Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Poor you?

Published:Sunday | June 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMGordon Robinson, Contributor
Anthony Blackwood (left) and Javion Latouche of Franklyn Town Primary School give Digicel brand ambassador Yendi Phillipps a big hug, thanking her for visiting their institution for Child Month in May. A good education is still the best route out of poverty, writes columnist Gordon Robinson.

I was disappointed with 'CVM at Sunrise's' June 3 discussion on age-appropriate sex.

The topic was something like 'Older men with underage girls', although it was acknowledged that the issue was wider since many 50+ lechers take advantage of very young girls above the age of consent. I would add that lecherous men of all ages just as often take advantage of young boys.

The panel included one of my favourite young political representatives, Kamina Johnson-Smith. She proved this is a male problem (without trying) by struggling to get a word in edgewise surrounded by three men who knew it all and said it most. I guess it's a man's world, after all.

One of her male protagonists was especially offensive, in my opinion, by regularly talking over her, shouting and gesticulating wildly (including finger pointing) to communicate his view that this particular perversion was caused by poverty which, he insisted, breeds hunger and desperation. Kamina tried with him, but her soft-spoken style was no match for his loud, boorish, overbearing, debating strategy.

Oh, you are a mucky kid,

dirty as a dustbin lid.

When he hears the things that

you did,

You'll gerra belt from your

Dad.

Oh, you have your father's

nose.

So crimson in the dark it

glows,

If you're not asleep when the

Boozers close,

You'll gerra belt from your

Dad.

Jamaican men, by and large, just don't get it. Sex with underage girls is illegal and immoral. Sex by enticement with vulnerable girls (or boys) half your age is as immoral. The youngsters are victims; the older men at fault.

Poverty doesn't breed immorality; isn't a cause of crime; and doesn't render youngsters more likely to surrender to these powerful enticements. Girls are particularly vulnerable, but I know of many girls, raised in abject poverty but with proper mentorship, who NEVER succumbed to these temptations. Poverty isn't a sin. It's an adversity that breeds motivation and opportunity. Greed, on the other hand, is one of the seven deadly sins and a root cause of crime and immorality. Greed shouldn't be confused with hunger or poverty. When greed is combined with lust (including for power) and envy, the deadliest immorality and perversion follow.

 

Men are to blame

 

Sex with disadvantaged, vulnerable young girls (or boys) is, without exception or reservation, our men's fault. Some fathers, not personally guilty, contribute immensely to the problem by their absence from, or neglect of, paternal duties and by turning a blind eye to and refusing to debunk certain cult(ural) absurdities. The resulting depression born of powerlessness can turn even mothers to greed and envy. Parents become pimps and children (sons and daughters) prostitutes. Sons repeat the cycle by becoming dirty old men.

It's a parenting problem, NOT a poverty problem. Children live what they learn, so Kamina was 100 per cent correct in starting with education as the answer. Education, especially in social values, attitudes and graces, should be available in school but begins at home, regardless of financial status.

The boorish debater seemed to imply that poverty is an inescapable trap and, therefore, success available only to those born into, or inheriting, wealth. Bredren, is not you alone born poor. Plenty of us were. I'll bet dollars to donuts Kamina was also born poor as I see nothing in her parents' public profile suggesting wealth.

Poverty is no inciter of loose morals nor is wealth an assurance of good character. For example, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was born into wealth, but taught a different moral code. Family and community taught us, born poor, to depend on moral compasses.

"You look so scruffy lying

there,

Strawberry-jam tarts in yer

hair.

In all the world you 'aven't a

care

And I have got so many.

It's quite a struggle every day

living on your father's pay.

The beggar drinks it all away

and leaves me without any."

 

poverty a J'can pandemic

 

Contrary to boorish debater's implication, poverty isn't found only in the inner city. It's a Jamaican pandemic. I was repeatedly lucky. My father was a teacher by vocation. When I was born, we occupied accommodation provided by Jamaica College, where he taught maths and was a sports master. Soon, he was separated from his vocation (and free accommodation) by the need for a living wage. He went to work for a construction company. We moved into a series of rented homes.

Unable to afford secondary-school fees, Dad insisted on homework before play. The result for me was an all-inclusive Common Entrance Government Scholarship. After graduation, I landed softly on to a mattress of Michael Manley's free education 'madness'. But for that accident of timing, you probably wouldn't be reading this today. So, trust me, EDUCATION is the key!

Although you have no silver

spoon,

Better days are coming soon.

Aunt Nelly's working at the

Lune

And she gets paid on Friday.

Perhaps one day we'll have a

splash,

When Littlewoods provide the

cash,

We'll get a house in 'Knotty

Ash'

And buy your Dad a brewery.

We knew hunger; never greed; always hope. We ate what was provided and Dad insisted we "like it", too. Why? Because (I must've heard this a gazillion times): "Remember the starving children in India". Don't ask why India. This was 1960. Today, my sons are tired of hearing me repeat his mantra.

My parents indoctrinated us that discipline and morality were non-negotiable. My father (then divorced) worked on a distant construction site and so was away from home for long hours. But his stern warning, "If I hear your big toe went through the gate while I'm gone ...", did the trick, despite looking back, the realisation he had no informer to rat us out. We amused ourselves by playing in the yard, listening to the radio, playing games, solving jigsaw puzzles. Later, Mum taught me to cook, bake, clean house and make my bed. "You WON'T marry some girl because you need a maid" was her stern warning.

Oh, you are a mucky kid,

dirty as a dustbin lid.

When he hears the things that

you did

you'll gerra belt from your

Dad.

Oh, you have your father's

face.

You're growing up a real hard

case.

But there's no one can take

your place

... Go fast asleep for yer

Mammy.

Cilla Black was one of a slew of female English pop singers popular in 1960s Jamaica, including Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw (whose 1967 Eurovision song contest winner Puppet on a String, was covered, wrong lyrics and all, by Ken Boothe). It was a time of TV variety shows and Cilla had her own weekly programme seen on JBC TV.

Cilla's biggest hit locally was Conversations, but music connoisseurs prefer the 'B' (flip)side, a hauntingly beautiful tune about the struggles of a poor Liverpudlian Mum, whose bone-idle husband forced her to raise the children alone, contributing only the occasional drunken beating. Liverpool Lullaby remains, for me, one of the best of its era from across the pond.

My father didn't drink, smoke or run around with reckless women. But he enjoyed a flutter, and I remember watching him mark his weekly football pools coupon, which he sent to England ('Littlewoods') by post. The 'Lune' was a laundry in Wavertree that provided much-needed employment for the poorer, unqualified classes and 'Knotty Ash' Liverpool's posh residential area like San Francisco's 'Nob Hill'.

I now know I was born poor. I didn't know it then because 'poor' was a way of life and community our refuge. We were all in the same boat. We begged more mobile neighbours for drives to school and Mum taught me to take the bus at age seven. We knew (because we were told) hard work was the only path to success and to produce excellence more important than what we were paid.

My first job was as a lowly Tourist Board stats clerk. I ensured mine were the best stats ever. I learned my first pay cheque's details at JTB and, later, as an associate attorney, when I received them. Today, greed trumps morality, hence many negotiate top salaries before starting work, regardless of inexperience.

"Poverty breeds crime (or sexual misconduct)" is the excuse of the lazy and feeble-minded. Unlimited wealth has created more misconduct than poverty ever did. Don't believe me? Ask Allen Stanford, David Smith or Rolf Harris. Only education, at home and school, regarding the long-term value of a moral compass can significantly reduce the perverted abuse of vulnerable youth.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.