Different ways of treating multiple births

December 08, 1997|By Clarence Lusane

WHILE THE nation remains riveted to the latest updates on the McCaughey septuplets born on Nov. 19, the story of African-American sextuplets born on May 8 went unnoticed for months.

Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey are now household names. They are also white and middle class. Jacqueline and Linden Thompson, of Caribbean heritage, are black, working-class residents of Washington, D.C. The difference in treatment accorded the two families was as stark as black and white.

President Clinton took time to call the McCaugheys and invite them to the White House for a visit. But he didn't invite the Thompsons, who are practically within hollering distance.

Talk show fodder

The Iowa septuplets lead off the talk shows and are plastered on the covers of major magazines. The media has all but ignored the Thompsons.

Tabloids have reportedly offered the McCaugheys hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell their story.

The McCaugheys received a 12-seat Chevrolet van, baby food, Pampers, clothes, car seats, strollers, milk, groceries and even funding for the children's college education. A contractor wants to build the family a new, larger house.

Meanwhile, the Thompsons, the first black family in U.S. history to give birth to sextuplets (though one child died shortly after its birth), struggled in obscurity. A local support group -- Sisters in TTC Touch -- has taken up the cause of the family and fought to publicize the Thompsons' increasingly desperate situation. At the time of the births, Linden Thompson was working two jobs and the family was living in a two-bedroom apartment.

Although the District of Columbia's government helped them move to a larger apartment, other needs went unmet. Procter & Gamble and Gerber initially rebuffed the family's requests for free diapers and baby food.

In the end, it took the rage of the black community, echoing through black radio talk shows, most notably the nationally syndicated ''Tom Joyner Show,'' to embarrass the media into covering the historic births. That exposure forced the corporate community and others to intervene and assist the Thompsons.

Finally, corporations have given the Thompsons gifts similar -- but not equivalent -- to those given the McCaugheys.

A few weeks ago, while I was in church, the minister noted the importance of supporting both the McCaugheys and the Thompsons. He said need -- not race -- should tug on our heartstrings.

Clarence Lusane is an assistant professor at American University in Washington.

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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