Will Okun, the Chicago school teacher who accompanied enlightened Nick [not Bill] Kristof on a trip to Africa earlier this year and got to blog about, misses badly with today’s post.
It happens too often. A female student approaches my desk, says “Mr. Okun?”, and and whispers the two words no adult wants to hear from a teenager: “I’m pregnant.” I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to shake her with anger. What have you done? Life is not hard enough already? Is it over, have you given up? What about finishing high school? What about college? What about your own dreams? What about enjoying the last of your own childhood? How can you parent a child when you are just a child yourself? How will you support your baby, how will you support yourself? Where is the man, will he be here next year? Will I see you and your baby coldly waiting alone for a city bus that will not come? Please look me in the eye and tell me you know what you have done.
What you have done. What you have done!?! Um, does anyone else think there is something severely lacking here, like an acknowledgment that (1) the girl has not “done” anything, and certainly has not done it solo and (2) his righteous indignation is both paternalistic and, at root, full of latent racism? Not sure you agree with me? Here’s Cara‘s take:
Shorter Okun: Oh you silly, promiscuous black girl. If only you had listened to SMART WHITE MEN LIKE ME, your life wouldn’t suck and we could end the cycle of racism and poverty. NOW EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO ME.
These kinds of statements not only put the educated white man on a pedestal and he is not only passing judgment on people whose lives he cannot even begin to understand. He’s also saying black women, the fact that you keep having babies is what’s keeping you poor.
That Okun is judging his students is undeniable. He is bemoaning not a system that does nothing to prevent teen pregnancy or support teen parents, but rather the women themselves. Certainly, teenagers could be doing more to prevent pregnancy. But with the pill costing $45 in some places, and with condoms assuming a woman’s agency in a relationship, it’s not a sufficient answer to say, “oh well, they should have prevented the pregnancy. Since they didn’t, I will condemn them.”
That said, Okun’s got nothing on the misogyny and racism of his commenters. Though some try to make the important point that we should have public funding for abortions, the comments expose a baseline assumption that teens — especially black teens — should not be having babies. And, what’s more, when they get pregnant, we should all gather together to give them money for abortions. But not just any teen – we should only raise money for black teens. Exhibit A:
Well, my childhood friends turned out to be obese women with multiple kids. Let me tell you, a teenager doesn’t stop with one kid. She goes on to have three or four before she’s 21. Now I run a small shop and I look forward to having a family that I can raise responsibly. Black girls need to know it’s NOT okay to become teenage mothers – it’s obscene. We need to urge abortion and show them clearly how a baby will worsen your chances for success in life.
Join me in funding abortions for black teenagers.
And that’s only the beginning. Go over and read the whole comment thread if you’re brave.
Whatever Okun’s motives (and they may be noble), the result is atrocious. Maybe when he’s done being indignant, he can start to see the subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions that underlie his post – and his reaction.