The Trouble With Black Boys . . .

Matthew Farley, Nationnews (Barbados), October 5, 2008

PRESIDENT of the Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools, Mr Jeff Broomes, and I attended the Second Annual Conference of the Adelaide Sanford Institute. The theme of this year’s conference was Creating A Culture Of Success For Students Of African Ancestry.

As I sat through the various sessions, there was a sense in which I could easily have been sitting in the Frank Collymore Hall or UWI, Cave Hill, listening to Professor Errol Miller speaking to the issues affecting black men, who, according to him, are marginalised.

In short, though in New York with all its racial overtones and issues of equity, I felt moved to ask the same questions and raise the same issues with reference to black boys in Barbados.

Professor Pedro Noguera, of New York University delivered the keynote address at the opening ceremony. His theme was: The Trouble With Black Boys. I say black boys because it seems as though the boys of other ethnic groups do not suffer the same plight.

Certainly in Barbados the descendants of the Asian communities are not in crisis. There is no evidence to suggest that white boys in Barbados are in any trouble unless it remains within the confines of the “clan.” Everywhere across the African Diaspora the black males are in deep crisis. So what’s the trouble with them?

Marginalised

As I look at black boys across the social landscape, I feel very sorry for them. For not only are they marginalised but many of them have no sense of who they are or where they are going. By their behaviour, young black males seem always to feel that they must do something outrageous to prove themselves.

As I travel through the various districts daily, under every breadfruit tree, at every corner, behind every wall and sometimes behind every paling you will find cumulatively, thousands of young black boys, men who are characterised as outlined below.

Many have never worked or do not plan to do so. Many of them have CXC qualifications but are qualified to do nothing. The overall profile represents a colossal waste of human potential which apparently no other race suffers.

Let me assert up front that the problem with black boys in Barbados has nothing to do with their intellect. Indeed the history of the black race is replete with unsurpassed intellectual brilliance out of which sprang both mathematical and scientific inventions.

The intellectual capacity is there. Part of the problem is that our black boys, and indeed the black race on the whole, have been told a whole heap of lies about themselves that over time they have come to believe and internalise. The minds of black boys must be purged of all the lies and myths about self and the psyche and must be educated afresh before black boys and black men can emerge as a positive force with which to be reckoned.

Absence of males

The trouble with black boys in Barbados is inextricably bound up in the glaring absence of the males, the fathers within their lives. Approximately 42 per cent of homes across the Caribbean are headed by females. The fathers from whose loins the “black boys” have sprung are absent.

The fact is that boys who have been deprived of the powerful and overwhelming influence of a father can never reflect the benefits of fatherhood and understand the values of responsibility, industry, respect and the call to manhood. In spite of the tremendous impact that single mothers have on boys, not even the greatest mother can teach her son to be a man.

In a strange and perverse way, the black community, itself, has started to wage a kind of war against young black men and has become part of this destructive process.

The trouble with black boys is the trouble with black families. It is the trouble that plagues black communities and the trouble that continues to haunt the black race. It is, in part, the problem of self-doubt, of imitation and a culture of failure for which a strong counter-narrative must be initiated with much urgency. The question as to what is the trouble with black boys cannot remain rhetorical; it must be answered now, if the threat to the social order is to be averted.

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