Distributing Condoms and Hope: The Racialized Politics of Youth Sexual Health (U California Press, 2020) is a feminist ethnographic account of how youth sexual health programs in the racially and economically stratified city of “Millerston” reproduce harm in the marginalized communities they are meant to serve.
Chris Barcelos makes space for the stories of young mothers, who often recognize the narrow ways that public health professionals respond to pregnancies. Barcelos’s findings show that teachers, social workers, and nurses ignore systemic issues of race, class, and gender and instead advocate for individual-level solutions such as distributing condoms and promoting "hope." Through a lens of reproductive justice, Distributing Condoms and Hope imagines a different approach to serving marginalized youth—a support system that neither uses their lives as a basis for disciplinary public policies nor romanticizes their struggles.
In our interview, Chris Barcelos explains how they use the framework of a “teen pregnancy prevention industrial complex” to illuminate the webs of power that ultimately serve to perpetuate the systemic social inequities leading to teen pregnancy. They describe the concept of “messiness” as it applies to deviations from social normativity, and how such deviations “mess up” society’s ideas of what is right and normal. Distributing Condoms and Hope forthrightly engages with messiness. One hopes it will have a real-world impact – for, as Barcelos observes, “It is easy to critique social structures while nonetheless continuing on with your day-to-day work in ways that do not incorporate those critiques.”
Rachel Pagones teaches preventive medicine and public health in the doctoral program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego, and she is a licensed acupuncturist. Her book about acupuncture as a tool of medical, social, and political revolution in the United States will be published later this year.
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