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The Crisis of Black Youth

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 11, 2010

When torrential downpours inundated north-western China on Saturday last (August 7), the Chinese government rushed in to assist the unfortunate victims of unprecedented landslides. In Zhouqu alone 1,117 persons died and 627 others were missing, a minuscule fraction of China's 1.2 billion people. Yet the government spared not effort to assist them. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged rescue workers to hurry before the weather worsens. He declared: "You must race against the clock and spare no efforts in saving lives."

Things were worse in Pakistan. Floods have devastated that country killing close to 1,600 persons and affecting the lives of 14 million people. Villages in the Ghotki, Kashmire and the Punjab region were submerged by what a UK charity organization called a "mega disaster." The United Nations launched an appeal for $495 million dollars to aid the victims of this disaster.

Trinidad has not been exempt from these torrential downpours although it has not suffered in the same proportion as China or Pakistan. All of Trinidad, it seems, have been inundated with rains. When Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar flew over the flood-stricken areas to assess the damage she was not thinking whether Indians or Africans; men or women were affected. Trinidadians were subjected to an overwhelming disaster and it behooves the government to assist, no questions asked.

Some areas were hit harder than others. According to Newsday (August 11), "On Monday, the Cipero River broke its banks and once again set off massive flooding which left several homes in the area under water... Almost all of the houses were completely flooded; thousands of dollars in furniture and household appliances were washed away in the swirling waters and other items got damaged. Firemen used a dinghy, ladder and lengths of ropes to cross several families over the flood waters to safety."

The response of the central and town governments was impressive. Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Housing Minister, declared "There is lot of damage resulting from the overflow of the Cipero River. We are trying to access the damage and to put things in place for emergency grants to help with replacing essential household appliances that have been destroyed and taken away by the flood waters."

Marlene Coudray, Mayor of San Fernando, promised to seek assistance from the Ministry of Works "to come in at the Cipero River and see how the dredging could continue further down as the run-off is happening very quickly and it is bottlenecking at this point." Burgess of the town understood, and rightly so, that this is how one responds to a crisis: one moves with alacrity to assist victims of the disaster and to treat the causes of the calamity.

Yet, when it comes to the crisis in the black communities to which I have alluded recently, everyone seems to lose their critical perspectives. Ms. Sonia Barker announced: "As a 'Black' person myself, I cannot identify with their behavior [that is, of the young black men] because the excuses of poverty and antecedents of slavery does not really resonate with me... The playing field for 'Blacks' is not a level one... and only if you walk in a 'Black person's shoes you will understand."

Then she makes an outrageous claim. "There is perhaps a primordial feeling of entitlement deep in the heart of every 'Black' person perhaps going back to antiquity." This is quite a leap. I will leave it alone.

Morgan Job had to get into the act. He writes: "Why do black communities need help? They can form criminal gangs with organizational technology and tools to rival the police service; they can form political parties that can win elections and thief billions of dollars. Black criminal organizations can control life and death from jail. Can you give a reason why this black intelligentsia [including persons such as me] cannot uplift its own kind, using the same resources it uses to control the mafia?"

Job did not ask why the UN is helping Pakistan or why Dr. Moonilal or Ms. Coudray is assisting victims of the flood. He does not have enough chutzpah to make the same charges against the victims of the flood as he does against the black community which he sees as an easy target.

Part of our reluctance to understand the problems of black youth; black on black crime; and the social problems that afflict them and their communities has to do with an inability to identify with blackness (which some insist does not exist); an incapacity to empathize with the trauma which our young black people feel; and a reluctance to recognize that anti-social behavior has reached crisis proportions in some black communities.

If the government or any private organization were to do an inventory of black men between the ages of 18- 35; determine their percentage with regard to the national community; the percentage of those 9that is black young men) who have been killed over the last five years; and determine the implications of such data for our society then we may begin to understand the crisis that is on our (that is, the nation's) hand?

Moreover, if one undertook a regression analysis to determine the impact of such losses upon the black community many would be surprised at the results. In such an analysis one would consider variables such as reproduction patterns; manpower production lost to the society; the impact of the loss of these breadwinners upon their families; the psychological and sociological impact of these fatherless children on the society; the labor shortages that results from such looses; the decline of income in these black communities; the number of children who would grow up without fathers; and the impact of these looses upon the mothers and grandmothers of these fatherless children.

Any plan that arises from this data will have to focus on the collective behaviors, the norms and values of these communities. Culture and customs will also have to be address. However, first priority will be given to the norms and values of these children from the time they begin school. Anything less, would be a waste of time.

Crises imply immediate action to solve pressing social challenges. Just as race, ethnicity or nationality does not shape our response to the victims of the flooding; they should not color our response to the crisis that affects our black youth and young children.

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