Monday, March 7, 2011

"Brenda's Got A Baby"-An Exegesis

March has been designated as Women’s History Month.  A period of thirty days, in which we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and the Movement of Women in the United States of America.  Like African Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups, women’s stories have been largely left out of American history books.  These groups have also been blamed for society’s ills and their issues used as political theater, to wedge groups apart during election cycles.  Melissa Harris-Perry writes in The War on Women’s Futures that “aggressive anti-choice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-fighting deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American woman out of the public sphere.  In fact, according to Harris-Perry, “these initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives.”

At this point we are poised to examine within the demographic of woman, another group impacted by “these initiatives” are American girls.  This entire demographic is impacted, however, no group is impacted more viciously than those that are poor broadly and African American specifically.  In 1993, a seemingly hip hop tale appeared on Tupac’s 2Pacalypse (1991).  This was the lone single debute from the the album, which appears as the tenth tenth track.  While the narrative is largely about one fictitious character, there are other lesser characters, to include; a mother, father, a cousin, a baby, family, a robber, and clients.  Brenda’s story represented an epidemic that occurred during the early 1990s, while largely unreported today, could become such an epidemic again, pursuant to the political decision being made today that “are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact…” on American girls' lives.  How should we understand “Brenda’s Got A Baby” in real terms?

Tupac’s narrative begins with the correlation between Brenda’s pregnancy and her educational preparation.

“I hear Brenda's got a baby
But, Brenda's barely got a brain
A damn shame
The girl can hardly spell her name”

The Black Women’s Health Project reports that one million teenagers become pregnant each year in the United States.  This represents about 13 percent of all U.S. births.  They find that school failure of this group, often precedes early pregnancy and child-bearing.

Tupac proceeds to debunk conventional wisdom, in that Brenda’s pregnancy is not only a personal and private family matter.  He suggests that everyone is impacted (in the home and out) by stating (in his song) that this is “how it affects the whole community.”

“Now Brenda really never knew her moms and her dad was a
Went in death to his arms, it's sad
Cause I bet Brenda doesn't even know
Just cause your in the ghetto doesn't mean ya can't grow”

Tupac invokes a twist in his hip hop narrative and to the accepted studies (on poverty).  Instead of Brenda living with her mother, she lives with her father.  The accepted literature and narrative suggests that half of African Americans almost always live with the mother (Hine, 580).  Still, poverty continues to disproportionately strike children because they live in single-parent households (Hine, 580).  Tupac touched on both social policy and the educational system.  This educational system, for Brenda, failed to help her realize that although she lived in the ghetto, this did not mean that she could not improve her condition.  Thus, Tupac understood that the health of a society depends on a healthy, robust, and loving educational system.

Let us understand the historical narrative that Brenda came of age.  This fictional Brenda was born in 1981.  This means she grew up under the policies of the Conservative Revolution.  A Revolution led by President Ronald Regan-Bush and conservative African Americans.  This Revolution included; opposing equal rights for women, fighting abortion rights, and reversing social programs created during the New Deal era, just to name a few socio-political events.  Attacks on social programs and women specifically continued under the Clinton administration’s signing of the discouraging Welfare Reform Act (1996), Bush Jr’s under-funded No Child Left Behind Act (2000) and we are presently seeing defunding threats made on Planned Parenthood, threats to eliminate 1 billion dollars from Head Start’s budget, to attacking workforces that largely contains women and their ability to organize and collectively-bargain, such as the Teachers’ Unions.  The latter is all occurring under the Obama administration.  This may cause women “to marry younger, to stay in difficult (even abusive) marriages and to rely on male wages (Harris-Perry, “The War on Women’s Futures”).”

“But oh, that's a thought, my own revelation
Do whatever it takes to resist the temptation
Brenda got herself a boyfriend
Her boyfriend was her cousin, now lets watch the joy end”

The Black Women’s Health Project indicates that by age 14, 23 percent of girls will have had sexual intercourse by their teenage years.  Those teenage girls with (developmental disabilities-learning and physical), are at an increased risk of early pregnancy.  In fact, 7 out of 10 girls who had sex before 13 were in the category of unwanted or non-voluntary sex.

“She tried to hide her pregnancy, from her family
Who didn't really care to see, or give a damn if she
Went out and had a church of kids
As long as when the check came they got first dibs
Now Brenda's belly is gettin bigger”

Brenda lives in a male-headed single parent household.  Her father is a junkie.  This means the earning potential is limited, public assistance is meager (as indicated in the song, she lives in the ghetto) and will be poor (Hine, 578).  It could be inferred that she is surrounded by single-parent households.  Additionally, these households are receiving public assistance in the form of (WIC, SSI, and perhaps some other types of assistance).  Therefore, there are children in the community because this assistance is tied to children and single mothers.  Thus, the cycle of dependency becomes a life that is both observable and often continues a life of perpetual poverty.  This guranteed money may be one of many causes for birthing more than one child.  The Black Women’s Health Project reports that half of mothers receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) were less than 17 years old (Hine, 578).  This same population was also with their first child.  In addition, this population will have had a second child within 24 months of the first child (Hine, 578).  As for Black girls, they are 1.6 times more likely than white girls to have a time span of less than 18 months between deliveries (Hine, 578).  By 1992, 39 percent of Black families earned 15,000 or less annually (Hine, 578).  While at the same time, Black families were coming off the poverty rolls beginning in 1992 to 1998 ending at about 1.7 million (Hine, 578).

“But no one seems to notice any change in her figure
She's 12 years old and she's having a baby
In love with the molester, who's seeing her crazy
And yet she thinks that he'll be with her forever
And dreams of a world with the two of them are together,
He left her and she had the baby solo, she had it on the
bathroom floor
And didn't know so, she didn't know, what to throw away and
what to keep
She wrapped the baby up and threw him in the trash heep
I guess she thought she'd get away
Wouldn't hear the cries
She didn't realize
How much the the little baby had her eyes
Now the baby's in the trash heep balling
Momma can't help her, but it hurts to hear her calling
Brenda wants to run away
Momma say, you makin' me lose pay, the social workers here

While Brenda was having a baby, from 1991-1996, teenage pregnancy fell in 13 states by 16 percent; declines in 4 of these states exceeded 20 percent ( 3/6/2011).  The states with the largest decline were Maine, Vermont, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana ( 3/6/2011). Brenda was a fictitious African American teenage girl, however, this is not a problem confined to this population.  Both African American and white teenage girls were also afflicted by the narrative authored by Tupac in the 1990s.  The 1990s saw an epidemic known as “birth and hide (Bjorus, “Discarded Babies May Not Be Unusual).”  Teenage girls were carrying babies to term and undetected.  They birthed these babies, in some cases the baby was still born.  In all cases, these teenage girls birthed anywhere from a McDonald’s parking lot to their own parent home, in the toilet (Bjorus, “Discarded Babies May Not Be Unusual).  In each case, these girls discarded the baby, walked away, and were not charged with any crime.  In such cases, it was cited that; lack of access to contraceptives, abortion, peer pressure, and poor sex education were the root causes of these girls’ actions (Bjorus, “Discarded Babies May Not Be Unusual). 

Yet today, we see the cutting of 154, 000 jobs in education and Obama wants a 33 billion dollars cut in spending (Covert, “With State Budgets…”).  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is being phased out and the women who receive Medicaid will more impact than those men receiving the same benefit (Covert, “With State Budgets…”) as a result of the phase out.  Thus the persons that could be satisfactorily teaching students and the assistance needed to sustain single-parent families will not be availabe to this vulunerable population. 
“Now Brenda's gotta make her own way
Can't go to her family, they won't let her stay
No money no babysitter, she couldn't keep a job
She tried to sell crack, but end up getting robbed
So now what's next, there ain't nothing left to sell
So she sees sex as a way of leaving hell
It's paying the rent, so she really can't complain
Prostitute, found slain, and Brenda's her name, she's got a baby”

As a result of being apart of such African American families below the poverty line, Brenda continued on in the cycle of perpetual poverty.  Another person in a home headed by a single parent (working or receiving assistance) means no additional disposable income.  Because Brenda lives in a poor conditioned dwelling, there will be no personal space for her or the baby.  Further, Brenda added to the 33.1 percent of children to unmarried Black mothers 1960-1990 (Hine, 580), she lived in a central city, which means she added to the location of households headed by Black women (1990), which was at 60.9 percent.  Lastly, Brenda and her baby would have faced gang warfare, high rates of HIV infection, and drug addiction (the latter Brenda succumbed and ultimately died) (Hine, 580).

We should understand that “Brenda’s Got A Baby” was and continues to be very real situation for those who are victims of this narrative written by Tupac.  It is a narrative that contains not only personal choices but both political and public policy decisions, with very real implications.  Cuts to social programs (like education and health care), further limits the choices, where options are not readily available to this most vulnerable, which in this case are American girls.  While Brenda died in her teenage years, her baby is 20 year old.  How will we save him?  Will we ever solve the “Brenda” narrative in this country?  This is a narrative that should not be written again by any American rapper.  Unfortunately, the "Brenda" narrative persists because of the looming cuts to Federal and State budgets.  These cuts always strike our educatonal and health systems.  These are for the vulunerable among us, life saving systems that prop-up these communities across America. What is for certain, this is not the way our society should be celebrating American women and girls and not just during the month of March (Women's History Month).

1.  Share your "Brenda" story or
2.  Do you know her baby (he is 20 now), what is he doing?

Jennifer Bjorhus, "Discarded Babies May Not Be Unusual" (March 6, 2011).
Bryce Covert, "With State Budgets Withering, Get Ready for the 'Womancession'" The Nation, (March 6, 2011).
Darlene Clark Hine and others, The African American Odyessy (2004).
Melissa Harris-Perry, "The War on Women's Futures" The Nation, (March 6, 2011).
Teen Pregnancy, (March 6, 2011).
The Black Womens Health Project,
2Pac's Lyrics, (March 6, 2011).

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