Progress

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If you are like me--black, coming of age in the 90s, in inner-city America--then you doubtlessly remember than the Crack Age likely takes up significant real estate in your memory. When I consider the years between, roughly, 1986, and 1996, I think of three things--Guns, HIV and Teen Pregnancy. Those (of course along with crack) were the terrors of that period. When those terrors show signs of abating, it is important that the change not go unnoticed.


The birth rate for U.S. teenagers fell 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, to 34.3, the lowest level ever reported in the seven decades for which a consistent series of rates is available.
The decline has been most precipitous among black girls. In 1991, there were 118 babies born per thousand black teenage girls. In 2010 there were 51.5. As someone who remembers 1991, a time when at least one girl--and usually more-- in every class was either pregnant or already had kids, this is welcome news. 

There is still a racial disparity--though nowhere near what it was. But more importantly progress has meaning. Progress is not an end-point. When you say "We've made progress" you are not saying "We shall now disarm." You are saying "We have won some battles." 

I came up in the era when people thought the inner-cities were going to turn into Mad Max. Whatever else has gone wrong, that hasn't happened. That fact does not fit neatly into the black pathology narrative. Or into the notion that somehow every generation of young people are worse than their parents. But it is the truth, nonetheless.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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