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Raffique Shah at my kitchen table

By Theodore Lewis

I agree with Raffique Shah, when he writes in his column of Sunday Express of June 15 words to the effect that the behaviour of young urban black men in this country is often suicidal, and I agree that my young black brothers have so much more to live for than they know. A few hundred young blacks are going to be missing the next World Cup because of bad choices. In communities such as Laventille, where I was born, we do have an epidemic and indeed a very knotty sociological problem. But what this problem calls for is analysis and solution, not gasoline or vitriol as Mr Shah provides. I sharply disagree with his blatant attack on not just those caught in today’s cult of murder, but an entire class of people.
Pat Bishop, an island scholarship runner up, a Bishop’s girl, had seen the same problem Mr Shah addresses, and her solution was not to disparage the people caught in this, but instead to go up the hill and to join with Beverly Griffith and George Yates and Rudolph Charles and Robbie Greenidge to work among the youth in steelband. And she had the famous project, taking Desperadoes to the Royal Albert Hall and to Carnegie Hall, and locally to Queen’s Hall and, shortly before her untimely death, to the different hills in the country, to let their music, and their godliness, ring out.
This glorious music was coming from the same youth who under different kinds of leaders and influences now, have become suicidal.
Earl Lovelace had seen the same social problem up the hill and in 1965 had written his prize-winning novel While Gods Are Falling a commentary on the juxtaposition of affluence and poverty in the city.
On the first page of the novel he points to the two cathedrals, the harbour, the Queen’s Park Hotel, the Queen’s Park Savannah with its painted rails and lush lawn, to St Clair “with green shade-trees, mown lawns, well-trimmed hedges and pedigree dogs sprawled before kennels”. On the Belmont hillside was the Hilton Hotel.
But look up to Laventille hill he said, in contrast, “look and feel anger building within you, bulging your neck veins…feel the blood of anger thumping in your ears—this is your city too.
“On those hills there, it is not only poverty. It is disorder; it is crime; it is a kind of fear, and a way of thinking…life has no significance beyond the primary struggles for a bed to sleep in, something to quiet the intestines, and moments of sexual gratification; indeed it is as if all Gods have fallen and there is nothing to look up too, no shrine to worship at... This disorder and poverty and crime—all reach down like rivers from the hills, on all sides, to Quarry Street and to Bishop’s place…to Nelson and George Streets.” This is 1965.
People have to bring the gifts they possess to help us see and understand, and address the problem that the black urban youth in the city has perennially had to deal with. Mr Shah has to bring what he knows here. But he is not a Lovelace, or a Pat Bishop. What he brings is the usual mischief.
Mr Shah’s attack cascades from commentary on young urban black males, to the black “unschooled”, to young black women, to black mothers, and to homeless black women who “expect de govament to feed, house, clothe and protect the products of their lust or irresponsibility”.
As Mr Shah proceeds into this attack, he becomes ever more venomous. Young blacks become the other, “these people” who are different from “You and I”. Black women ‘make babies like rabbits”. Young blacks are pests, and the police are engaged in “pest control” when they eliminate them.
I am a black man, and I take this personally. Mr Shah is talking about the class of people to which I belong. For me, this a kitchen table issue. I was with Mr Shah at the very beginning, because crime among young black mean is a national scourge. But his piece is a Trojan horse. It goes beyond crime. What are we to make of black mothers who “invariably have another 12-20 kids to ‘mind’ with yet unborn foetuses in the ovens”? Does this kind of spiteful tata help us to come to terms with solutions for urban crime?

—Concludes Friday
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