Monthly Archives: September 2011

State of the African Nation

This State of Emergency is uncovering a lot of this country’s unfinished business. What was in darkness is coming to light. The clampdown on hotspot communities has prompted debates of the state of African communities and young, black males. Some make snide remarks that African people world-over are hotspots. Statistics are being used to advance racist suggestions of African inferiority. There are many opinions — with zero analysis. But it’s an important debate. What is the state of the African population? Are there worldwide patterns? If so, why are they arising? In the next two articles I will attempt to explore the complex processes unleashed on African people in the last 500 years— especially within the last 50. But first we need context…

Let us be very clear. We live in a world that is the result of 500 years of Western military conquest which at its height slaughtered over 300 million people worldwide and stole entire continents and an entire hemisphere from Native people. More than 85 ethnic tribes — distinct nations of peoples — were wiped out from the face of the earth in the course of this conquest. This process created a planetary economic caste system of white over brown over black. This is the modern world we live in today. Plain talk. Bad manners.

Five centuries of slaughter is invested in this system. Every Western institution— from legislatures and economies to political, military, and media systems — were formed from this process and fashioned on the assumption of white over brown over black. Enormous amounts of resources are invested to keep this in place. When Butler started labour unrest in Trinidad in 1937, British warships were in the Gulf the next day. In the 1900s elected radical presidents in Latin America and the Middle East were routinely assassinated because they did not toe the line. Up to today — in 75 per cent of Hollywood movies — a black male will be the first person ritually killed. This is not a coincidence. A status quo is being upheld. White life is being championed as premium. Black life is being sold as being expendable. The world is the audience.

Let’s not fool ourselves. The forces that put these systems in place did not disappear overnight. We did not suddenly wake up in a world where everyone is singing “Kumbaya”, interested in equality. Trillions of dollars are at stake… White America is not giving back North, Central and South America to Native American tribes and saying sorry… Our world has been brutally fashioned by advantage. African and Native American people are systematically supposed to be at the bottom of that pyramid. The New World began with an entire hemisphere stolen from Native People — and with 300 years of unpaid African labour for over 20 million people. It also gave white Western powers and their citizens trillions of dollars of wealth.

Yet despite this, African people have been spoilers in the West and are at the heart of the Western equation for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that African people have been the principal resistance to the West — militarily, politically, economically and culturally — for the last five centuries. From Toussaint and Dessaline’s victory over Napoleon in Haiti to Ethiopia’s victory over Italy at the Battle of Adwa. Martin Luther King and others changed the civil rights shape of the West. African people profoundly changed the course of civilsiation by humanising the West and halting its worst excesses. In every territory African people made economic and social systems more open and inclusive. Just years out of slavery Africans began fashioning upper and middle classes out of these struggles. However, large amounts of their population have been left behind in communities that never had a shield from this historical inhumanity. Many of the hotspots of the world are located in these communities.

The catch 22 for the West is that African’s capacity for labour and inventiveness is indispensable to their civilsation. The Western solution is to try to destroy the African capacity to organise and resist, but to keep Africans around as labourers, castrated of agenda and consciousness. This last process began in the plantation during slavery. There has never been a process whereby a captive people have been scientifically subjected to a series of institutional processes meant to remove from them all aspects of culture and humanity as Western plantation slavery.

From start to finish it was fashioned to remove God, religion, language, nation, memory, identity, manhood, womanhood, family, kinship, personality, and humanity from the oldest civilised people on the planet… This process lasted three centuries! This war on African identity and organising has continued into the 21st century.

The second reason that Africans are central to the West is that the African continent is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world. There is hardly one accessory in civilisation that does not depend on primary resources from Africa — from computers to cars. Without Africa there is no Western civilisation and its products. This is why Africa has been straddled with military dictators for the last two centuries — placed there by Western powers to prevent African ownership of their own resources.

With these things in mind we can now begin to examine the state of the global African nation…

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GANGS AND THE GOLDEN AGE

We need to get this straight—or we perish. The truth about boys and gangs… This country is being held to ransom by about 6000 boys organized into criminal gangs. These boys are led by about 60 very charismatic boys. These gangs are secret societies- with initiation rituals, codes of conduct, and ways of dress. They have heroes they worship and attempt to imitate, and strict systems of reward and punishment. These gangs are modes of achieving wealth, status and women. Most of all, they are ways of achieving ‘belonging’ and ‘meaning’.

The same impulses that form criminal gangs inform the creation of all male-bonding groups. Examples of male organizations formed with these same principles include: football and sporting clubs; music bands; forms of priesthood; religious sects; and military and para-military organizations. ‘Police and tief’ are in fact cut from the same cloth. They are just boys in different types of gangs! The seminal book Iron John by Robert Bly uncovers the real workings of this male impulse to organize this way.

Gangs appear when the male ‘initiation rituals’ of a society fail. The boys that fail to feel included as ‘citizens’ begin to create groups that resemble gangs. Middle-class nerds may create comic book clubs. Lower-income boys with their backs against the wall may form gangs… The reason we are losing the war on crime is because we fail to understand the twin edged sword of this mystery of male behavior and the role of Culture.

Gangs are an international historical phenomena occurring in all ethnicities, in all geographic regions, from rural to urban societies. To hear some commentators one would believe that gangs and criminality are strictly an African male phenomena! Here is an interesting fact: hillside communities breed gang formation. Why? Because of the distance of young males ages 12- 27 from civic services and the cultural civilizing centre. The Yakuza from Japan, the Mafia from Sicily, and the outlaws of the American West, all emerged from mountainous areas. But let’s look at our own country. Where are the communities that have collapsed the most? The hills: Laventille; Bagatelle; Big Yard… We are not the first country dealing with collapsing lower income, hillside communities, and there are international precedents in terms of solutions.

Medilin in Columbia- once the deadliest city on earth- was rehabilitated by the visionary intervention of its former mayor Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo’s philosophy was, “Our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas.” With that he transformed ghettoes into areas of safety, entrepreneurship, and international tourist destinations. Working closely with all stakeholders, including the police, Fajardo rewarded communities who brought down their crime rates with major civic buildings- libraries, museums, community centres… Within 4 short years the community was unrecognizable. He brought centres of citizenship to the hillsides! To dispossessed boys… The East Port of Spain Growth Pole and Heritage City which activists got into last year’s Budget provides these sort of visionary interventions. Hopefully we shall see the implementation of these progressive social policies to accompany police action.

There’s another solution- in our own history. It’s located in the magic of our nation’s Golden Age from 1930- 1950.

In the 20th century the African diaspora produced a succession of Golden Ages of Culture. The Ages of Rock, Jazz, and Hip-Hop in the States. The Age of Samba in Brazil. The Ages of Reggae and Dancehall in Jamaica. And the Age of Pan, Mas and Calypso here. Just to name a few. These Ages fundamentally transformed these nations- empowering thousands in the lower classes and democratising their societies. Ultimately these cultural revolutions humanized the world. These revolutions were- in the words of one of my mentors Tony Hall- not just forms of music but ‘ways of seeing’.

The remarkable thing is: these Golden Ages were created by mostly criminalized underclass boys aged 12 to 27. The greatest human cultural inventions of the 20th century were created by young criminal boys! That’s the magic of Golden Age Culture!!!

The list is endless of lost boys who became global geniuses and Kings: Bob Marley; Peter Tosh; Kitchener; Pele; Jay Z; Russell Simmons; Louis Armstrong; Bono; nearly all the early panmen! What would these ‘charismatic young boys’ have been doing if they were not so transformed? Musical genius Quincy Jones was robbing a church with his gang when he played the piano that changed his life. It is our duty to put the pianos (pans, boxing gyms, football clinics, cricket nets, labs…) in the way of these boys. Use the clues of the Golden Age to create Centres in the heart of collapsing communities.

The collapse of Laventille into a zone of black-on-black killing is a result of our leadership class abandoning the Golden Age Legacy of East Port of Spain. Pan, Mas, and Calypso were forged ‘behind-de-bridge’- and transformed society for the better. There are now 300 Trini-style Carnivals world-over worth $15 Billion! ‘Behind-de-bridge’ receives .0001% of that revenue! During our Golden Age gangs transformed into orchestras, poets, inventors, and managers. But no industry was invested from their gifts. Politicians abandoned communities with the same civic amenities from Emancipation… So they collapsed… Let us now make reparation to our Golden Age communities- and build the Temples for the youths dem to enter!