GET REAL: Why Baltimore matters to us
EVEN IF VIOLENCE is not the answer, it can be a predictable and even understandable response. Even if we don’t agree with the violence in Baltimore, surely we can understand it? Even if we understand the violence in Baltimore, we may not understand rising levels of violence here in Barbados. Even though Baltimore and Barbados are miles apart on so many levels, we should get real about the similarities.
A history of violence and oppression: check! High levels of unemployment: check! Structural, social and institutional factors that create a nearly permanent underclass: check! Low levels of education: in the process of checking! A business class that is largely alienated from the community it serves and takes out but puts little back in: check! A culture of law enforcement that is more “control, contain and intimidate” than “protect, serve and reassure”: check!
We can add a very important but less well accepted factor. A culture disconnected from the stabilising and unifying roots of its history: check! Where that culture is in place, it would be a protective force. It is not. We should be surprised that we are surprised by the rising tide of violence.
Violence is at the root of our societies. We were planted in a bed of violence; watered and fertilised by the whip, the gun and psychological abuse. It is violence or the threat of it that holds our societies together.
Fear traditionally kept the violent expression of our frustrations in check. We are used to calling that fear “discipline.” Fear of God and those who He placed in authority is what we clung to. God and massa are no longer seen as one. But God and massa have been so long linked that losing faith in one can mean losing faith in the other.
The youth have lost their fear of God, man and the devil. Even an abused dog will bite its owner when it realises he has no teeth. Abused humans are no different. Our children are routinely abused – physically, sexually, emotionally and by neglect. We were abused as well. We called it love. It is love plantation style. We can unlearn it if we can see it for what it is. Then we have to learn what to replace it with. No one can say they know exactly how to do that. Only that it needs to be done. It is easier to be nostalgic for the good ole days of simple abuse and submission.
Too late for that. The youth don’t have that reference. They are not so quick to submit. They cannot go back to what they did not come from. All they have is the undefined frustration they inherited from us – and an accelerated tendency towards wrath.
“But that’s not all we gave them,” you say. “We gave them free education, bus fare, school meals, health care. What more dey want?” Wrong question! What more do they need?
What is it they need to connect them to a centuries’ long collective struggle that is not complete?
The Queen didn’t come from England to “set we free.” She came to set England free. Oppression is hard work. Especially when the oppressed start to fight back. African, Asian and Caribbean men came back from fighting in World War II, telling themselves, “So dis is how yuh does do it!”
Britain was weak after the war and didn’t have the appetite or maybe capacity for the violence that would be necessary to keep their subjects in check. Decolonisation was a smart move to avoid the loss of British life.
Other European nations like France, Belgium and Portugal didn’t have that foresight. They decided to try to hold on to their colonies with violent consequences. In the end, they all resorted to giving the goat more pasture to graze and a longer rope to control it.
It’s an old trick. Emancipation wasn’t about ending slavery. It was about transforming slavery into a form less likely to lead to violent revolt.
That is what some of us call peace. The willing submission of the disenfranchised to the franchise owner. The calm that comes when we just keep quiet and “tek it.” We want the peace of protests that do not upset those we protest against too much.
The ruling classes retain the right to use violence as they see fit and define when it is justified and necessary. They control the conversation around violence. Invasions are called military interventions. The death of innocent civilians is called collateral damage. In Baltimore they prefer to focus on the property damage during the riots as opposed to the around 3 000 suspected homicides in police custody.
The riots are not a strategically planned nor organised response. They are the inevitable bursting of years of dammed frustration. That frustration must be addressed appropriately. If not, it will find an outlet.
The frustration felt in Baltimore is similar in Barbados. Our long suppressed emotions are bubbling over in our children. Deceitful smiles, replaced with dismissive faces, which are being replaced with naked aggression. We move between not seeing one another and seeing one another as the enemy or as prey; as competition. We pray to win.
We told our children to go to school to get a job and go to church to get to heaven. Practical education, and practical religion for practical results. The white collar criminal, the blue collar criminal and the law-abiding citizen all have one thing in common. “It’s all about me and my result.”
“Fuhget de ress uh de class as long as I pass. Fuhget de sinner. I saved. Fuhget de poor. I mekkin money.” But the guy who was last in class, the sinner and the poor won’t go away. The educated, the self-proclaimed saint and the wealthy cannot insulate themselves from the rest of society. Our society is not so neatly divided.
When one set feel it, the rest will feel it eventually.
Adrian Green is a communication specialist. Email [email protected]