On the first day of Spring, there was a scientific study that made its way through all the major news outlets concerning the behavioral issues of children born to mothers addicted to methamphetamine. In a nutshell, the story reads in a predictable fashion: children born to meth-addicted mothers exhibited behavioral problems, which were exacerbated by poverty and the lack of a man in the household.
That’s pretty standard reporting considering this was the first study of its kind and most researchers don’t want to jump to conclusions, which are always subject to change. But there was something missing from the coverage that would normally accompany drug research findings. Luckily, Jezebel hinted at the void with its headline “Meth Babies Are the New Crack Babies.”
So what was missing from all the coverage?
Fear … Hysteria … A Presidential, Oval Office, Fireside chat with Americans about how tough we need to be on meth users and sellers, complete with a full scale ratcheting up of the “War on Drugs” and new mandatory minimum prison sentences for these “soulless creatures” ripping away at the fabric of small, rural middle-America, people who Sarah Palin coined “Real America.”
Jezebel’s headline is still relevant to its primarily white audience if you peruse the comment section. Because of its very real moral significance to America’s narrative, evoking the ghosts of crack babies is clever but is it a fair comparison?
Bearing in mind blacks for the most part are still enduring, suffering, and surviving in rural poverty or crack and other illicit drug-infested inner cities — arguably the only robust black communities left after “integration” — the black children born to crack mothers seem to fill the role of test subjects — yoked, branded, and monitored in projects as representations of a time when black life was patently evil and destructive yet seductively commodifiable, a time only glorified in Hollywood.
In comparison, the behavioral issues seemingly inherent in meth babies will probably be used to explain some isolated violent incident in Montana or Fresno, California but it will not come to define a generation of whites as opposed to how crack did to blacks. There will be no hyperbolic headlines like “Babies Offer Reminder Of Crack’s Cruel Legacy; Congressmen Get Close Look at Suffering,” or “Sex, Crack, and Infant Deaths.”
The coverage of meth will be treated as a news story with the common dramatic story lines that engage any audience. But unlike crack babies of the 1980s and 90s, the contrast lies within the humanization of white sellers and users, both rogue players who will never define whiteness or white people.
Even though we live in a 24-hour news cycle, whole white communities have not had the intense media spotlight placed on them like the wall-to-wall, salacious coverage of crack-infested black communities.
Granted the crystal meth issue in America is not as widespread or concentrated as the so-called crack epidemic, which spread quickly throughout America’s major cities, but American meth labs also didn’t have the unabashed support of the Central Intelligence Agency to help the toxic substance permeate middle-America.
Interestingly, methamphetamine production doesn’t receive the media’s vitriolic outbursts over its impact on the surrounding environment. Crack became synonymous with the deterioration of black communities, producing some of the highest murder rates in outside of war zones, with countless stories spelling out doom for not just inner cities but for the nation as a whole. Conversely, meth is a highly toxic, chemically hazardous, drug, which contaminates and destroys all life in its path. For every pound of meth produced, between five and six pounds of highly toxic waste is generated.
Meanwhile, farmers in some of the highest meat and produce producing states complained that meth lab runoff is a major concern and poses a threat to the food industry:
“These guys were filtering their chemicals and then dumping the toxic residue right into the drainage.”
This potentially suggests that meth production has a far reaching probability that it may poison so-called crack babies who grow up inner cities flooded with cheap meats, inorganic produce, and tainted water supplies. Go figure!
Outside of branding children for life, the most glaringly egregious aspect of the crack baby narrative was the demonization of the black mother. Portrayed as natural victims to vice, the young black mother — whose aggressive, Womanist nature, by the 1980s, was already blamed for the dysfunction in the black family (see Patrick Moynihan) — was now unredeemable and indistinguishable from the failure of the neighborhoods from which she came.
From New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, to South Central Los Angeles and Oakland, whole cities became crack baby havens. One the other hand, there is not one city in America’s that one could identify with meth babies. They are always somewhere in the country or in some trailer park in some city.
This invisibility is what allows white meth mothers to be sympathetic victims of any drug addiction not just meth. They’re written and profiled as rouge individuals who have made bad choices but are not a reflection upon white women as a whole, which they shouldn’t.
But why wasn’t this understanding afforded to blacks?
Instead, in an effort to help these broken families headed primarily by black women, black communities received militaristic policing, which gave way to the current “Stop and Frisk” preemptive measures, where every African-American male may be a behaviorally inept crack baby. Should we really be surprised that a neighborhood watchmen still has the support of police after shooting and killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy? That’s the legacy of crack babies. Meth babies will never have this stain.
Incongruously, a report in The New York Times contradicts the narrative surrounding the long term effects of crack addicted newborns. Even though crack babies will have to deal with crack addiction without fully-funded inner city programs, many children are growing up well-adjusted.
Being careful not to suggest that cocaine use is not a major issue for an addicted pregnant woman and her fetus, Dr. Deborah A. Frank, a pediatrician at Boston University, wants people to understand that crack babies do have a chance to live a fruitful lifestyle, especially when social factors line up in their favor:
[C]ocaine-exposed children are often teased or stigmatized if others are aware of their exposure. If they develop physical symptoms or behavioral problems, doctors or teachers are sometimes too quick to blame the drug exposure and miss the real cause, like illness or abuse.
Thus, while on the surface there are many similarities between drug use and its effects on infants born to addicted mothers, hopefully no special needs babies will grow up will the stigma that crack babies still conjure up in the imagination of Americans. Meth babies more than likely will receive the care and attention that national invisibility affords, as small communities deal with and open their collective arms in compassion for the disadvantaged children. At least that’s all we can hope for as meth use remains stable.