Young Black And In Trouble

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Young, black and in trouble
By Rolph Balgobin
Story Created: Jul 22, 2013 at 8:19 PM ECT
Story Updated: Jul 22, 2013 at 10:25 PM ECT 
In Pretoria, perhaps the world’s most prominent leader against racism may be working out his karma, preparing to die. His greatest legacy is Nelson Mandela’s impact on the scourge of bigotry that continues to jaundice our views of each other.
Not so far away, in Italy, a demonstration of racism’s durability manifests in the case of Cecile Kyenge, a Congolese doctor.  A member of the Italian cabinet, she has been publicly likened to an orangutan by Senator Roberto Calderoli. Dolores Valandro, an Italian member of the Northern League in the European Parliament, suggested Ms Kyenge be raped “so she can understand what victims of atrocious crimes feel’’.
Also in Italy, footballer Mario Balotelli endures monkey chants.  In England, Luis Suarez calls Patrice Evra a “negrito’’, and national team captain John Terry calls Anton Ferdinand a “f….g black c...’’.
Thousands of miles away, in a country with a half white president, a young man is killed for being black.  Armed with Skittles and a drink, Trayvon Martin died by bullet, at 17 years old, a victim of racial profiling.
Military operators often say that in a civilian space and in a violent confrontation, better be tried by 12 than carried by six.  Meaning it is better to be the only one alive to tell your story to a jury of 12, than have six pallbearers carry you to your grave.  This worked for George Zimmerman, Mr Martin’s killer.
Further west, unintentionally humorous was reporting on the crash of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco airport, pilot names were reported by KTVU News as Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo and Ho Lee Fuk.
It is interesting how lightly racist aggressors get off, while victims nurse bruises for a lifetime, or pay with their lives. Senator Calderoli keeps his job, UEFA’s president Michel Platini tells Mr Balotelli to play on, Mr Suarez and Mr Terry continue their lucrative careers, KTVU keeps broadcasting, Trayvon Martin’s character is posthumously assaulted, and his killer is both alive and free.
A couple thousand miles south, in Trinidad, halfway up the Uriah Butler Highway, two billboards stand. One features Bollywood movie star Shah Rukh Khan, the other an anonymous woman.  Mr Khan is advertising “Fair and Handsome’’, the woman on the opposite side, a version for women.  Both ads suggest they make your complexion lighter.
Why would colour be important?  In India, when Unilever promoted “Fair and Lovely’’, Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Congress, called their advertising campaign ‘‘highly racist’’.  Unilever countered that complexion was an Asian standard of beauty and that such products provided choice and economic empowerment for women.
Not just in India, apparently.  Such products are now advertised here, without a peep from Mr Kambon, Mr Cudjoe, Ms Brown, NJAC, the SDMS or GOPIO.  Of course the importance of whitening is all about disempowerment and the inherited psychosis of post-empire societies still dominated by interests aligned to skin colour.  You would think that somebody in a nation defined by slavery and indentureship might say something, but you’d be wrong.
Perhaps the general muteness is testament to an entrenched assumption, now latent if not innate, that whiter is better here.  Or is it that we all know how odious racism is but secretly desire to join the closed society and this exclusive club, so we will take whatever help we can get?
Whatever the reasons, we have yet to have a mature conversation about race, ethnicity and class in Trinidad and Tobago.  Racism is learned, and our intellectual and religious leaders have not provided antidotes, so we continue to be highly uninformed about the opportunities presented by our diversity as well as our commonality.
This is a sad reflection on all our leaders, especially politicians.  Carnival in all its uncoordinated and creative glory has done more to bring ethnicities together than any government policy we have ever had.  
Maybe the Ganges meets the Nile, Thames, Seine, Tigris and Euphrates in the local church, synagogue, mosque and mandir?  Not really.  There is a clear ethnic and class distinction even in religious participation that may be imperceptible but is not wholly invisible. In an environment where ethnicity can influence or determine class, religion needs to do much more than nurture the existing racist tendencies in our society by permitting such barriers to continue within their respective domains.
Another dimension of this is the problem of the young black male. This is an Afro-Trini difficulty, the most pronounced expressions of which are low rates of academic success and high incidence of violent crime.  The statistics suggest these men appear to be killing people, especially each other, and making an outsized contribution to crime statistics both as criminal and victim. Young, black men have become something to in our society.
When an Afro-Trini kills another, he plays right into the hands of those who fear him the most and help him the least.  Add radicalised religion and you develop an anti-society which is increasingly hostile to the mainstream.  Gypsy’s “little black boy’’ is marginalised and disproportionately populates the alternative, criminal society which now threatens our stability and democracy.
To beat this threat we have to depopulate this anti-society.
The story of our youth, and the young Afro-Trini man particularly, is far from conclusion, and it need not be a macabre one.  The many decent young men of all races in this society, including Afro-Trinis, cannot continue to be defined by a recalcitrant but growing minority.
We need a national conversation about the youth in our society and about the young Afro-Trini male in particular. This discussion needs to start with the Afro-Trini community taking responsibility for its young men. Everyone else must support strongly. His plight, challenges and opportunities are our own. His fate will define ours.
We must move beyond helplessness towards positive engagement.  We need a more general response, one with love and care, which leans heavily on spirituality and faith as well as more conventional mechanisms.  If we do not act in concert to help young men in general and young black men specifically, he will continue to be both aggressor (real and imagined) as well as victim, as will we all.
• Rolph Balgobin is an
 independent senator

 (Trinidad Express, Tuesday 23rd. July 2013)
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