None of the unwed pregnant black girls or women I have known - or black females who've been targeted as a group by the media - have been treated as kindly or with as much understanding as Bristol Palin.
That has to change. Unwed, pregnant black females endure mountains of blame and shame. These black girls and women have included baby sitters I had when I was a kid, girls I knew in grade school and high school, and some women in college. They were my classmates and friends. Some were my daughters' friends. Their mistake was unprotected sex with boys or men. Their situation was no different from Bristol Palin's. Some of the unintended pregnancies could have been prevented with better sex education. But over the last few years that information has been less available.
Sarah Palin - like President Bush and other Christian conservatives - pushes hugely unsuccessful abstinence-only education programs. The outcome is more girls like Bristol Palin have ended up pregnant. But the Palins are treated with kindness and caring, which is wonderful. I just wish the black girls and women I have known were as fortunate. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson commended the Palins for "pro-life and pro-family values" and for "living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances." "Being a Christian does not mean you're perfect," he said. "Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfection to the Lord."
Mary Frances Berry wrote in her book, "The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Injustice," that black and white girls are viewed differently as unwed mothers.
Berry, former chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and professor of history and law at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "blacks were referred to as living in 'zoological tenements' that served as 'breeding warrens,' characterizations that might justify sterilization. White women, being deserving, could be rehabilitated and redeemed. ... "The different attitudes reflected and reinforced the story of black immorality and dependency." That inequity has to change, just as Republican conservatives want people to think they have changed.
It was only in 1992 that Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the main character of the TV show "Murphy Brown." His criticism was for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.'"Perhaps this is a brave new world. I just hope the progressive attitude is extended to all.