Teen Mothers

November 13, 1990|By Ken Hamblin

Denver. ONCE AGAIN I find my sense of reason under attack by an ignorant theory concerning black underachievement in America. This time, the special wisdom centers around the curious problem of promiscuous procreation by unwed teen-age girls.

After decades of trying unsuccessfully to contain the problem by public education, Toni Morrison, author of ''Beloved'' and ''Tar Baby'' and an important black role model, has thrown in the towel.

Hers is a fashionable, but I think dismal, school of thought. According Ms. Morrison, teen-age motherhood is a laudable aspiration for black girls. And all that talk about a crisis is mere white bourgeois worry.

Having seen more than enough black teen mothers in crisis -- some of whom don't have the skill to spell the exotic names they give to their children -- I fear Ms. Morrison may be living in the Twilight Zone.

Over the years, I've listened to a group of angry black intellectuals, community leaders and bogus prophets -- and now Toni Morrison -- fashion reasons to explain away underclass anti-social attitudes, disdain for education and an almost total lack of family structure in the ghetto.

When all else has failed, these people often fall back on the simplistic explanation that mainstream (another word for white) values just aren't relevant to ghetto blacks. I wonder where they believe BMW and Cadillac pimp cars stem from?

Now Toni Morrison wants you and me to believe that becoming a mother at the ripe old age of 13 or 14 -- and even younger in some cases -- is a worthy ambition for black girls. ''I just want to take them all in my arms and say, 'Your baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, call me -- I will take care of your baby.' ''

This is one of the most ridiculous and irresponsible things I've ever heard and that's saying a lot. It fuels my suspicion that the black underclass is in the throes of a nervous break down. Ms. Morrison's endorsement of promiscuous, out-of-wedlock motherhood places a ponderous and insensitive burden on the backs of black girls. The girls would be better served if they were offered exit visas out of their underachiever existence instead of a lifetime guarantee of residency there.

Ms. Morrison should know better. In the ghetto, black girls are becoming pregnant at a rate of 163 per 1,000, compared to 83 per 1,000 for whites. Fifty-one percent of the black girls will not marry, compared to 19 percent of the white girls. And 41 percent of blacks will have an abortion, compared to 47 percent for whites.

Bourgeois values notwithstanding, Time magazine in 1985 reported that if the trend of teen pregnancy in America were permitted to go unchallenged, 40 percent of 14-year-old girls will be pregnant at least once before age 20. And the certainty is that teen mothers are more likely to live below the poverty level.

Teen-age motherhood as a laudable goal? Whom is Ms. Morrison trying to kid? The facts don't bear her out. According to statistics, only 50 percent of girls who give birth before age 18 complete high school -- compared to 96 percent of the girls who postpone childbearing until after graduation.

Teen mothers are more likely to become wards of the state through public assistance: 71 percent of the females under 30 who receive public assistance had their first child as a teen-ager.

Every day, approximately 2,700 teen-age girls become unintentionally pregnant -- that's 985,500 girls a year. In 73 percent of the cases, Aid to Dependent Children (tax-supported welfare) will be required to take care of the 719,415 teen-age mothers within four years after the birth of the child.

Teachers report that 25 percent of high school sophomores and at least 50 percent of the seniors have become sexually active. Only 23 percent of these teens are using contraceptives to prevent disease and pregnancy.

How about it, Ms. Morrison, let's join the team effort. It's time to stop being a part of the problem. Join us to help with a solution. The first step could prove to be the most difficult of all. That's admitting that black underclass values are faulty and devastating to all parties concerned.

Mr. Hamblin is a Denver columnist and radio personality.

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