A Symposium On Angry Young Men
Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2005
A Memorial Day essay for all the young men, killed in the war of poverty and hopelessness.
May 30th, 2005
by Linda E. Edwards
Young men all over the world, in whatever society they live, are likelier to throw a chair through a plate glass window in anger, than a man of forty-five, who is more likely to do so than a man of sixty-five, since the last of these three may have difficulty in picking up the chair in the first place. Testosterone and adrenalin are higher in the young. Only time can cure that, but it does not need curing, just management.
Some countries manage that anger by sending armies of young men to kill other people's young men. The ones who survive and come home again, can create more problems even.
Throughout the world, young men create mayhem- at sports meetings, on the field and in the stadiums. Rowdyism at school is likelier to involve young men than young women. The Youth Training Center has a population that demonstrates this restless, unfocussed male anger; and the number of teens and young men shot dead by "gangs" including those shot by uniformed gangs of police officers, is alarming in every country. It is extremely alarming in Trinidad and Tobago, where people keep focusing on "living in fear", and where such shootings seem to threaten the very gene pool itself. It is extremely alarming that the media seems bent on creating a frenzy of fear of young men, particularly young men living in the midst of poverty on the edge of cities. No one seems to know what this angry mass of young men are about. We hear "drugs", "gangs" and "guns," but is that it? Really?
Now, let us hold, on paper at least, a symposium on anger in young men. Let us ask them what on earth they are so enraged about. Let us give them the floor, and let them talk. There are only two conditions, only one person has the floor at any time, and for each "problem" they identify, there must be a proposed solution.
Young Man #1: The problem is jobs. Nobody ent working. You cyar mind a family on Ten Days, and when you can't provide for them, they let others do so. Then you lose your woman. Nobody hires you if you ent have experience, and how would you get experience if nobody hires you? Work is dignity. No work shames you in everybody's eyes. Too many of the youths ent have no work at all. We sit around idle all day for weeks. That bound to lead to trouble. We have too much time on our hands, and our parents do not own busineses so that they could hire us themselves.
My solution: Have companies that have licenses to operate in Trinidad/Tobago take on two trainees for every ten staff members. These trainees could be paid partially by the company and partially by the state, and the company could even get a rebate for the training. After training, the company should hire at least one of the trainees. The training programs would be of different lengths, depending on the level of skill needed. That way, young men who want to work would get a chance before they give up entirely. The trainees must be previously unemployed youths from the depressed areas. Family members don't count in this quota. We could organize a trade show where the new trainees could demonstrate their skills to employers, and build their sense of self. Young people who never worked need learn how to dress for certain jobs, the schools ent teaching that.
Young Man #2: The problem is housing: When you get to be eighteen, nineteen, your parents little house gets a bit crowded. You want a place of your own, where you could learn experiences on you own. Learn to make decisions, have a little privacy. Your parents can't stand your music, and they are supposed to enjoy peace in their senior years. But how you going to leave home, with no work, and find a place of your own? And even if you had the money, what would you find? Trinidad ent have enough housing for married people with children, much less for youths of eighteen and nineteen. Then, if you lime in the street, they think you are a gang. The police harrass you or the real gangs in the neighborhood challenge you because they think you muscling in on their turf. It is like a can't win situation.
My solution: A partnership between government and the private sector should construct housing units especially for single youth. Not enormous complexes, but series of six-flat buildings, where a youth supervisor/advisor or advisor family can also live, to help the youth develop in the right direction. Then young men can get practice in being responsible adults. They could learn self-sufficiency. That is not happening now. We get a lot of practice in the wrong things. Any person living in such housing cannot be involved in crime or they would loose their housing. Those in the housing units must be responsible for maintaining the common areas, and should have classes in small repairs. No one should live in youth housing for more than five years. That way we could become the "useful citizens" the rest of the society is always talking about. The government in every country takes responsibility for planning for its young population. Here in Trinidad/Tobago, the Government's plans get shouted down by those who want a perpetually poor work force; from which to pick and choose.
Young Man #3: The problem is that nobody in the society ent believe in us. We don't get to do anything besides form gangs. When there are conferences on national issues, no one invites us. Not even the honor students at the prestige schools get invited, much less us. If we are the future of Trinidad and Tobago, and everybody is always saying so, should not the experienced heads be talking to us? Developing us? Encouraging us? But it's as if we don't exist except when we produce negative energy. With all the new oil wealth that we forever bragging about, how many new jobs have been created? And how many went to people who have never worked, but want to work? Is the country looking forward to forty year olds who still have never worked, while all the elders are filthy rich? How many locks will keep such a population safe? How many police guns?
My solution: Organize youth councils in every neighbourhood. These can educate young people for whom school was a failure. The councils can be the focus of job training, and can help young men channel both their negative energy into positive ways, and help them get involved in national issues. The youth councils should be made up of all young people in the village or community, not a party thing, but a problem-solving thing. The elders of the council can do a lot to diffuse tensions, if people believed in them. People who are making it in the society have an obligation to help others with skill transfer. No one made it to success on their own, no matter what they say, but this is not a sharing or caring society. Some give the poor a food box of leftovers on Sunday, but what about the rest of the week? How could a food box of leftovers feed a man's children? What dignity is in that? Without dignity, a man does not feel like a man, and his rage is vented on others.
Young man #4: The problem as I see it, is a lack of respect for who we are. No one takes pride in our country, including us. We just existing here until we could do better, or get out to go somewhere else. The business men too. I know that is not a good thing to say, but none of us see ourselves as having a future in Trinidad. We dream of London, Toronto, Miami and New York; as if we have a right to those places. This is where we belong, but we don't feel that we have a right to be here. There is no positive reinforcement in the society for anything we do. National pride is not being taught in our schools. My grandfather says that during the months leading up to independence, children learned the patriotic songs in school. Now, I willing to bet the average young man or school boy does not know the national anthem, and would refuse to sing it when its being sung publicly. We dismiss that with a 'stueps' just like the society dismisses us. We can't go on like this. We turn away from patriotic pride, the way the society turns its back on us.
My solution: We should correct that, somebody needs to help us be proud of who we are now. The elders of the society should volunteer to teach us some history, reading skills, writing. Help us to prepare to contribute to the development of our society. I could talk well on many things I hear on the radio or see on television, but I could hardly read. My teachers use to run taxi during school. When you old enough, you just leave school with nothing, and go home to nothing. I would learn to love this country if love was taught. People do not work to destroy the country they love, that is the only home they know, but when they are ignored as if it's not their place, and they have no more right to exist here, than a roach or housefly, they does get real vexed, and anything could happen. This is the first time in my whole life anybody ask me what I think, and I twenty-six years old already. Is the same with many others. We don't matter except as cheap day labourers, people who cannot build up an economic future. That aint good.
Young man #5 (He had been sitting there with his head between his hands, bent forward. Now he lifted his head and everyone saw he was crying. His voice was agitated.)
Is so much damn thing wrong with this place, I doh know where to start. You can't get a good night sleep because of all the noise and boom, boom going on from taxis, neighbours and everywhere. Why should I have to listen to music played half a mile away? I have a little job, driving a bakery van. I have to be up early, but I can't get to sleep till well after midnight because the whole place is so much noise. The houses are built to accommodate breeze, to keep cool, but you hear all your neighbours' business all the time. A man quarelling with his wife keeps you so much on the edge that you want to get a big stick and go over there and share some licks.
My little sister was in secondary school. She couldn't study for her exams because the place is too noisy. She didn't get many passes. The garbage trucks come in any old pattern and people throw their trash in the streets. Stray dogs roam all over the place, barking all night long, chasing cars. They too, seem on edge because of the noise. Sleep deprivation is a kind of torture, not so? Well there are a whole lot of tortured people living in my neighborhood. Everybody torturing everybody else. If it not the church with its loud singing, is somebody blasting soca music or Indian music for four blocks. How could people live like this without going crazy? I leave home in a rage, drive to work in a rage, and the first thing my boss says to me that ent sound right, I ready to fly at his throat. There are more angry people going to work daily than all the unemployed young men in this nation. Then, the pay you earn is so small it cannot meet basic needs. So what the hell you working for? Sometimes I just want to walk away from that job, and sit around and do nothing. I tried to get a job for my sister. She wants to work. The other manager on the job tell her if she would go out and have a drink with him, he would see. She ask me about it, and I tell her not to go. Is not a drink he want at all. We all know that. What kind of manager tries to get a mere child just out of school drunk to seduce her? When our little sisters are asked to sell their bodies to get a job, if she does not take up the offer, another young girl does. Poor people, not even their bodies belong to them.
Nobody ent talking about that as a cause for crime in Trinidad and Tobago. They make it look like if all the idle young men just want what the businessmen work for. The businessmen are taking away from our sisters the only thing some families hold sacred, who a young girl gives herself to. The poor most times, don't have that anymore. The people were scandalized at that mother in Couva or somewhere who was selling her daughter, but a lot of young girls have to sell themselves just to get a job. So what is a right age to start that, eh? You look on helplessly as this happens to your sisters, but the rage is in there, and one day it boils over.
When it does, it might look like a kidnapping for money, or a robbery, but many times, it is something else, and the "victim's" family get to talk to the papers and they tell their own version of this little god who was killed, or is missing. How many young girls did he use the power of his father's business to seduce? To help create another unwanted child, that will lead to another and another?
As for a solution? Where do you start? How do you change people so that they learn to value people in this society? We all came from a system of brutality, and all we learned from it is how to butalize others. Where do you start?
He got up, and walked out in rage, leaving the rest of the group with wide-open mouths, but a few nodded sagely as if this was their experience too.
Convenor's Note: The twelve grandsons of my parents are all grown men. Of the six that migrated abroad, everyone has a job. Five have full time employment and one is in college, on a scholarship, and is given part-time work that puts change in his pocket. Of the six in Trinidad (not Tobago) three have full time jobs, and three live on the edge of nothingness. This conversation is about those three, and the thousands of others; articulate, thinking young men, who look into the future and see nothingness. When people have nothing to lose, they are not afraid of drastic political change. It is no accident, worldwide, that revolutions begin in cities. Did you ever wonder where all those masses of young men we see in the press protesting abroad come from? They are the ones who want work and cannot find it. If they had jobs, they could not protest in a public place for days on end.
Job creation, in every nation, is the business of both the state and the private sector. The state cannot be in the business of creating a permanent underclass for the benefit of the private sector so that they could pay low wages and make huge profits. Education, training, and the planned location of development facilities contribute to job creation.
Building sports facilities could create jobs, and put in place infrastructure-roads, electricity, water, that can become facilities that aid in job creation. $850m or however many dollars, in the hands of the police "fighting crime" would do nothing to alleviate the anger among young men, whose sense of anomie becomes a seething cauldron of rage.
The police cannot adjust that sense of rage, that sense of the national patrimony passing into the hands of a few and passing on out of the country, leaving the young men who had no work, feeling as if they had been raped by the death of hope, leaving them to vent their rage on each other, and ultimately, on us.
This conversation has been about us, about how many guns, padlocks and attack dogs it will take to make us feel safe in an unequal paradise.
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