Two articles in this weekend's Barbados Advocate struck me. The first quoted the Minister of Education, Cynthia Forde, who asked that "[Bajan] Men be given an opportunity to prove themselves." She meant to show that they have good character and can make a valuable social contribution. There is no doubt that men are accomplishing, but there has been a tendency to either not see this or to dismiss it, even to the extent of suggesting that it is otherwise (as happened recently with the results of school 11-plus exams, when boys took most of the top 10 places, but one newspaper's headline flagged that on average boys were doing worse).
Elsewhere in the Advocate, there is a very challenging assessment of the changing roles of women and men in an article by David "Joey" Harper (entitled "Woman's quest for freedom"). This leaves us lamenting that despite the abolition on slavery, black people have not reached emancipation--and may never get there. While talking about the changing (not interchanging) roles of men and women, he really is attacking what is happening to parenting and by extension, the family. Both are disappearing, and being replaced by surrogates.
These are interesting salvos in a deep debate that the black community needs to have. Many have seen the sharp visible decline of black boys at the summit of education (go to any graduation ceremony to see this up close). When we read the papers, we see some of the reasons: the crime pages are almost all about black young men; the "family" pages are about the unfaithful men (though often silent that these slips are mainly with other women!)
Men are finding themselves dislocated in many societies, but I fear more so in black communities in the Caribbean, America, and Europe; Africa's experience is different. There is some very interesting research on the many faceted issue of racial identity, which is more of a problem for forced or voluntary migrants (see article on "Sexuality in Men of Color"). Additional research on "marginalized" black men is also revealing (see extract from Alford A. Young's 2003 book "The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances"). The problem black men are facing may be due to a heavier dose of patriarchial lifestyles, and yet another hangover from our slavery background, which meant that men were abused savagely and physically by their masters, and did likewise to their women young and old. Black men may now be reaping the whirlwind.
No matter how many "enlightened" black men there are, they are outnumbered hugely and most black men still "don't get it" when seeing women in new and at least equal roles, and in trying to treat women with gentleness and care. But many black women also "don't get it" that men are universally being diminished and feeling this. Two wrongs don't make a right and our societies have to grapple with this challenge of new roles and equality for the sexes.
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