Young men in crisis
Guns are blazing across the length and breadth of Barbados. Every day there is another instance of gunplay, and the shooters are becoming less concerned about blasting across crowds of people who may be hurt innocently.
The cries are building and Barbadians are voicing various opinions about the perpetrators. What is lacking for me continues to be the deeper analysis that brings us to tangible solutions which can
be rolled out to address the problems.
What exactly are some of the issues? But even before we ask that question, when we find the problems and solutions do we have the correct governmental structure to roll out the corrective measures? The close majority Government, which is currently running our state of affairs, does not have the political support that is necessary to deal with any problem on the island.
The Government had indicated that the Opposition should “shut up” and let it lead the country. The support of the people that the Government had gloated about has been reduced to all but partisan party loyalty.
The government refuses to give credence to the opinions of critical stakeholders, such as the business sector, and there is a weak culture of lobbies and advocacy among non-governmental agencies. All of this creates “watchership” rather than leadership.
The issues that are playing out on our streets between young men and guns begin when male babies are born. The mix of factors which is creating the crisis is a blend of unresolved historical legacy, as well as changing social norms due to globalization and neo-colonialization in the Caribbean region.
Boys are still being raised largely without fathers in Barbados. This means that women are trying to show boys how to become men. The quick retort is usually that there are numerous examples of very well-adjusted men in the African Diaspora and Barbados who were raised by single mothers.
However, there are factors that enabled the success of those single women then that are not at the disposal of single women now. In Barbados, there were interwoven units of socialization, such as cricket clubs, friendly societies and community sporting groups, where boys met men and modelled men. The roles were not entirely wholesome, with activities such as drinking heavily and having multiple sexual partners being premiums. In spite of that, these interwoven units assisted in creating safe spaces for young men to model and interact with men. The decline of these spaces for men to interact with men is notable and is one part of the equation in analysing current male behaviour.
Even where fathers are present in the household, Barbadian family structures are weak and we have not spent the time to ascertain how the structural weaknesses of the Barbadian family are destroying all family members: male and female, children, parents, partners –– the entire interrelation.
There is no cultural norm that gives value to having a functional family unit. In fact, most people in Barbados have a “story” that indicates that most of us either come directly from dysfunction or that we have some dysfunction rooted somewhere in our family.
While we were able to overlook the weakness of the Barbadian family unit over the years, we can no longer avoid another factor in how we are creating so many lost and wounded men in our society. Women do not get pregnant because they are in solid relationships and ready to become parents. The reasons run a gamut from abuse to wanting to “hold on to a man”.
Men see children as a “monetary responsibility”, which they take on to avoid “getting taxed”. How we get children, the family unit we raise them in, and how we raise them are obvious inputs resulting in the types of children we produce.
As if the weak family structures were not problematic enough, boys are put into an equally weak educational system which is non-responsive to their needs. Several of the boys who come from economically vulnerable single-headed households require learning support in order to be able to be successful in the school setting.
In schools with large class sizes and no structured policy for remediation, large numbers of boys do not have their needs met. The Common Entrance Examination is then used to group all of the children with learning difficulties into the “newer secondary schools”. The learning difficulties that these boys enter the “newer secondary schools” with they leave with in most cases.
During their years of failure in the school system, their self-esteem and self-worth are ruined and they are not taught technical skills which they can use to compensate to create income, or soft skills to be able to channel their frustration.
Several boys who attend the “newer secondary schools” do not complete their education. They are unofficially “expelled” by being asked not to return to school around the ages of 14 and 16, usually owing to behaviour. These men emerge from school having not been taught much of anything worthwhile.
By now they lack the social skills which should be fostered by the home. Their education is incomplete and inadequate, and then they enter a society that is not sure about the place of its men. There are very few opportunities for these men to re-enter education or to learn the lacking components of their upbringing. There are also few jobs available that can make these men feel valued.
Without jobs, second chance opportunities, or friendly social spaces, these men retreat to the mango tree next to the pasture. They construct huts and networks of social and economic support –– the legality of these units is not a requirement.
These men experience further failure and frustration when they try to negotiate love and intimate relationships. Men are not taught how to be partners. They are not taught about child-rearing, and the cycle begins again.
Added to the mix are the globalized television and radio images of men as thugs –– drug sellers with big guns and enough money to “buy” any and all things.
By the age of 20, the average Barbadian man has experienced failure on all fronts of his life. He is left vulnerable by being constantly demoralized. Why is it surprising they check out of society to the point where they can smile after killing? We are creating these men.
We first have to claim that and then, if we are serious about changing it, we need to create a governmental, familial and social structure fit for building strong, well-adjusted men.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)