By DENENE MILLNER

He's sweet and thoughtful and says, Yes ma'am when I talk to him, and has challenged my 16-year-old son to enough sweaty driveway basketball duels for me to know his name and his mama's, too, and even invite him every once in a while to sit at my table for dinner. What I didn't know about my son's friend, though, is that, at age 16, he was expecting to have a baby with a girl he was messing with. I almost choked on my smoked turkey wings when, at our dinner table, he pulled out his cell phone and showed me pictures of his little brown bundle, a boy, wrapped in scratchy hospital linens and nestled in his teenage mother's arms, a roomful of not-so-doting family members scattered around her.

I congratulated him, of course. To be polite. But the questions came soon after. What's your game plan? Who is this girl to you? How are you going to care for this baby? What does your mother think? What does her mother think? You do realize that the life you envisioned college, career, getting paid is going to be near impossible to achieve, right? Right?

I mean, I'm just sayin'.

Trust me: The word proud was not one that crossed our minds that night at the dinner table. But to hear the operatives of presumed Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and his troubled sidekick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, you would think we should break out the cigars, party hats and bubbles to celebrate yet another teenager's crash course in parenthood. This, of course, is the key talking point we've heard over and over again as the GOP deals with the fall-out over the news that the 17-year-old daughter of Palin, an abstinence-touting/anti-birth control/anti-sex education family values conservative, is knocked-up. This, those operatives insist, is the normal life of most Americans a private family matter that needs to be respected, rather than discussed.

Sorry no cigars and party hats for me: My husband and I are too busy having the very serious, very necessary discussion with our three kids (yet again) about why we don't want them bringing any babies into this house. We're not judging we just know the stakes. Because despite that all-too-many in the Republican party are all happy, happy, joy, joy that Bristol has a baby bump, teenage pregnancy traditionally has been something Americans have neither condoned nor supported, especially if the parent-to-be is black. Indeed, those same folks who ask us to respect the choices of Governor Palin's family are usually the same ones breathing hot fire about the irresponsibility of black families whose children face similar circumstances. I'm 100 percent certain that when they see the mother of my son's friend's baby pushing her stroller down the street, nobody is going to look at that black teenage mom and think adoringly about the love and support she has at home. Not one is going to say, Golly, how proud must her mother be to become a 40-something-year-old grandmother? I assure you, too, that there won't be any applause for the courageous decision her and her baby's father made to keep their baby.

And they especially won't consider that young black mother's decision a personal family issue that need not be discussed. Nope, they'll be all up in her womb and her Baby Phat purse, wondering how many more illegitimate babies she's going to bring into the world; how many baby daddies she'll have; how much in welfare and food stamps they'll have to shell out to take care of those babies (because you know the men who fathered them won't, they'll say), and; how long will it take for her little crumbsnatchers to follow in her footsteps, littering their great American landscape with more illegitimate babies the good tax-paying folk will have to take care of. Poverty statistics will be rattled off. Crime statistics surely will be cited. And all kinds of questions about the morality of the teen parents and most certainly their parents, too will be in play.
In other words, that unconditional love, support, and respect I keep being told I should give the Palins is never, ever extended to young black mothers and their families as they negotiate raising children in an extremely contemptuous, prying society that judges them at every turn.

Oh, the irony of it all. So rich.

As much as McCain/Palin supporters want us to hush up about Bristol's baby already, now is not the time to be quiet. There are way too many mixed signals being sent to my teenage son and my little daughters, who, one day, will all be faced with the very hard, very grown-up decision about whether to have sex. If I let them listen, unfiltered, right now, the chatter sounds a lot like this to my African American children: It's hard to be a teen parent, but we should support them (if they're white) because family values are important (except in the instances when black teens have sex then we need to question their parents' apparent inability to impart morals on their brood), raising babies at such a young age is difficult (unless you're black; then we expect you to find a way to raise the kid without digging into my pockets you got yourself into that mess, we shouldn't have to pay for it) and they deserve applause for choosing life (unlike black teen moms, who should be popping birth control like candy or make an appointment at the clinic because nobody's interested in dealing with their mistakes).

That's why we're having with our kids the same very real, very hard conversation about Bristol Palin that we did when my son's friend pushed himself away from the table: We don't want you to have sex until you're old enough to deal with the emotional, physical, mental, and financial consequences that come with it. We assure you that if you're still a teenager, you will not be ready. But if you think you are, we want you to protect yourself. From disease. And pregnancy. And the struggles that surely would follow should you become a black teen parent in America, where you already have to jump double the height, double the speed (with a smile) to even sit at the table and beg for crumbs from that American pie.

Would we support and love our children if they followed Bristol and my son's friend down the same path? You betcha. But it's up to us as good, solid parents, to be proactive about such things to give our children the information, the family value set, and the tools they need to choose the path that works for this family. And we've the right to question just how our family's values would stack up in the administration of a potential VP, who would serve a heartbeat away from the presidency with a grandbaby born to a teenager whose mother is anti-birth control and anti-sex education and whose insistence on abstinence clearly fell on deaf ears.

I'm not judging.

I'm just sayin'.

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17 Comments

  1. Joyce The Writer

    you betta say it D! the hypocrisy of it all is astounding and the stakes are too high for us not to consider all aspects of all of the candidates’ characters and decision making skills. Having those hard conversations and being as open, available, and watchful as possible is the only way to have any chance at saving your child from being eaten alive in this world. My child’s only 2, and with all the wonderfulness of this history-making campaign, I realize just how hard I’m going to have to work to counteract the ignorance, foolishness and arrogance that will be assaulting my baby girl at every turn. I’m glad to know and be connected with the other warrior parents out there putting it all on the line to give their children the best opportunities and prepare them for a harsh world. I’ll be reading you Miss My Brown Baby! Keep writing, jd

  2. Preach on my sista, preach on! I wasn’t going to go there, but since you opened the lane, let me fill it with my two cents.

    First let me say HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAHA!
    I find it absolutely hilarious that the GOP could have fumbled the veep pick so badly. Of course ‘they knew,’ that Palin’s daughter was knocked up. It was their plan the whole time to introduce Palin and her illegitimate grandchild to America. This is campaign strategy at its finest.

    You see, not only were they looking for the disaffected Hillary vote, they were also looking for the trifling baby mama vote too, that is the real core of the Republican party.

    And I’m not saying that women who bear children out of wedlock are trifling baby mamas, I’m just saying that it will be a cold day in hell when the GOP INTENDS to put a candidate on the ballot with so obvious a flaw.

    I’m with Joyce, I’ve got 3 children that I’m working like a dog to make sure they steer clear of the many booby traps set for black children in America. They need to know that notwithstanding what the spin doctors are telling Americans right now, that getting pregnant as a teen is a big f*ing deal, and it’s not fresh.

    Moreover, if you’re black its the equivalent of a life sentence. Not to say that there aren’t a plethora of examples of children who succeeded in spite of being brought up in single-parent families, but its not the optimal situation for raising children.

    Its also not the kind of message that our potential future leaders should be advocating. All I can say is that if this country elects McCain and Palin, then they deserve everything they get. Its not enough that Bush has driven the country to the brink of poverty with his foolishness, do we really need McCain to come with even more foolishness?

  3. meera bowman-johnson

    Let the choir say amen!;)

    It’s amazing how the GOP will bend the rules and try and inflict this type of morality mindf%#k on the rest of us. All of the sudden the Cindy McCain types are planning a baby shower and us respectable black mamas are clutching our pearls. If that were a 17-year-old Sasha or Malia, this race would be kaput.

    The sad part is, you know that in trailer parks everywhere, and all thorought Appalachia, there are 40 year old grandmas who are like “I like that Sarah Palin…that could be my little (pregnant, teenage) daughter Chastity one day”…thinking that thanks to McCain/Palin, they, too, could be a heartbeat away from the White House one day.

    It’s so scary to think that the conservative wealthy whites have embraced the Alaskan Beverly Hillbillies just to keep Obama out of office.:(

  4. D, I’m high-fivin’ you all up and through this piece because similar sentiments echoed through my mind as I saw the “reveal” of Palins issue. McCain was so quick to bring his mother into the equation, proudly touting her values and comments with the children-are-off limits statement. Puhleeaaase! If the Obama girls werent picture-perfect, theyd be dragging them through the mud-fest on every possible media outlet. They were trying to bash Michelle Obama for her style of dress, for Gods sake!! If fashion aint off limits, then what one embraces as “normal family issues” should certainly be examined with a high-powered microscope is she is, as Ive heard, running for VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!

  5. I had not looked at the Bristol Palin issue from that perspective. But after reading your blog, the double standard is clear to me. What if Michelle O was in Miss Beauty Queen Palin’s shoes? The critics and pundits would be asking questions about whether she would have enough time (with 5 children, including a Downs Syndrome baby) to take care of her first lady duties if her husband happened to win the election. And if one of them happened to be pregnant? Oooh sh*t! “They’re no different from the millions who are irresponsibly sending their kids onto the welfare list”, they would say. “She’s not qualified, and her husband is therefore not qualified.”
    And Michelle is not even running for President. Or Vice-President. Not even Secretary of “Anything” She just happens to be a highly qualified woman married to some guy who is running for office.

    Hey, I’m just sayin’ too.

  6. Derrick Barnes, flyest author ever!

    Hipocrasy at its finest.

    Imagine if Barack would ran on an anti drug platform and was a staunch advocate of drug education and laws aimed at curbing drug use. Then come to find out (God forbid) one of his beautful daughters got busted with cocaine or crack. This election would be over. Even though Barack may have been sincere in his anti drug efforts , and he may not have the control to keep his children clean oraway from pitfalls when they reach a certain age (none of us do), it would still make him look incompetent, irresponsible, and definitely a piss poor parent. They would attach “Hypocrite” to the brotha’s name.

    As a Black husband and father, she didnt speak to me at all during her address. She didn’t utter any of these terms last night:
    * African American
    * Hispanic/Latino
    * AIDS
    * Africa/Darfur
    * Equality
    * Better education

    What I’m getting at is how in the hell can she be second in command when she has never dealt with any of these isses, and has only stepped foot out of the country for the first time as recently as a year ago? Alaska. Really. Alaska? This woman wouldn’t last a week as the mayor of Detroit, Chicago, Miami, hell, Gary, Indiana. So how can we trust that she could go to Africa, Europe or the Middle East and chop it up with their leaders?

    I ain’t buying it.

    The bottom line is, McCain could have choose Jim Nabors to be his running mate and those creepy, racist, right wingers would still back a push to keep Obama out of office.

    Isn’t that RNC crowd a stark and frightening contrast to the audience at the DNC?
    Scary.

    ddb

  7. “They’ll be all up in her womb…” I’m so happy you addressed it. Black women are so scrutinized. We’re obligated to meet some high moral standard that nobody, not even the Right, can meet. And rather than them empowering their own with information that can save their lives or help them avoid hard life experiences by telling them the TRUTH about how they as teens missed the mark, how they made stupid mistakes and how it affected their lives, they send their kids out into the world ignorant and wonder why they end up like Bristol. But they have the resources to support their kids, poor black families don’t. And it’s so many reasons why SOME black girls have kids and it has everything to do with living in a society that doesn’t value women.

  8. I am completely with you here. My husband and I differ so much in our political views. He is on the Mccain/Palin train and I jumped off before the train ever got rolling. I think that if we saw this happening in the Democratic party – it would be a hot mess! But the republican party is spinning this to be such a positive thing.

    Dont get me wrong – I am not an advocate of abortion – but I feel like the media is glamorizing teen pregnancy once again because of who it is happening to.

  9. Hello!
    I found you through Mom Bloggers Club.
    I’ve reached the end of this blog page so I think I better comment and tell you how wonderful I think you are.
    Terrific posts!!!

  10. Thank you Miss Lady!

    I have been really thinking about this every day and when I see Palin on tv or something, I get extremely upset. America is in denial, again.

    I think that toward the end of his life, Malcolm X changed his focus from civil rights to human rights. Because the problems we face today are not black/white issues, these are issues of right v. wrong.

    I say that as the cover of a local paper shows two pictures: the first is a picture of a black man entering a subway train with a child by his side. The next picture is of that same man beating another black man who was sleeping on the train with a hammer he pulled out of his backpack.

    That is why I might need to relocate if it is not President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama come January. Evil folks all around.

    Teenage parenting (arent we learning that that phrase is an oxy moron?) and Working Mammas (sensitive topic).

    Well, I wont touch on teenage parenting. I will say that I had my first child at 23 and having grown up as a motherless child myself, there were times at 23, 24 and 25 (even now at 31) that I really wished I had my mamma because she would have been there during those trying times. I could only imagine if I had been 17 when I had my first child.

    Better yet, imagine if I was a mother at 17 and in the midst of a crisis with my newborn child (everything is a crisis when you are a teenager), called my mothers office and was told by one of her staffers that she would have to get back to me.

    What if I have baby blues too? I am not wishing anything on Palins daughter, these McCain/Palin folks need to check the statistics of mothers who experience it and then think about all the mothers who keep that experience to themselves. Who suffers?

    Why, because as a fellow commenter pointed out, women are undervalued in this society. Heck, lets go for the planet.

    When we ask whether a mother of two VERY, YOUNG CHILDREN should be vice president of the United States of America, well we are now telling women what they can and cannot do. And God knows you cant tell a woman from which tree she can pick her fruit.

    It is important that both parents are present and positively active in a childs development, but Mommy matters a whole blood clot lot- especially when the kids are really young (not to mention having special needs) and when the kids become parents. It is about timing and I would argue that because of the precious stages her children are at, she should rethink her decision to accept the nomination and if she cant, by us being fellow humans in this thing called life, we should not elect McCain.

    I see these women get on television and say that they were working mothers, so she can do it.

    As women, are we being honest with ourselves? I mean, how many working mothers know at the end of the day that their child needs better than a nanny, babysitter, underpaid aftercare, that Grandma is spoiling the kids rotten and not in a good way? That maybe Daddy does not have as much patience or insight into the kids as Mommy? That family does come first when you make the decision to have a family. That my last statement is not by any means a concession to the idea that a woman cannot be VP of the United States of America. Or the President for that matter, since we have all put McCain in his grave before the end of any first term.

    When you put that into context with how much work the next President and Vice President will have to do to clean up Bush/Cheneys messes… shaking my head right now.

    The republicans have this slogan, Country First. Are they serious?
    If I dont raise my daughters properly, they will be no good for themselves, which means they will be no good for you or our country. It is what it is.

    That is why I am upset with the republicans and anyone who votes McCain/Palin. At the end of the day, McCain is not putting country first. He is trying to get into that office. Whichever way you look at it, what does her nomination say? Family is not a priority; well we knew that here in America when they sold off the black slave families to different masters.

    Or, is she just a pawn?

    I will definitely keep reading. I have to go now because tomorrow I work (yes, a paralegal) and I have to go early so I can get out to get my daughters. :) This is definitely a much needed forum and I thank you.

    

  11. I just popped over from mom bloggers club and I have to say that you are right on here with everything you said!!! I couldn’t agree with you more!!!! I’m voting for you :). Why are people so blind that they don’t see this?? Great post :)

  12. Again…oh the hipocracy of it all! I have to give you five on the black hand side for addressing this my sista. I wish I was surprised or disappointed that Palin missed the mark and did not take use this situation to address the problem of teen unprotected sex and issues that go along with it. No mother is proud when this happens. I would have like to see that even you(Palin are hurt and disgusted) although yes you will stand by your child. Instead this is a wonderful, welcome addition to the family. I think not. The scariest part of this is God forbid, the McCain party wins( at 72 years already? Palin could be our president…God help us all!)

  13. Thank you for this comment! Life is full of surprises… And I think we need to be supportive and compassionate to life’s challenges.

    But it’s the GOP hypocrisy that I can’t stand.

    But unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to care about the issues.. it’s about “character” ha. another set of lies.

  14. Amen!! This is a big mess!! Everyone is trying to avoid the fact that the GOPs made a big mistake…

  15. You know, I never, ever, ever thought of it this way. You’re 100% right, but none of those things ever occurred to me. Maybe because I’m white, so I never felt that kind of attitude. But if Palin were black, her daughter’s pregnancy would have made her attempt at vice-presidency DOA. And honestly, that’s kind of sad.

    Don’t get me wrong – as an Orthodox Jew, I am not immune to racism, anti-Semitism, nasty peoples’ assumptions about how we earn and spend our money, when we decide to have kids and how many, and our lifestyle in general. I just never thought of America’s mindset in this particular way. But as I said, you are 100% right.

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