All of my ghetto chromosomes kicked in last Tuesday when a fellow, whose face is bleached to a marked resemblance to a capuchin monkey, splashed his idea of a cleaning agent on my 'windscreem' and assaulted my newly washed vehicle while looking away. Despite my protestations, he continued and was already half-way across the car when I turned into a hybrid of Hulk and a werewolf, greeting him in unequivocal language and tone which effectively communicated to him my annoyance and intention not to be victimised. Recognising my unambiguous facial expression and attitude, he relented and walked away, clearly understanding that I was reprising the Bounty Killa song which chorused, "dis Miss Ivy Last Son, an ... ."
It was not the first or gazillionth time that this happened and there are a few occasions when there is less aggressiveness. Indeed, once my car was not in the most pristine condition although the windshield was a little dusty, but the petulant young man proceeded to smear his concoction on the glass. Stopped in his tracks by my glare and strong rebuff, his response was, "Faada, You no see di glass dutty?" With an acerbity normally reserved for dishonest literary critics, I retorted, "You look pon youself?" This fellow, who seemed to reserve his sparse supply of water for drinking and window washing only, skulked away, muttering unintelligible expletives to himself.
In another incident, my inspector of police friend drove up to the traffic lights and was pounced upon by another squeegee extortionist, who, when told that his services were not needed, proceeded to tell him that he was the most desired part of the female anatomy and threatened to 'shat him inna him face'. Well, needless to say, that was as wrong a move as calling an election at an inappropriate time for one's party, and the young man felt the long arm of the law, fortunately, without the fists at the end.
Nevertheless, this defensive reaction by men who are capable of defending it, or pursuing recriminating measures, is more the exception rather than the norm. Horror stories abound about women and some men of all ages and skin hues, being splashed, robbed, spat on, and verbally abused.
A few years ago, efforts were made by the ubiquitous Senior Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Lewis, to remove the aggressive mendicants from these light-controlled intersections. Perhaps because he was speaking in standard Jamaican English, the middle-class human-rights activists took him on and totally missed the point. Last year, my dear friend and colleague, Professor Carolyn Cooper, wrote on the subject of the shooting death of a man who used to wipe 'car glass' in Montego Bay. There had been conflicting reports, but popular consensus was that he spat on the car of a motorist, who retaliated against this obvious act of aggression, with deadly force. Gleaner reports suggested that there was provocation too, because, "the deceased had attempted to wipe the windscreen ... the motorist refused his services and the 'wiper' spat on his windscreen. During a verbal exchange, the young man was shot in the head."
It was a discourse Cooper took to the Caribbean Studies Association conference in Guadeloupe, where my other colleague, Professor Brian Meeks, rode the same theme. For both of them, it was incredible that one could be killed in a violent society for defacing a car. Thus, it was middle-class affinity and overvaluation of material possessions, because the lives of poor people were worthless. Of course, I did not consider them to be washing the nation's dirty laundry in an international forum, but the criticism they raised about the devaluation of human life was misplaced because, my point that I raised in response, was that it was not about the car, and moreover, the shooting death response was more a lower class, inner-city type response than an uptowner's reaction.
Now, this is why social analysis requires sociologists and social psychologists. What occurs in the interchange between wipers and their victims is not simply about money. It is about power and respect. A person, who wipes the windscreen against the wishes of the driver, knows that he is violating the recipient of his services and he understands that it is a form of extortion. He does it because he thinks that he is 'badder' than the motorist and he can do whatever he wants, because 'him a top man.' He is no different from the 'hold dung tek wey' man, who feels that he can touch a woman's breasts because she is sexy, pick another's crops because he wants it, rubs himself against a woman ( or another man) against her (his) wishes, or forces himself into her (his) body cavities.
Simply put, the behaviour of the young men, who refuse to take 'No!' for an answer, is an act of violence. That is why it is generally followed up by words of aggression and threats. And that is why men and women with the cultural DNA of Tacky, Bogle, Sam Sharpe, and Nanny will respond with other acts of violence or the indication that they are capable of it.
Yet, these young men are the symptoms, not the problem. This is precisely what the two political parties, hell bent on showing us how heroic their leaders have been, must be ashamed of, after 69 years of adult suffrage and 51 years of independence. As Mike Henry said last week, both parties have failed the people, especially the poor.
misaligned version of paternalism
For decades, the politicians cultivated a culture of clientelism and mendicancy based on political patronage. This is an exaggerated and misaligned version of the paternalism learned from the plantations. Furthermore, in a 'dunceocracy' we have devalued learning and schooling, and allowed the role models of the inner cities to be area dons and boorish rogue entertainers.
With unemployment in the prime windscreen wiping cohort of 38 per cent, this is more than twice the national average of 16 per cent. This is up to April and it has got worse since 41 per cent of the total number of unemployed men were under 25 years old. Remember, this figure excludes those who are in school, and those not looking work.
In the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), the aggressive wipers are concentrated at Old Hope and Hope Roads, Molynes Road and the Washington Boulevard, Waterloo and Hope roads and definitely to the chagrin of the prime minister, in the heart of Three Miles; Portia Simpson Miller Square (PSMS).
It is a slap in her face, because it is an embarrassment that the main monument to the national heroine-in-waiting is defiled by the largest and worst population of window wipers.
Unlike Molynes and Trafalgar, which have the wipers approaching from two directions, PSMS has them besetting from three directions, and it is due to the slip road from Marcus Garvey Drive, which pours out into the square en route to Spanish Town Road and ultimately Mandela Highway, that the approach is not quadri-directional.
Doubtless, this seems to be a cancer that is spreading. An exasperated Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington laments the absence of proper legislation to rid the streets of these overly aggressive extortionists. However, the police are the Band-Aid when the Government needs to take proper advice from the social scientists, local and international, and implement suitable policies to reduce youth unemployment and marginality.
This is the aftermath of Heroes Day and my windshield was properly cleaned before leaving home. My vision is clear and I hope the Government doesn't tint its own so that it ignores this problem.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.