IN analysing the progress or lack thereof of Jamaica's youth over the past 50 years of our independence, one may go as far back as Edith Clarke's My mother who fathered me (1957), Errol Miller's Marginalisation of the black male (1986) and Men at risk (1991), the late Barry Chevannes' Learning to be a man (2001), or to the publications of contemporary researchers and workers in the field like Herbert Gayle, Horace Levy and a raft of contributors mainly from the University of the West Indies. Allowing for differences in treatment of the subject, all point to an incontrovertible fact: Jamaican youth, more specifically males, are in crisis.
The concern that our males, primarily in the 18 - 24 age group, are in crisis is neither misplaced nor exaggerated. Let's examine the extent of the crisis with the help of statistics from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. In 2010 the population in Jamaica by gender was males, 1,332,700 (49.3 per cent ) and females, 1,373,100 (50.7 per cent), almost even. Yet, females did better than males measured by almost every key indicator. Life expectancy at birth: males 68.57 years, females 75.3 years. Literacy rates for people 15 years old and over: total population 85.9 per cent, males 80.6 per cent and females 90.8 per cent. Student enrolment: Primary, males 51.1 per cent, females 48.9 per cent; Secondary, males 49.9 per cent, females 50.1 per cent; Tertiary, males 31.4 per cent , females 68.6 per cent. Victims of homicide: males 90 per cent , females 10 per cent. Perpetrators of homicide (people arrested): males 98.0 per cent, females 2.0 per cent.
The source of the imbalance is not in the "genes" but maybe in the "jeans", that is, having to do more with what one anthropologist called phallic (from the word phallus meaning penis) fallacy; misplaced views of masculinity arising from socialisation, which serves to enforce harmful stereotypes. Some scholars trace the irresponsible behaviour we see among many of our males back to the slave trade generally and plantation life in particular, and experiences such as the stud role assigned to males for improving the breeding stock. This does not, however, by itself make Jamaica unique; not when compared to sister islands of the Caribbean or even America, countries which share a common history of slavery and/or marginalisation based on class, colour or status. It certainly is not sufficient to explain why anti-social behaviour and disempowerment among Jamaican males are worse than that seen in almost every other country on Planet Earth.
To identify what makes Jamaica a special case in terms of the fractious nature of its internal relations, we have to look to a development more recent and self-imposed than the Middle Passage, slavery, the plantation and colonialism. What makes Jamaica unique is tribal politics that produced garrisons, headed by dons, through a process which conditioned thousands of our males to irresponsible behaviour for more than a generation, starting shortly after Independence and continuing to this very day. This is where 50 years of Independence has brought us to in our internal relations as it concerns high-risk youth and the men they become. What of the next 50 years?
* The first step (even as we acknowledge the many achievements made by our youth) is to recognise that we have a crisis; its magnitude, scope and complexity.
* Second, we must accept that though there are some to be blamed for the wrong political and social choices of the last 50 years that led to the problem, we are all responsible for getting us out of the mess.
* Third, government must give the highest priority to resolving the problems confronting youth generally and young adult males in particular, in keeping with Vision 2030 National Development Plan Goal Number 1: Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential and Goal Number 3: The Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just.
* Fourth, solving crime must move away from almost total reliance on punitive after-the-fact policing strategies, which puts resources in to the wasteful activity of labelling and attempting to eliminate the proverbial "bad seed". Calling for the return of hanging, lashing and other extreme forms of punishment is also of dubious value. The country must find the resources and the will to adopt instead a comprehensive set of programmes to rehabilitate and normalise people at risk to anti-social behaviour and the institutions (especially schools) that serve them, starting with toxic communities (the so-called garrisons) where the problems are concentrated.
* Fifth, the strategy must involve those living in the target communities (empowerment) to be part of the solution and to take ownership of the change.
The blood-curdling incidents of murder and rape of the last few days serve as a reminder that the downturn in crime statistics in the immediate aftermath of the extradition of Christopher Coke does not indicate that we have solved the crime problem. Writing in the Monday, December 24, 2007 edition, Gleaner staff writer Paul Williams gives a chilling perspective of the root cause of the problem that we continue to largely overlook. I quote in part. "Jamaican men have ceased to be the backbone of the society. They have scattered to every nook and cranny on this rock, playing second fiddle to all and sundry. It would seem as if they have lost their way, and are not merely marginalised, as some would say. Integral to the decline is the fact that too many Jamaican men no longer see the need to attain even basic, much less tertiary education. Nonchalance has hurled them towards hustling and get-rich-quick scams and schemes. The recipe for survival, in many minds, is not to be found in books. They are overrunning the prisons. Some of the free ones are toting guns of every size, model and brand. Their blood is washing the streets of this fair land."
In his last public address to an annual conference of the People's National Party, the late National Hero Norman Washington Manley proudly declared that he and his generation had achieved their mission, which was to win self-government for Jamaica. He looked into the future and with these words set a new mission against which our progress as an independent nation can be judged: "And what is the mission for this generation? It is restructuring the social and economic society and life of Jamaica."
Our politics took us down a different path, the consequences of which are devastating. Bringing disadvantaged youths out of the slums, lifting them to respectability and providing them with the opportunity to be productive citizens in a peaceful and harmonious society must serve as the rallying cry for the nation as we embark on the next 50 years of independence.