Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pickings slim for black women

For those of us black men who have daughters and granddaughters, or even nieces and cousins, the question of who comes into their lives these days is a question of life and death, and requires vigilance. This is not a hollow indictment of black men, it is just how it is. There are no culturally inspired controls on black men as suitors in this country.

Black young women and girls here are perennially on their own. They bring home somebody who stands in the road, and there is no male figure to ask a question about him.

It is not like that in African immigrant communities in America or Canada, for example. There are rituals attending this. Black young women have a screen of family through which a suitor must pass. In Minneapolis, I saw this among Nigerian, Kenyan, Yemeni and Somali families.

In my class on campus the other night a student raised the point that there was a time in the old days in the African community here when black men used to have to write a letter to the family to get ­permission to visit a girl in the home, and I have seen with my own eyes how that worked, with young men trying to get by the perimeter of the house. And in that letter the brave young man used to have to deal with the question of “intention”.

I am talking now about getting into the perimeter of a home with a pit latrine at the back. In ­other words, ordinary black people making statements about the worth and honour of the young women in the clan.

So, try entering the yard of some of those black ­families with your pants halfway down your backside, asking if Cynthia “there” and see how far you would get.

So yes, it is open season on black women now, as families remain indifferent to who is brought home, or who is not brought home, men who come no further than the front gate, and who no one in the house has ever met.

The defences of home have been severely weakened now in the age of gangsterism, and in any case, there may not be a black father or father figure to contend with at the house, no defence to be breached. Black adolescent girls and young women are ­hopelessly exposed. School girls are at the mercy of “car men” whom I ­understand are favourites.

There is another side to this and it has to do with the fact of a declining black middle class. I was in Jamaica a few years ago, when I heard the statistic that only 20 per cent of the student body at Mona were men.

At The UWI at St Augustine, the position is little different. Just about 25 per cent of the student body on the campus here are men, and you need a microscope to find the black men among them. This is despite the expansion of the student body that Bhoe Tewarie prides himself at effecting during his tenure as principal. Nobody saw that in this expansion the black male student was missing.

You can't find them in medicine or engineering or law because they do not get into those programmes. In Jamaica they do, however.

Who will the black women with university degrees date?

We look in the primary schools, on the East-West Corridor and in urban centres across the country, and we see that here is where this problem incubates. The data show that in the Port of Spain school district alone there are now 30 primary schools on academic watch.

From the top of the Hill in Laventille, down through Beetham, across the city, down to ­Carenage and Diego Martin, there is ­carnage, school after school after school failing, according to the 2016 Academic Performance Index (API). You can't get to the campus if you can't read, because if you can't read, you can't compete in the Secondary Education Assessment examination.

The urban school is in trouble, and that means the boys who are attending them will have grim futures, and they will not be circumspect suitors. They will not have good jobs, nor will they be guided by any codes of good grooming.

I wrote in this newspaper some time ago that a consequence of this gender imbalance among the black educated class would be that young black sisters who work hard to become highly qualified, ­matriculating with degrees, may find a dating market where the men are not of equal rank; men who want to be baby daddies.

This question of violence against black women by black men requires honesty, and Fr Clyde Harvey and Keith Subero understand the problem. And the Prime Minister has daughters. My daughter, who resides in the United States, got married at 40.

She complained from time to time about the scarcity of ­suitable black suitors, but she avoided Russian roulette in choosing whom she dated. We are looking at a ­diasporic problem—malaise and decline in the black community.

This problem cannot be solved until we expose it, by speaking truths. Black men must re-learn the ancestral example of honouring our women and girls, and being ready to defend them. As I write, the BBC is devoting a programme this week on violence against women in Jamaica.


Theodore Lewis is emeritus Professor, University of Minnesota. He is mostly retired now.


The Mark Wilson column returns next week.