Pregnant Teen Like Me

Single-Minded: More than 50 years ago, a white man donned blackface to expose Jim Crow racism. Now a teenager dons a belly bump to expose prejudice against pregnant teens.

Gaby Rodriguez (Courtesy of Seattle Weekly)

When viewers aren’t watching the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore trash the Garden State’s good name, they can turn to the network’s newest reality gold, Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant. And since drunken hot-tubbing could very likely result in a plus sign on a pregnancy test, maybe MTV is simply trying to maintain its demographic instead of making tabloid cover girls out of expectant sophomores. Either way, judging from the ratings, when it comes to pregnancy, teens are paying attention to the gore (dirty diapers) and the glitz (instant fame), Rodriguez included.

But much like the skinny girl who puts on a fat suit for a few hours, the college-bound Rodriguez could unhook her burden at the end of the day when no one was watching. Same with John Howard Griffin’s black skin. Like Rodriguez, who by all accounts didn’t appear to be in any danger of getting pregnant, despite the dismal stats of those in her cohort, Griffin wasn’t a raging racist who needed to be sent to the South to get on board with the whole civil rights thing. Both social scientists already knew the answer to their hypothesis.

Is it hard to be a black man in Jim Crow’s neighborhood? Um, duh. Is it hard to be pregnant with pimples? Absolutely. Those are givens. But what separates Griffin and Rodriguez from the pack of talk-show hosts sweating in fat suits for sweeps week is sincerity.

Before 1986’s Soul Man, a white man from Texas decided to put himself in harm’s way (sometimes Griffin hitchhiked) in order to pay more than lip service to the issue of the times. For her part, Rodriguez sacrificed a heaping portion of a time that most Americans mythologize as the best of their lives — the storied senior year.

“I made my senior year better by doing this,” Rodriguez told The Today Show, “because I get to, you know, say I made an impact in some of the students’ lives here.”

But perhaps watching Rodriguez earn her well-deserved 15 minutes for doing something daring, as opposed to something stupid, will have other teens rethinking their own reality.

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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