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Having Child Is 'Symptom of Alienation'

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In the following excerpt, Leon Dash suggests that the young mothers he interviewed became pregnant as a response to their isolation from mainstream society:

In the end, I discovered that not a single one had become pregnant out of ignorance or by accident.

Some of the people I interviewed were couples. Some were single parents. Some were people living on welfare stipends. Some were working people living on what little they earned each day. One was an adolescent mother who had been abandoned by her family. What they all shared was poverty and a long legacy of racial oppression.

I had believed, even before I moved in, that the patterns of alienation acted out in Washington Highlands every day parallel the behavior patterns of innumerable other poor Americans. Their poverty is the dominant factor of their lives. Their poverty produces predictable responses, predictable choices.

I also knew that among black Americans I would find another dimension of antagonism. Our American experience has added layers of alienation, starting three and a half centuries ago with slavery, followed by a de jure system of ethnic oppression, then de facto discrimination, and rejection at every level of the larger, white society.

I do not believe that any black American, even one born into comfortable levels of economic well-being or privilege, has completely escaped the feeling of alienation. Blacks of different income groups and of varying economic mobility handle the alienation differently, more because one's class often governs one's behavior and outlook, but all blacks can readily agree on the source of the alienation.

In Washington Highlands, one of the many black-adolescent symptoms of alienation from mainstream America is having a child, a rejection of the larger society's value system regarding what is rational and irrational behavior. The patterns of childbearing were laid down long before the children of Washington Highlands were born. The patterns are viewed by many of them as rational responses to human needs, requirements that cannot be met by other means.


Excerpted from When Children Want Children: The Urban Crisis of Teenage Childbearing by Leon Dash. Copyright 1989 by Leon Dash. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow and Company Inc.

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