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Monday 19 November 2018
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Stereotypes and black males

Minister Jack Warner and Minister John Sandy reeled off the statistics: so many Black boys in prison. So many murders. So many Black men convicted. Both declared that Blacks were killing Blacks. It was these statistics which proved that crime and drug commerce were principally the affair of Black males.

Since the declaration of the state of emergency was designed to end crime by taking the criminals off the streets, what did you expect? It is true that both Warner and Sandy are Government Ministers and could be expected to justify the state of emergency. However, what they were saying was not false. It was the selection of facts which falsified the statement.

Black men were not killing Black men because they were Black. Rather, gang members were killing other gang members for turf. There is no indication that they would not kill Indian, White or Chinese were they gang members threatening turf. Nor was there a Black war. Even if we suppose that all the men picked up and detained were guilty of serious crimes, they represent an extremely small proportion of Black males.

And the guns? We do not know who owns the guns found buried in the bushes. What we do know is that guns are often part of the payment from Drug Lords to minor traders in drugs. If the UNDP report is correct, the rental of guns, sometimes for as little as $100 per hour, may be as deadly as the number confiscated by the police. The army and police uniforms found may be more worrying than a wrapped up gun. In none of these is being Black the relevant criteria. That it is treated as if it were, is now called “profiling” in North America. I prefer the old term, stereotyping. What we have been witnessing is the construction, and transmission, of a stereotype of Black men.

The Singularity

of Black Males

Stereotypes are not built out of nothing. If they were, they would not stick, since they would be too distant from experience. There is always some truth. This is magnified, is related outside of context likely to modify it, is applied as the dominant characteristic of an entire group and as a singularity of that group.

In the Middle Ages, money lending was frowned upon or outright banned for Christians. Money was nevertheless needed. Some Jews emerged as money-lenders. Most Jews were not money-lenders. They were artisans or peasants, many of whom had moved into the professions. It was, however, the Jew as the miserly, unscrupulous money-lender prepared to sell his God, which was believed in and transmitted across the centuries. There were also stereotypes of the Irish, as given to being drunk and violent – always ready to fight, but not entering academia. This was not only a stereotype of the Irish, it carried with it what was the stereotype of Catholics in Protestant countries. It is sometimes reflected here as the incapacity of Catholics to move into industry. This too, was false. The Irish turned out to be marked by Victorian morality, easily changed from spirits to wine when money was available, while France and Italy after the Renaissance, led in capitalist industry.

Academic Achievement.

The stereotype of Black males is not only the criminalisation of all Black males. It is there in educational achievement. It is stressed that Black girls are doing academically better than Black boys and that Indians do academically better than Africans. These, doing badly at school, dropping out, made up the bulk of the PNM Governments make-work projects, URP and CEPEP. The stereotype is now complete, Black males are a problem.

Sport as Stereotype

There is important information that is omitted. Black boys did not always do badly. Girls, up to university level, are doing academically better than boys in most of Western Europe. It is neither a Trini affair nor a Black affair. What is a Trini affair are the steps taken to compound this. Boys are not supposed to love reading – it is not manly. Black boys in particular are channelled into sport, computer games and liming. The expectation is that they will do badly at school. However, it may well be that what is considered “manly” partly accounts for the declining performance of Black boys. Sport is part of an older stereotype, i.e. that Blacks excel in physical pursuits but are not equipped for intellectual pursuits. The question of merit for another time, only to note here that there has been a decline since the 90’s in the performance of the working class in some Western European countries. In France during the 50’s, the working class attendance at France’s prestigious universities – the “Grand ?coles” – was 29 percent. It dropped to nine percent during the 90’s.

Nothing to do with being Trini. Nothing to do with being Black, whatever our stereotypes lead us to believe. Unfortunately, stereotypes orient action and frame expectations, including what a group is led to think of themselves.

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