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Pamela A. Hairston’s words in the Washington City Paper (The Mail, 5/7) deeply saddened me. There are indeed young women (and, sadly, girls) who think that having a baby will bring the unconditional love that should have come from their parents. There are young women who think that maybe, if they carry his child, their boyfriend or lover will have to stay with them. But these are not the women Hairston spoke of in her letter. These women, whom she told to “get off their backs and take responsibility for their actions” are women who she said do not want to have children.
And yet they “choose to be single parents.” This letter would be much easier if I knew whether Hairston thought they chose to have the condom break or chose to be pressured into sex in the immense adolescent pressure-cooker we adults are all too eager to forget about. Perhaps, though, she meant that these young women chose to be raised in a society that, as she said, does not teach our young black women to value and respect themselves or their bodies. Do we then blame these girls who chose unwisely in decisions they were too young to make, who were failed by parents and schools and the culture at large—should we blame them for the killings?
While I agree that personal responsibility should not be shrugged off with a complaint about poverty and disadvantage, why is it that these young girls, these failed-parents-to-be, should be blamed for the killings committed by young men? Do the boys have any less ability to choose their actions? Isn’t pulling a trigger a far worse crime than having a child?
Unintended pregnancies and murder are both the tragic byproducts of societal failures. It is, inarguably, a parent’s job to halt, for their children, this vicious cycle. One’s most powerful teachers and social models are, after all, one’s parents. How fortunate, then, that Hairston did not find herself a single parent until her 30s. How lucky for her son that his mother had that good government job that gave her the time and money to provide the love, guidance, and patience that children so desperately need.
But what about the women who aren’t able to get a government job, or a professional job, or a union job—whose jobs are not only not “good” but don’t even pay enough for these women to live on? What about the women who don’t have the opportunity to give their children the support they need because they work two jobs and can barely pay for the food they need? They are women who grew up in this city—which Hairston believes, in spite of the leaded water, the shameful school system, and the terrifying crime rate—is a wonderful place to raise children. Do we let these women off the hook and blame their parents instead?
What if their parents faced the same obstacles? And their parents before them faced institutionalized discrimination in the form of segregation? And a generation before that, their parents were slaves? Then whom do we blame?
I would like to echo Hairston’s sentiment asking that God indeed bless us all. And for those of us who were not fortunate enough to receive as many blessings, may we be blessed with neighbors who do not simply trumpet their own success while blaming us for our failures, but who instead rise to the challenge of helping us ascend to their level.