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.