Monday, March 1, 2010

Crack Babies

sometimes when i'm reading a book, the author will mention other books that are written more in depth about whatever subject they may be tackling, and i usually will look those books up...and so on and so on. right now, i'm still reading Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington and in it, she has mentioned the book Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts, which i've also began to read.
the area that they overlap in is when they're talking about forced sterilization and the myth of the "crack baby".

this is what Washington had to say about crack babies:
"African Americans and whites use cocaine at similar rates, but blacks are twice as likely as whites to use it in crack form. however, 80% of drug users are white, and in raw numbers, twice as many whites as blacks use cocaine. this means that white crack users should be twice as easier to find, but most peoples' image of the crack user is informed by media accounts that had focused nearly exclusively on African American users' infants, dubbed "crack babies" are always portrayed as black. during eighteen years as a news and science editor at metropolitan dailies and national magazines, i have never seen a published photograph of a white crack baby.

...None of this [exaggerated "facts" about crack babies] had been demonstrated by research and none of this was true. although exposure to cocaine in the uterus can damage a fetus, a baby cannot be born addicted to cocaine, as children are sometimes born addicted to other narcotic drugs. moreover, the "diagnosis" of "crack baby" is based upon a woman's positive drug test, not upon the baby's clinical picture, so it makes no distinction between mothers who smoked crack habitually and those who did so rarely. there is no such medical entity as a crack baby

this is something i have never heard before. like anyone else growing up in the '90's, i remember the stories about crack babies, screeching like animals in dark corners of the hospital, resisting any type of affection and ultimately doomed for life. and i had this idea until i read these books. i've since done some research on it, and all of what i have found seems to back Washington and Roberts up.
here is what Roberts had to say about this myth:
"...there is no good evidence to support this caricature of the crack baby. Nevertheless, the frightening image spawned a cottage industry of angry letters to the editor calling for harsh measure to keep crack addicts from having babies. 'Reducing her welfare payments will not stop this woman from having babies.' wrote one commentator. 'The only way to stop her is the dreaded 'S' words-involuntary sterilization, either surgically or with Norplant. the other alternative is to allocate our resources to caring for unlimited numbers of crack babies while other children continue to be without health care.' the figures cited are so astronomical that it seems as if most Black children in America are crack babies impaired by a host of defects.
The stories about hopelessly defective crack babies represent a new kind of biodeterminism. Instead of transmitting immutable deficiencies through their genes, these poor Black mothers inflict similar damage in utero, 'callously dooming a new generation to a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority.' The negative predictions easily become self-fulfilling prophecies when adoptive parents are afraid to take home a crack baby, teachers expect the children to be incaable of learning, and legislators believe it is pointless to waste money on programs for children who cannot possibly achieve.

Killing the Black Body is mainly about reproductive rights and how controlling them has been just another attempt of many to break down the black community by the government in attempts to forcibly sterilize black women (although it should be noted that this has happened at the same rate to Native American women link 1 and link 2 and Latina women link 1 and link 2 ).

here are the links that i found to back up their arguments:
NY Times: The Epidemic that wasn't.
The Myth of the Crack Baby
What about the Drug Babies?
From Crack Babies to Normal Kids

the gist of what they are saying is that the idea of the crack baby was the working of faulty experiments and studies along with exaggerated facts. the only test that was done during the time this myth was popularized as done with only 23 women with no control group to speak of. it neglected to note that many women who use crack cocaine also use it in conjuction with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, making the tests and statistics on "crack babies" inconclusive. and, like one of the links i posted talks about, the follow-up tests were pretty much self-fulfilling prophecies.
these children weren't forming attachments to the nurses, not because they were monsters, but because these nurses were rejecting these babies assuming they would reject their advances! these babies were put in dark corners, lacked direct eye contact with nurses, and were treated not as babies, but as monsters. thus, adding to their developmental challenges. and the follow-up tests did not account for the impoverished lifestyles many of these children were living under. some children were noted as being slow to develop basic motor skills, such as grasping eating utensils. what was ignored was the fact that some of these children did not eat on a regular basis, and when they did eat, it may have been from a trash which case they did not need utensils.

the insinuation (if not overt reasoning) these two authors put forth for why this crack baby myth was propelled by some doctors, nurses, and the media was to push legislations against women of color, to cut welfare programs or the funding behind services like WIC, to paint women on welfare in a more negative light, and to act as reasoning behind forced sterilization. and seeing how this was the 1980's, and many of these doctors and nurses should have seen the glaring disparities in the crack baby entity, it is not hard to surmise that there must have been ulterior motives.

the point is not to show that crack has no effect on a fetus. of course it does. however, it is not anymore than tobacco, and possibly less harmful than alcohol abuse.

here is a video i found on youtube about crack babies that looks like it was filmed i the early '90's that further shows these stereotypes and uninformed assumptions.

comment. think. criticize. always questions the media.

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