“The worrisome extrapolations made by researchers — including the one who first published disturbing findings about prenatal cocaine use — were only part of the problem. Major newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Washington Post and The New York Times, ran articles and columns that went beyond the research. Network TV stars of that era, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, also bear responsibility for broadcasting uncritical reports. A much more serious problem, it turns out, is infants who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome.”
Revisiting the ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic That Was Not [NY Times]
While I admire the excellent video on the subject by Retro Report (check them out), and that The New York Times admitted that they were responsible for propagating the idea, it’s bittersweet.
The Times revisited the subject in 2009 in piece titled “Crack Babies - The Epidemic That Wasn’t”, in it the author remarks,
Dr. Frank, the pediatrician in Boston, says cocaine-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.
“Society’s expectations of the children,” she said, “and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity, but by the social meaning” of the drug.
The “crack baby” myth not only negatively influences the lived experiences of children in these societies but also those who are members of the community, and become the casualties of prejudices and politics.
As this 1995 Mother Jones piece highlights,
The crack baby quickly became a symbol for the biological determinism recently promulgated in its rawest form by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve: These (mostly black) bug-eyed morons weren’t quite human—and no amount of attention could make them so. In the late ‘8os, some commentators predicted they would become America’s “biologic underclass.” By 1991, John Silber, president of Boston University, went so far as to lament the expenditure of so many health care dollars on “crack babies who won’t ever achieve the intellectual development to have consciousness of God.”
It’s tough to not notice how some myths influence the realities of particular groups, and how responses to these realities fuel the myths. It’s unfair.
Also Related: ‘Crack Babies’ Talk Back