Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Groundbreaking "Crack Baby" Study

One of the most enduring and consequential archetypes of the "war on drugs" of the 1980s and 1990s was the "crack baby." The theory went as follows: Women (predominantly poor and Black) who smoked crack (a drug overwhelmingly associated with poor communities of color) while pregnant effectively condemned their offspring to a lifetime of mental illness and drug addiction. Conventional wisdom claimed these born addicts were lucky to make it to adolescence, let alone adulthood. The crack-head mother, along with the maligned "welfare queen" archetype, helped entrench profoundly nasty stereotypes of poor women of color that, in turn, helped justify policies of austerity and mass incarceration.

Yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a scientific study that shows what many activists have claimed for years: the "crack baby" is largely a myth. To be sure, consuming cocaine while pregnant is not good for one's child (but, of course, neither is smoking, drinking, or any range of behaviors without an overdetermined relationship to Black women). However, the researchers found that poverty was a far stronger predictor of the problems associated with "crack babies" than gestational exposure to cocaine.

This is an awkward conversation to have. I remember vividly how negatively some of my rhetoric and criminal justice students responded to this issue in a class I taught several years back. It is difficult to look at an image like the one above and make the claim that the "crack baby" hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s was, by and large, founded on broader myths about Black femininity and not sound science. Still, it is an important argument to make.

10 comments:

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albina N muro said...

One of the most enduring and consequential archetypes of the "war on drugs" of the 1980s and 1990s was the "crack baby." The theory went as follows: Women (predominantly poor and Black) who smoked crack (a drug overwhelmingly associated with poor communities of color) while pregnant. Twins Baby Birth Announcements

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