Constructing the Myth of the Crack Baby

Ta Nehisi Coates has a short blurb about about the crack baby ‘epidemic’ in the early 1980s in the US.  You can also watch a ten minute video / short documentary about it here.

a pregnant woman with one hand resting on her belly.

Coates mentions the influence of racism in how women were being prosecuted for being pregnant while addicted to cocaine. In fact, there’s a whole confluence of racism, classism, misogyny, and ableism that feed into the crack baby hysteria:
–the racism and classism that goes into poor WoC being more easily seen as irresponsible mothers who were recklessly endangering their unborn children
–the general misogyny that a woman’s health (like helping her with her addiction) is not nearly as important as the health of the her unborn child (so she should be prosecuted for potentially harming it.)
–the ableism that influence our standards of health.  Part of the hysteria was that babies would be born with physical and cognitive disabilities, which not only lead us to think of them as not being fully human, but we were then also concerned about all the extra money they disabled kids would cost us.  Because you know, the *tragedy* here is not that there are a bunch of women addicted to a dangerous drug, but that people’s taxes will go up from from all these costly, disabled babies.

Eek, it’s like a messed-up game of “spot how the -ism influences our moral concerns.”

4 thoughts on “Constructing the Myth of the Crack Baby

  1. I know some wonderfull young folks that were ” crack babies’ nothing wrong with them that a lot of love and just a little special help early on in school did not fix. Yes the ” isims” make me sick. Could we find a way to help young women to get themselves out of the trap of addiction, rather than just making things worse for them by prosecuting them for being pregnant while addicted ?

  2. Thanks for this extremely important post/link and first comment.

    Just in case and for people who do not know about it, one documentary that depicts much frustration, inspiration, struggles, courage, and hope while dealing with related “-ism”s in a compellingly real way (especially for people conscious of and concerned about such “-ism”s) is Jennifer Dworkin’s 2002 “Love and Diane” (aired on PBS POV in 2004 and available as a director’s cut with an extra 35 minutes since 2012, I think).

    (Please forgive me if this comment is too far off topic – though it was one of many things that immediately came to mind when I read the post and watched the linked video.)

  3. This unfortunate myth still pervades in our collective subconscious and is why, I feel, it is middle class graciousness to adopt non-white babies from other countries but it is so difficult for them to be adopted from our urban and poor US areas. The myth is, in a way, destroying babies who never had an addiction but are under the blanket of classism and racism.

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