Ronald Thwaites | Achievable change
“Fadda, you can get my likkle boy into a Catholic ‘creech’? Junie’s four-year-old has started to be troublesome – and expensive; more than her mother’s meagre stall outside the inner-city school, the only source of family income, can afford.
“Where is the child’s father”? “He is not in the picture”. Said flat and raw and with finality. There was a pause. Then almost in a wail the story flowed, “Mi no like him no more. And him don’t look like him can do anything for me. But him used to talk so sweet. No man ever treat me so nice. Look how my madda have to struggle. I only hear bout my father. Old people say is him me favour.”
“So what happen with you and school”? I pressed. “It was three bus fare to reach high school so is only sometimes I could go. I did like Spanish but plenty times Señor never come. I get three subjects. No, not English or maths. I tried those again but couldn’t afford the exam fees … and anyway the baby boy came. I wish it was a girl. The boy too troublesome when him hungry. And the BPO say mi no ready – I don’t talk good enough. But I see them tek who don’t have subjects. Dem partial to brown-skin girl.” The 23 year old’s voice trailed off’, then “Hey sir, you can get me a work. I can do ‘foilin’and tidy office.”
“I can help you get back to school but it’s going to be hard if you have any more children right now.” There was no answer. Same night last week, I saw the TV images of the less-cared schoolchildren being abused, like refugees crossing the Mediterranean, on the buses and taxis in Grange Hill, Buff Bay and Troy – everywhere, if their parent is like my girl. But of course, we have ‘criss cyar and toll road inna bungle’!
“There is a gap between you and us…”
That’s what Abraham said to Dives. Yes, Mr Standard & Poor’s, thank you for the high ratings. Nigel says we must clap “wiself” (and him, of course) because the ease-up soon come for my girl, her mother and child. But we have heard that Sankey from Queen Victoria through to King Charles. Poor people know it nah reach them. My girl wants to be an accountant. She needs a place to go to evening classes, a part-time job in the day and a person, better a community, which will keep her on course.
Seductive Dunce lyrics and pretty-pretty party culture can’t help her but that is what plenty of the ‘tapanaris’ pay big dollars to promote and those images are what she sees daily. Except that “conditions apply”. The increasing numbers of the poorly socialised correlates with the increasing numbers of criminals and marginal producers.
Anyway, we are going to try with my girl and her son. But what about others like her?
TWO PARENT PRIVILEGE
The main achievable change which would have benefited my Junie would have been to have two caring parents – even if they were poor, like most Jamaicans will continue to be under the present system. The mindfulness of a father and the discipline, loving values, emotional and financial resources which a united mother and father can give to a growing child, would have placed her in a better position to succeed in school, avoid early pregnancy and the likelihood that her son will have no better outcome than she had.
PERPETUATING THE PROBLEM
Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times points to the terrifyingly small number of Afro-Americans who grow with both parents and the intergenerational consequences of weak educational performance and proneness to antisocial behaviour. Economic marginalisation, systemic racism leading to incarceration and death, combine with a false liberalism that asserts that it is of little consequence whether mothers and fathers are committed to child-rearing together. Only four per cent of low-income black US children live with both parents.
Single parents in Jamaica continue to rear many exemplary citizens. God bless them. We continue to confuse the exception with the ideal. Raising children in this society, fraught as it is with inequality of opportunity, self-obsessed hedonism and weakened community bonds, is a very difficult endeavour in the tightest of families. Being a deadbeat or absentee parent carries no social penalty. “Is so man stay all over” is the default excuse.
We do not want to talk about it, but there is an enduring disconnect between firm father-mother commitment and child-bearing. From a purely secular and utilitarian perspective, to separate begetting a child from a resolve to jointly parent, exposes the society to dangerous risks which often end up in expensive compensatory measures which seldom succeed.
Want an example? We spend over one million dollars a year to keep someone in wasteful custody but deny a fraction of that for antecedent measures (money and moral education among them) which would likely avoid later delinquency.
During slavery families were broken up. Promiscuity was rewarded. Entrenched poverty and warped value formation since then has resulted in the worst form of mental slavery whereby this very pattern of oppression has come to be thought of by the victims thereof as being an act of high freedom and victorious autonomy.
Kristoff quotes many social policy prescriptions in America which recommend training and employment for marginalised young males and affordable housing for young working families as best remedies for that nation’s now overwhelming problem.
We should follow those lines. Disrespect for the human person was the mortal sin of a culture of servitude. Convincing my Junie that better can best come from self-respect and regard for others; that capricious breeding hurts all parties, most grievously, innocent children, should be a national priority.
Otherwise prepare for more of the same pop-down, or worse – whichever party forms the government.
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at the UWI. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.