Boston, Columns, Education, Youth
Mar 28, 1997


March 27, 1997

One of the babies who represents the future for these young girls pushing a carriage instead of carrying books was being wheeled down Mercer Street in South Boston yesterday by her mother, who is not quite 17. The mother was white and the infant a wonderful shade of mocha, which sure made her beautiful but appears not to have inspired much glee in the household where she is being raised.

“My boyfriend’s black,” the girl pointed out. “And my mother hates him. She don’t hate the baby, but she hates what happened, you know In projects like D Street and Old Colony, there seems to be a significant increase in the number of interracial infants born to white teenagers. Many of these girls drop out of school prior to giving birth and try to raise their own baby in the same apartment where they had been attempting to grow up when a pregnancy interrupted the process.

“There are quite a few white girls having babies with black and Hispanic guys here,” one of the police who specializes in South Boston project life was saying yesterday. “It’s a good news-bad news story: The good news is that race is not the factor in these kids’ lives that it was — and is — for a lot of their parents. Kids don’t have the same hangups as adults. Kids don’t go around talking about what busing did to their town. That was 20 years ago. They weren’t even born.

“The bad news is it means the end of the line for the girl: dropping out of school, no job, raising a kid where her mother, father, too, if he’s around, can’t stand looking at the baby because the baby’s not white.”

Yesterday, the girl pushing the stroller had a plan: She intended to walk to Rotary Variety for milk and then visit a friend on Silver Street. Her plan was built around the premise that she should try to remove herself and her child from the apartment for at least five hours. Kind of like a job.

For some, the increase in interracial children represents another assault on “The Town.” South Boston has been staggered by suicide and drugs. One — kids killing themselves — is a shock. The other — cocaine and heroin — is an old habit, narcotics having been easily available there for a long time.

At a community gathering the other evening, a suggestion was made that more police were needed to fight drugs and restore the mythic sense of “neighborhood.” But the statement was made in a section of the city no longer immune to social conditions that cause deterioration: alcoholism, addiction, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, fractured families and rampant rates of divorce or abandonment.

Yet police alone cannot do the job. Nor can schoolteachers, priests or social workers. The type of work necessary can only be accomplished by a parent, and in the projects of South Boston, like projects everywhere, too many parents are poor or ill-equipped for the task or juveniles themselves or AWOL from responsibility. To ignore this is ludicrous.

“It’s a bizarre form of equality,” the police officer was saying. “And it’s filled with irony. Many of the white kids in D Street or Old Colony are in the same position as a lot of black kids in Roxbury and Dorchester: They have no shot and they know it by the time they’re 15.

“They’re poor. For a lot of them, there isn’t a parent around. They don’t go to school, so they do whatever is free and feels good.

“Now what can 100 more cops do about that? We can patrol. We can investigate. We can arrest. We can get a warrant and go in an apartment but we cannot go inside someone’s head and force them to change their behavior.

“And it’s not just cocaine taking a toll on South Boston. Look around and you will see more bars, taverns and package stores in this community, per capita, than probably anyplace else in the city. You fall down drunk and people think it’s funny, actually kind of normal. You overdose and it’s a tragedy, but they are both addictions and there are plenty of addicts to go around in this town.”

Still, some in South Boston seem amazed at the ages of the desperate or those already dead by their own hand. And the enormity of the problem is such that others either refuse to recognize it or mistakenly feel that it is restricted to project life where a baby can face a bleak future because its very existence serves as a reminder of failure rather than a source of joy.