"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Great Expectations

A view from the Marta train this morning:

Every morning on the way to work, I take the Marta train (cause Marta is "Smarta," and greener, people! But I digress...), and I couldn't help but be disenheartened by what I saw when I looked out onto the neighborhood that the train was passing through. I've been through that part of Atlanta dozens of times, but today it really struck me just HOW desolate it really is. Homes boarded up. Stores closed. Graffiti proliferates on every surface. There is the possibility of something menacing at every turn, and an overall sense of melancholia in the deadness of the place. This is not a new scene for me; I've lived and traveled to several places like Southwest Atlanta, some far worse. But what frustrated me so much were the billboards that popped up like gaudy weeds all over this little concrete plain: "Seeking Abortion alternatives?" and "Pledge to Have No Unwanted Pregnancies!"

Make no mistake: I am NOT pro-choice. I do NOT support abortion. But what troubles me, is the lack of sensitivity and love that these "practical" ads suggest to the people who have to look at them everyday. I am somewhat offended by them all. They seem less about love and more about patronizing; why afterall do we only see these ads in the "ghetto?" As if to say, we expect you to make this mistake?

I wonder if some real positive self-image would do MORE to uplift than some impersonal attempt to teach about alternatives? Rather than assuming that the poor girl from the ghetto will automatically get knocked up, can we deter her from that outcome by showing her how to love herself by being proactive, not reactive? Certainly the pragmatist will disagree, crying afoul saying, "surely unplanned pregnancies will happen, and we are doing them a disservice by NOT educating them!" and "statistically it happens the most in neighborhoods just like this one!" Perhaps they are right. But I can't help but wonder how much more effective those same organizations would be if they redirected their money, advertising, effort, and exhortations on building centers, encouraging businesses, and reaching out in person rather than through removed didacticism that does more to demoralize the impoverished rather than to liberate them.

We internalize, and ultimately become, what we see and are told about ourselves over and over again. My mother told me I was a smart girl virtually everyday of my life, and I have always had confidence in my intellect (warranted or not). If you tell girls that we expect you to get pregnant, many of them will. That problem is compounded when you place that message somewhere like Southwest Atlanta; it takes on elements of class and race, and does more to keep people down rather than lift them up. Last time I checked, there were no billboards like that in Buckhead, or in the McDonough Square? And certainly there are teens there who will make the same error. I'm asking people to stop preaching, and start offering hope. Stop talking about change, and start expecting it.


  1. Your insight is always encouraging to me. I had a Mom like yours... telling me everyday that I was special and important. I could thank her a million times for that gift and it would not be enough.

  2. A sad reality in so many neighborhoods throughout the US. The other day I heard an advertisement on V 103 about "new and shiny" HIV medications. Now, don't get me wrong: If there is someone out there listening who was in denial or decided not to take thier meds, and this ad for "new once-a-day pills" inspired them to do something about thier condition, by all means. However, I could not help wonder the implication this ad being on this station saying what it was saying. The abortion thing of course is compounded with other issues. You know, better than anyone, that education is just a first line of defense, but not the end line in prevention. These neighborhoods severely lack education, you are right, and it is a dire, desperate situation. The reality is there are always things people can't even pretend to understand, and certainly shouldn't make decisions for regarding those things. I do agree, we need to EXPECT BETTER. That is, in many things, the beginning of an answer to so many things: education, healthcare, poverty, social services, ect.

    I do love what your mother told you. It is absolutely amazing how that actually works. My mother always told me I could do anything, no, that I SHOULD do anything I wanted, even be an artist. So, here I am doing the most irresponsible career that there is, and I have always beleived I could.