Christopher A.D. Charles | Unpacking young adults’ creative transgressions
The public uproar about Waldane Walker’s use of “bad words” to end his valedictory speech at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) 2019 graduation ceremony and the support he has received from many people is indicative of the long-standing struggle of life in Jamaica.
It is important to listen to our young people, understand them, and work with them as they create their road maps for the rest of the life course, rather than rush to condemn them in ignorance about human development.
LIMITED FUTURE ORIENTATION AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
The average EMCVPA student tends to graduate around age 22. These are bright, young people who just left adolescence a few years ago who are constrained by their limited future orientation. A decade before, they were children, and now in their early 20s, they tend not to be able to roject very far into the future since they have been around for a very short time, with relatively limited life experiences compared to older adults.
Therefore, many of these young adults tend to say and do things that are offensive to older people and some young people, but are they developmentally appropriate based on where these young people are in the life course?
This limited future orientation is partly related to the developing brain. Young people’s brains are not fully developed until they are in their 20s, so young adults are more likely to be impulsive than older adults.
This fact is why, in the scientific societies of the developed world, mitigating factors (the immature brain is one such factor) are often taken into account when adolescents and young adults transgress criminally because they are deemed less culpable legally. Some people seem not to understand these issues, so they rush to denounce and condemn young people who transgress.
REFLECTIVE LOST POSSIBLE SELVES
Some critics tend to say, “When I was young, I would not do that” without realising that their memory is not a record of what happened, but a representation of what happened, which is modified with each recall. Young adults’ harshest critics tend to be older people, among others, who have the benefit of ‘lost possible selves’ as reflective guides. A ‘lost possible self’ is who you wanted to be or something you wanted to achieve that would have had an impact on who you became, but it never materialised.
People with several unrealised selves have the benefit of using them as a reflective guide regarding the factors that undermined who they wanted to become and what works and what does not.
Young adults do not have many reflective unrealised selves as guides, but they are not fools. The Flynn effect shows that IQ increases by several points for each successive generation.
These youth who work to create a path for the kind of adult they have decided to become tend to be smarter than their parents’ generation. All they need from us is love, support, encouragement, dialogue, understanding, and guidance. This secure base will allow them to consider the possible consequences of their behaviour and make optimal decisions.
OPPOSITIONAL IDENTITY AND RESISTANCE LANGUAGE
We create our identities during adolescence by asking and answering the self-defining questions: who am I? Who are we? These personal and social definitions of self are important for navigating and surviving the social world. These self-constructions occur during the transition stage when adolescents are no longer children but not yet adults. Therefore, young adulthood is the test period for the kind of adults these young people have decided to become. This stage may also involve further refashioning of self.
These are the times when young adults may decide to follow the path of their parents, or influential conservative others, or take their unique conservative path. However, other young adults create oppositional identities that take on the world to turn things around by changing their names, cutting their parents off, suddenly going to live in another country, tattooing their bodies, engaging in body piercings, doing outlandish things, and cursing “bad words”, and so on.
Most radical and beneficial changes in the world tend to come from people under 35 years of age because young adults are the agents of change, not their critics. For example, Marcus Garvey, Franzt Fanon, Walter Rodney, Bob Marley, and Martin Luther King Jr all had a significant impact on the world before they were 35 years of age.
Waldane embraced Ebony Patterson’s call to “turn the world upside down” by answering the “ who am I?” as a “Creole actor” and the “ who are we?” as Creole actors with a “dispossessed history” that must be embraced.
Waldane’s oppositional social group of Creole actors refused to be programmable members of society’s box that are unafraid to speak truth to power.
We all believe in freedom of speech until we find a speech offensive. For young people like Waldane, there are no “bad words” because the murderous British criminalised these words to counter the verbal resistance of our oppressed captive African ancestors, which is why Peter Tosh sang “Oh B… C...”
There are social media clips that circulate from time to time of police officers of various ranks using “bad words” without moral opprobrium. However, the police, backed by the establishment, have used this unjust law selectively to oppress black working-class Jamaicans. Some examples are arresting dancehall DJs for using “bad words” during performances, and relatively recently, the pregnant woman in St Thomas, who a police officer shot and killed while arresting her for use of “bad words.”
The law making the use of “bad words” illegal is unjust and must continue to be challenged. Change agents like Waldane and young people of his ilk should be supported and celebrated for their “on stage behaviour” of change, unlike their critics.
These young people infuse their creative performances with a conscience in the service of social justice.
Waldane, big up yuh B…C… self!
- Dr Christopher A.D. Charles is a psychologist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org