Saturday, January 20, 2018

Raffique Shah at my kitchen table

Theodore Lewis logo26

Mark Fraser


There are people who, as I write, are working tirelessly in urban settings in the city, including Laventille hill, doing their bit to come to terms with the problems in our so-called hotspots. Fr Clyde Harvey, who served as parish priest in Laventille, has worked among what he calls his “young gangster brothers” whom he believes also are God’s children. Claudia Harvey and Gwendoline Williams are among sisters who are toiling as they try to address illiteracy there. I know a black woman who, far from being homeless and expecting a “govament” handout, is the principal of an East Dry River school and she would not exchange this job for any other. 

The faculty and leadership at CREDI (Catholic Religious Education Development Institute), an institution that trains teachers, recently held a conference in Port of Spain in which an entire day was devoted to examining the challenges of reaching the urban child through education, a conference at which the likes of Terrence Farrell, Lennox Bernard, Alfred Wafe, Vena Jules, Claudia Harvey, and yours truly, were panelists and speakers.

One thing in particular I want to put Raffique Shah in his place about is the disparaging of black women and young black sisters in particular. The historical evidence is that the dislocations to family life that were engendered by slavery including the emasculation of the black male, was to a large degree tempered by the resilience of black women who filled the breach by holding “families” together as men were bought and sold from one estate to the next in their roles as sires, especially when it became increasingly more difficult to expand the population of slaves via transshipments. Edith Clark has written famously about this heroism in her work My Mother Who Fathered Me.

I see young black women all over this country selling clothing in booths. I see them taking their children to and from school. I see them in the fast food places and in the malls behind counters, making minimum wage. I see them in the civil service and police. I just reject out of hand this notion of the young black woman with 20 children, and nowhere to go. It is true that the young black male often does not hold up his own end. But I cannot indict the black woman because of this, as does Mr Shah.

I taught at UTT and saw many black women in lecturer roles, and hundreds more of them working hard to earn degrees. At UWI I see many young black women taking their places, striving to attain their dreams. 

Yes, there is an urban black male problem that we must address. The young black male needs once more to become interested in education, as in the days when Tranquility and Newtown Boys and Boys School on the Promenade in San Fernando were College Exhibition and Common Entrance meccas. Black boys would go on routinely to QRC and CIC and to Presentation College (San Fernando). And beyond this to John Donaldson, Sando Tech, Mausica Teachers College, and UWI. 

Too many young black urban males today have lost their sense of this history, and are joining gangs that invariably lead to foreshortened lives. The trophies of choice now are not the football championships of Malvern, the Olympic gold of Crawford, the Jerningham gold medal that Euric Bobb could display having come first in the country in A-levels, as he made his way to Cambridge; or Wendell Mottley’s silver, which he won in Tokyo while going to Yale. Rather, it is the corpse of the brother from the next block, a youth whom in the days of old would be a friend, and maybe a rival in football. 

But all young black men are not like this. The majority live lives within the rules. The majority go to school. And we have to work to get the majority behaviour of young blacks to become the norm. To solve a problem you have to own up to it. I view this to be in fair measure a black kitchen table problem. It is not occurring in Penal or Debe or Preysal or Palmiste. Nor do we see it in Westmoorings, Woodbrook or Cascade. It is occurring in Laventille and Cocorite and Richplain and Covigne Road. It is a black problem. Mr Shah himself was not in my estimation a model youth. But we are a forgiving society. If he is joining the kitchen table to help solve the problem of black urban youth dysfunction he must be respectful.  

(Part One was published on June 18)