By Corey Gilkes
February 29, 2016
There was a major tragedy averted in a school
And another one on St John Road, St Augustine
And the talk came round once again about violence in schools
And there are the usual people doing the usual hand-wringing about how things got to this point.
As if Lloyd Best wasn’t warning them all the time
Or Morgan Job
Or…….(place name of person here)
And of course we have the usual callers into i95.5fm or Power 102 or 104.7 attributing the rise in student violence to the music and guns and lack of prayers and the need for “boot camps” and so on.
Hear nah, allyuh on real shit inno. This has to be the capital of Living-in-denial-land, a recurring decimal of major proportions. I mean I glad that the ‘Junior’ Minister of Education has identified that the colonial education system we have been struggling to hold onto was never geared to developing a critical-thinking, innovative society. I glad that the head of TTUTA echoing what he’s saying and is talking about scrapping certain tests like SEA (to the horror of the former Minister of Education *steups*…..the less said about him, the better)
But what is being said now that has not been said for yeeeaaaaarrrs by Best and Job and Sprang and Lovelace? If I had the power to do so, every single person pursuing a degree in any of the social sciences, economics, law or journalism would have as required reading David V Trotman’s book “Crime in Trinidad: Conflict and Control in a Plantation Society 1838-1900” and their only assignment would be to establish the connections from that period to this period and make recommendations.
Because in 2016 you cyar STILL have dotish Trinidadians calling into i95.5, Power 102, 104.7 and insisting to bring back licks in school, more prayer, put police and army, send dem chirren off to boot camps….
Did you examine in detail the culture of violence that is woven into the fabric since the Euros first settled here? Did you examine the instilled valuation of competitive aggression and ‘masculine’ expressions of respect, power and control? What about the existing youth programs including the youth camps in Chatham, Tucker Valley and other places? Have you channeled that aggression into activities like sports programs, cadet force, scouts/guides that are PROPERLY funded and supported AND linked to other institutions? What about the music programs? Or the use of Carnival arts as part of the process?
Lemme guess, dais just wasting money. Just over a month ago, I is to hear on de people radio that the current Prime Minister find out that the last one hold one setta party….sorry, social gatherings, at the Diplomatic Centre and that as you read this there is over $400,000 worth of UNUSED alcohol AFTER all that feting…..social events….took place.
Let that sink in for a minute. Four. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars.
Now I eh know how true that is – yuh know them politicians does say all kinda things to score points. But it did make me reflect on a very visible culture of lavish living we have in this society. We don’t make the connections from that to the ‘bling’ lifestyle of the young, barely literate (or often very much literate and articulate) person living in Trou Macaque, John-John, Moruga, Cedros, La Fillette, Sea Lots. I’m sure most of you would have remembered the infamous photo of the little boy decked off in gold jewellery making gestures normally associated with gang culture. Yes, that little boy, six year old Jodal Ramnath from the Beetham, who was tragically taken from us. Remember the chorus of condemnatory calls and online messages directed towards Jodel’s mother?
And then there’s the tragic killing of the two boys who were dragged out of the taxi they were in and slaughtered and now the two murdered in St Augustine and lord knows how many others. Almost every time the callers and worse, many talk show hosts start talking their usual effluence spills out: is the music they listening to, is the pants they wearing down by dey ass, is the lack of prayer and fear of the Lord or some other simplistic bullshit along those lines.
And as we on that, at some stage someone needs to have a serious talk to the media houses, particularly those voyeurs at Newsday, and the fascination they seem to have with displaying black dead bodies.
Anyway, when one hears of that find at the Diplomatic Centre and the many splurges that happen every week at upscale homes and social clubs in Westmooring, Maraval, Glencoe, down the islands and in Scotland Bay, it’s not hard to see the roots of what goes on in the depressed communities.
Just after Jodel’s tragic killing an important article on Live Wire began to put things into perspective. In that article the writer started off by listing several things he could have grown up to be. The first was what many of us have been conditioned to reflexively think. Even I had to consciously check myself when I saw the photo. So deep runs the prejudice ingrained in us. He was, after all, from the Beetham and yuh know what does go on dey. It eh no different from dem so in Laventille, John-John, Morvant, La Horquetta, the “Trainline”, Tivoli Gardens, South-Central Los Angeles……yuh unnerstan wha ah sayin. Indeed, so deep runs the discomfort “about young black men – and especially from depressed areas – showing a taste for something as ostentatious as gold jewellery” as Live Wire so succintly puts it. De “bling” culture nah.
But the observations of a very good activist friend of mine who is also making a name for herself in the field of totally local chocolate making rang in my head and brought me back to earth. A few days prior to the tragedy, at her home bussing a lime, we were conversing on Trinbago’s social structure and she pointed out to us that most people in this country who are upwardly mobile are nonetheless one step removed from sliding back to where their parents or grandparents were – poverty (or a real humble state of existence). She may have very well hit the nail squarely on the head with her description of those of us who self-righteously wash our mouths on people like Jodel and his mother. Indeed, many times when I think about it, perhaps that is why some people are so quick to talk down to those of the depressed communities….they may be trying to forget a past that is terrifying and deeply shameful to them: Sunity Maharaj did speak several times about the collective shame this society has for what many think is our history.
I mean on the one hand yuh could make a valid point about skewed priorities – flashy displaying of nice ting to show yuh big in de dance…but no savings put away; the culture of instant gratification and materialism to flash while yuh house falling down. Yuh could talk about the blaring “brain dead” music with lyrics glorifying violence and sex and gun culture. Arguments can be made about owning expensive cell phones and flat screen TVs and with more DVDs next to it than books. You can even speak about personal responsibility and how some people are quick to shirk it and instead blame everyone and everything else except themselves and their poor choices. Add to that the messiah mindset that looks for a deliverer or at least a handout from the government instead of being productive and entrepreneurial. Yuh could argue all that and frankly all your points will be valid ones.
There are some things we keep coming back to over and over and over…that are almost always promptly dismissed, trivialised or deflected. Not surprising; as a society we have a real aversion towards deep examinations of the “why” factor – to borrow the title of a BBC programme. And it’s not just the self-righteous, ignorant talk show hosts – some of whom don’t even know the depth of their ignorance and have no intention of finding out anyway. It’s not just their mentally lazy callers either. All that is bad enough. But it’s there in our intellectual class too. Someone who I know is a UWI lecturer confirmed it for me when I overheard him complaining to another lecturer about the resistance he was getting from certain faculty members to explore the root causes of youth gang culture in depressed areas and the way that has evolved into the seductive allure of radical groups like ISIL/Da’esh. They just don’t seem to want to go any further than the superficial level. Because apparently everytime some tragedy like this happens, it’s much easier to wring hands and wash we mouth on dem so in the ghetto. It’s much easier to adopt the old colonial approach of simply blaming, condemning and dismissing the underclass for their laziness, their wanton violence, their lack of morals, their materialism. I imagine Raymond Ramcharitar is having an orgasm right about now.
The same Dr Job I mentioned just now – who prides himself on being an intellectual – does go a little deeper on his radio programme and point out the culture of violence that typifies the daily existence in these depressed areas. But even he ultimately fails because he skirts around certain truths that do not seem to fit into his narratives. So he just acknowledges them by mentioning them…..and then flippantly brushes them off as if they’re irrelevant to the issue.
So since nobody eh want to turn to the elephants in the room, let me do it since I have no reputation to protect.
Don’t cry down the mindless ‘bling’ culture that Jodel apparently represented unless you are honest enough to admit that that came out of people in depressed communities accepting a lifestyle the elites and the aspiring elites projected as the symbol of success. Since the colonising of Trinbago open displays of wealth defined success and high status, not the acquisition of knowledge, not entrepreneurship but bling culture (known by many names). Since my grandfather’s time back in the 1930s it had “saga boys” decked off in all their finery although many of them were “ketching dey arse”….BUT, you had to keep up appearances. Calypsos like “I Want to Buy a Bungalow” by the Roaring Lion give us an insight into the values instilled by the colonial elites. That was taken to new levels with the arrival of US servicemen flashing money all over the place as some other calypsos indicated. So this goes way before MTV and BET existed to become everyone’s whipping posts (not that their content is necessarily worth a fart anyway).
Don’t pontificate over the filthy, run-down, unhygenic conditions of the depressed communities unless you are also prepared to acknowledge the process by which these places came to be that way. You don’t have to tell me that if you living in an area, it’s your area and you should preserve it and take pride in keeping it clean. Nice, dais de ideal world….REAL WORLD; let’s look at communities that started off when the then authorities passed vagrancy laws in order to force free Africans back onto plantation estates and even then it was a fight for them to get basic amenities and another fight to hold onto what little you did get. Talk about the herding of men into all-male barracks and children into schools – which still goes on as we speak. Think about the effects that that will have on people, already resentful of being deprived of their women, their abilities to engage in entrepreneurship and legal actions against exploitative elites (yes, that is correct, many of the gang members today are familial descendants of people who came out of enslavement or migrated to Trinidad and started off in small businesses that were eventually quashed by the colonial authorities since it rivalled the plantation economy).
After the 1937 riots the Moyne Commission spoke about these conditions and the need to alleviate them. What did the authorities do? Suppress the report (sounds familiar eh? Check back to Commissions of Inquiry over the last 20 years alone). And what did those who took over in 1962 do? Superficial plasters for sores and force-ripe measures geared more towards creating vote banks and maintaining in modified forms the culture and cycle of dependency.
And stemming from that of course is the violence. Trotman’s examination of crime in Trinidad during the 19th century pointed out factors and the violent results that could have been written yesterday by a researcher who was examining Laventille, Beetham and Bagatelle Road, Diego Martin last week. With little opportunities to confront the real creators of their conditions, many engaged in what is often called re-directed aggression and vented their rage against each other (again, sounds familiar? Think it’s unique to us? Examine Jewish, Polish, Irish and African-American ghettoes in New York in the early 1900s). Any study of the stickfighter/kalenda bands, “badjohnism” and steelpan must reveal a beginnings in the violent, filthy, sequestered barrack-yards.
But before you then moan about the senseless killings, the “us against them” by gang members against the police (and the rest of the population), keep in mind we have never clinically examined the effects of internalising by both sides racist ideas of the “natural,” incurable laziness, violent tendencies and sexual preoccupation of African people. It is that perception that leads to an reflexive prejudice the BBC looked at closely in their documentary “Why do US cops keep killing unarmed black men?” Prof Trotman in a podcast called on us to review the ways we and all other former colonial countries approach policing and to re-examine the antagonistic culture that has defined police and military forces in relation to the populations they are supposed to protect. He shows in his book how a certain culture was developed in the police force influenced by the fact that those who headed it were military persons who fought in colonial wars in India and Africa. Anybody listening to him? Anybody taking him on? Look at how many police officers are dressed today, they’re essentially blue combat fatigues.
Fuh dat matter, all them war movies (where good white men killed the buck-teeth Japanese) and gangster movies and westerns that glorified the extermination of the Native peoples of North America. What was that? Not a celebration of masculinity in the finest traditions of Eurocentric values – that of aggressive competitive violence? One aspect of the Midnight Robber mas came out of the setta gangster movies of the 1930s and 40s where flat out murderers like Al Capone, Bugs Moran, “Lucky” Luciano, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Machine Gun Kelly were glorified. So, ol timers whe all this moral high ground come out from?
The next time you have a problem with the way gang members and people from depressed communities carry on with no respect for the law, reflect on the fact that since dem bandit dem was chile, they saw or knew about “respectable” members of society disregarding, circumventing or flat out breaking the same laws OTHER people are told to respect (as far back as the 19th century, Trotman points out that ‘rehl’ big people in society get ketch with “false papers;” the famous “Captain” Baker who cracked down on Canboulay celebrations lied about his rank and was actually a lieutenant). So black hen-chicken eh stupid yuh know, they MUST ask (and answer) questions as to why the laws didn’t seem to apply across the board; why people with enough money were (are) hardly arrested, even less were (are) convicted, while others making jail for minor infractions. They may not be well read or articulate enough to point to the historical fact that the legal system was not about even-handed justice but was developed to maintain social order and conformity. They may not have read a line by Selwyn Ryan, Bridget Brereton, David Trotman or Sunity Maharaj to learn that the elite culture placed itself above the punitive measures of the legal system they themselves devised….but they are most certainly SEEING it and responding to it the best way they know how.
You can complain that a large percentage of the population – in and out of the Beetham – have a very unproductive work ethic, are satisfied with mediocrity and have only very narrow self interests instead of putting the country first. All that good, no argument. But then you need to go deeper and understand that to be patriotic, to sacrifice and give of yourself to build the country, you need to feel like you actually BELONG to the country. You need to BELIEVE that the wealth, assets and rewards are for YOU. Have we done that? Have the overseers of our education system done a proper job of conveying that? It’s not enough to just tell people to put country first and chain them up with patriotic slogans, not in this society. It’s just never going to work. Look through the book “Race, War and Nationalism: A Social History of West Indians in the First World War” by Glenford Howe; all that chain up talk we hearing now was the same thing being said back then when the British had our great grandparents sacrifice “for King and Country” to defend the democracy they were themselves denied back home. The same thing again in World War II and in both cases there were people smart enough and vocal enough to see through the farce. That’s why the Growling Tiger could sing he going to “plant provision to fix my affairs and let the white people fight for 10,000 years.” The people saw then as they see now in the form of a hollow, first-past-the-post electoral process that that was more to facilitate whoever was the elite group to entrench their privileged position on the backs of the underclass.
Even the “boot camps” we want to look at, while on the surface seems like a good idea, comes mostly from those who bleat about the bible saying spare the rod. And it also seems to be coming from an old approach of just discarding them and palming them off to someone else and just leave law-abiding people alone. It’s not even a new idea, Trotman tells us it was a proposed solution in the late 19th century and the tone of the language used then and what is used now bears little difference.
And I eh wah hear nothing bout no single-parent households and the lack of male presence unless you are prepared to talk about and indict the Eurocentric economic systems that eroded and then broke apart the extended family institutions that typified African and Afri-Caribbean domestic life. Talk about the effects of the industrial ethic in a plantation society that brought about a rapid rural-urban shift with no support structures to buffer the effects. Trotman tells us that the use of ganja and alcohol abuse arose (and still arise) as escapist mechanisms due to the inability to cope with the harsh, impersonal nature of industrial, capitalist societies and the increasingly fast-paced living that go with them. Deal with the ‘effeminising’ of African men in a Eurocentric society such as ours that possessed (and still possess) a morbid fascination with the black body and non-white sexuality yet speak of it in a pathological fashion. Speak about the very narrow, chauvinist often misogynist definition of femininity found in not only the Abrahamic religions but the Vedic one as well and the equally narrow, skewed definition of masculinity and non-white male sexuality that is encouraged and then pathologised.
Now hear me eh, I fully appreciate those who say we must stop blaming history, slavery, colonialism and “de white man.” I agree with them; in fact, there are far too many people who are content to use the injustices of the past as an excuse to do nothing today but rock back and hope for a help from the government. But any leader or influential person in this society really wanting to bring about a more productive, less violent culture must go much further than in other countries to first show that the legacy of those injustices are being addressed. Whether you like it or not whether you want to admit it or not, there are deep scars that are retained in a community or society’s collective memory. And that memory of exploitation and marginalisation is a very long one given that after 1962 the new elites basically maintained the trappings of power the British gave up.
An examination of the works of Trotman or Selwyn Ryan will show that there were two main interests in this society: on the one hand there were the elites who saw here as a place to extract as much wealth as they could for themselves and whose ideas of society was rigidly informed by very racist ideas of the natural inferiority of certain groups. These are ideas they read in the works of such celebrated thinkers as Hume, Kant, Hobbes, Locke, Kipling, von Mises and Rosseau.
On the other end we had that large labour force that comprised the underclass (and from whom a select group of schooled and churched elite was created by the plantocracy) who may not necessarily have read any of these people but understood very well that the wealth was NOT for them. THEIR job was to extract it for the betterment of someone else. So naturally, they did whatever they could to “try a screw to get through” as a popular 1930s calypso by the Growling Tiger went. A reading of “Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance,” James C Scott’s examination of a village in Malaysia, shows some very informative parallels with the go-slow, indisciplined, mediocre culture many are complaining about right here in Trinbago and shows that while ordinary people may not necessarily be “cultured” but they are definitely perceptive enough to understand how they are viewed and how to move within an environment that does not include them apart from marginally. So if we want to cut the cycle we see that resulted in the killing of Jodel and those two boys in St Augustine and so many other black and brown people, we need to start looking at ourselves, especially the warts, so as to truly transform our space, starting with ourselves.
Or we could just continue to cuss way them ghetto rat and dem. Just keep in mind the words of Ella Andall’s “Missing Generation,” especially the part where she warned we better find them or else they will eventually find US one day.