I wish Oprah Winfrey would read this. I really do. In fact not only Oprah, I wish everyone from Spike Lee and Russell Simmons to Jay-z and … lets just saw the whole Afro – Caribbean ‘fraternity’ ( if such a thing could be said to exist) from African-Americans, to those in Europe, Asia or indeed elsewhere (those of us who are fashionably termed the “diaspora”) would read this. Not because its grand or mind blowingly fancy in any fantastical way, no, instead, considering our common history, it represents a summary of a profound truth regarding some of the major problems Africans and African-Americans routinely encounter. A truth which over the years has been distorted by ‘culture’, ‘theories’ and ‘ism’ of one kind or another to the point few know a practical formula on how to resolve the problems. I believe there has been a massive misunderstanding, which unfortunately leads many people to put a lot of the blame on Africans; African-Americans + Afro-carribbeans (with some people not even realising that they are doing so), without carefully understanding how we even got to these problems.
Thankfully, the premise to this post has been handed to me on a golden platter. In a thousand years of inspiration, I could never have arrived at a factual story so farcical, entertaining and mind-boggling in almost equal measure:-
Two days ago we watched with disbelief on our TV screens as Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, was at it again. Probably only slightly less mad compared to Joey Barton, Suarez was caught biting another player’s arm, in the middle of a match; in broad daylight view of the HD cameras patrolling the pitch, in front of thousands of Liverpool and Chelsea supporters…?? It beggars belief. More surprising (this being besides his racist offence two years ago), is the fact that he’s bitten someone else before. At Ajax. Inevitably, most normal people are asking the same questions, why would a world-class player who is one of the top goal scorers of the Barclays Premier League this season bite another player out of the blue? Is this guy okay? What was going on in his mind? Now, we’ve seen bites in the Premiership before, like the one by Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, but what exactly is going on in these peoples’ minds when they do these things? Is biting the same as headbutting which has also happened several times in football?
While Suarez has since apologised, among the many shocked (even the British Prime Minister has urged the FA to impose a tough penalty on Suarez), surprised, rational, amused (see cartoon here) and ticked-off voices on the matter are some who claim that Suarez needs anger management and counselling. In particular, they say his actions are signals of “unresolved issues” manifesting as “regressive anger” or “regressive emotion” which in simple english means he has some mental ‘issues’ to deal with.
As someone whose Mother is a qualified counsellor, and who has known two other counsellors for well over 7 years, issues relating to counselling are not new to me. I’ve been hearing about them for years! In fact I have proof-read 2 Diploma theses on some counselling topics I cannot presently remember (Mother’s, and another for her friend). I have digitized one of the theses (word for word) including the case studies. I have been in proximity to the books on the subject often, and found myself once or twice browsing through a number of them. I’ve heard the stories too (obviously with anonymity as to the subjects concerned and their location), watched some videos, all of which have inevitably influenced my viewpoints on the subject, things which you don’t hear in the media very often.
So, the claim that the Liverpool player might need counseling is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, as one of my friends (who I doubt is a Liverpool fan) observed, does the law to which every ordinary human being in the UK is subject to, truly extend to football players (and one might add ‘celebrities’)? If so, why then haven’t charges been pressed by the police, or indeed the victim? Isn’t it hypocritical that cases of racism are hyped, and a big deal made about them, but when it’s a case of violence, the authorities appear coy about it? In any case, if a member of the public bit another stranger randomly, say on the bus (or on the train), under the ever watchful eyes of the CCTV, wouldn’t the attacker be instantly charged with violent conduct and summoned before a judge? If such is generally the case, isn’t the fact that Suarez has not been formerly charged by the police giving out the wrong signals, especially to young people? That it is infact okay to behave in such a wildly unruly manner in the sport? You may get a small fine and a couple of matches suspension, but your career will be intact, safe and dry. Another friend even drew comparisons with doping in athletics, where he cited Dwain Chambers. “Whats the difference?” he asked “Suarez has cheated at the World cup, bitten someone before — where apparently one newspaper nicknamed him the Cannibal of Ajax — he has been involved in a racist incident against a Manchester United player, and displayed bad behaviour several times, the sort of thing you would expect from Joey Barton, yet he gets to have his cake and eat it.”…
More importantly, it seems some of the people who require counselling will identify the roots of their problems way back in history, commonly in their childhood. These causes range from extreme poverty, abuse (commonly by a family member), rejection, bullying, drug or alcohol addictions, to death of a loved one and suchlike. Some people who have had such experiences don’t even know that they need help. Which is where Suarez’s case is relevant to this post because, in my view, there are many Africans and Afro-Carribean out there who have experienced devastating and traumatic events in their lives, which have affected them so gravely, psychologically, so much that it influences their behaviour later on in life, and negatively affects their career prospects and family life. It sounds like a tenuous excuse for wrongdoing, but it’s not. I’m not a Liverpool FC fan and if you told me that one day I would write this post, 10 years ago, I would have seriously doubted your sanity.
Let me explain further. Those who read my previous post here, will have noted that I referred to the “needs” of Black and Afro-carribean kids in schools.
According to the Self-enhancement theory, individuals with low self-esteem may seek to enhance their self-concepts through the use of aggression in order to boost their already low self evaluations [Rosenberg et al (1989) postulated that individuals with low self-esteem may engage in aggressive acts to boost their low self-evaluations (e.g. , lack of prosocial avenues for expressing self-esteem) ]. This has been used to explain some of the ‘problems’ black children cause in class rooms. Further, it has been stated that individuals with low self-esteem are more prone to engage in risk-taking behavior out of a need to find an available avenue for expressing their self-worth [“subculture of violence”, Long ,1990].
But, while theories such as these hold much validity in explaining some of the psychological problems young black people face (especially in schools), there’s another simpler way of appreciating the bigger picture. I must state at this point that I have not studied this topic extensively, my opinion is based primarily on observations (in my own family and in the lives of others) and private research studies (over the last 7 -8 years) using sources such as are listed below. I do not claim that my viewpoint is the only likely explanation or that the observations below are the only ‘Root causes’, although I’m willing to risk my credibility by suggesting that by far they are the most common root causes. Further, some of my views are influenced partly by my interaction with young people in a Youth group in Nottingham that is affiliated to a religious organisation ( and at which I volunteered as a Youth coordinator for several years, quite a number of years ago).
So, with this in mind, a summary:
(1) Children are born to black parents who have little or no savings. The parents are preoccupied with trying to earn a living – The child is not properly supervised (the TV is tasked with some of that), and there are few or no role models about towards which the child should aspire.
(2) The anger, frustrations and issues from parent’s work / lives sometimes overflow and pours over onto the children, tainting their childhood. (The sources of those frustrations numerous in number and possibly deserving a blog post of its own)
(3) Pressure of life can cause addictions in their parents & many a time marriage breakdowns. There is anger in the home. In the homes of almost all their relatives. And no financial cushion to iron out some of the problems. The child bears all this on their head. And, inevitably,eventually, it can give birth to one or more of anger, confusion, frustration and pain.
(4) For example, in some cases, parents cannot afford to take them out on holiday or buy them certain things as they are growing up, things which most of the white kids (or other black contemporaries) in school have, so the black child grows up in want. Further, comparatively, most of their white friends have a from of luxury, they take holidays, frequent trips to interactive or sight seeing excursions , whereas most of the black kids’ parents can’t afford to take them for a holiday. The feelings / emotions regarding things such as these are largely ‘bottled-up’, repressed, and the child does not get to express themselves. They just observe, confused, thinking it is normal. To an extent this lack of exposure can limit their frame of mind.
(5) Since the parents have to work (often juggling more than one job), or because of single parenthood, supervision is left to others (Friends, Aunties or parents’ siblings – who themselves have little training or fortitude to ensure that they provide the right upbringing), so bad company creeps in -> leading to bad habits. The child cannot excel academically if the parents are not pushing hard for it (i.e. Private tuition, careful demarcation of time for study and play, religious instruction…etc) or cannot afford to pay for private tuition.
(6) As was well articulated here, even in the western media (as is the case back on the motherland) the children are bombarded by negative connotations of Africa, of being black, or their skin colour of everything to do with them. Public figures saying the wrong things, and half the time getting away with it. Why has the servant, or guard in the Hollywood movie most of the times have to be black or of Latino ethnicity? Even if such is merely a factual reflection of reality, what other message does it send, potentially, especially to younger audiences? The children see positive role models only in few professions, only in sport, film and music. They see more successful people who look like them in videos such as this or this, most often with a message of ‘drugs, guns, bitches and bling’. Which is why if you ask any random group of black 9 -14 year olds to name you their favourite music artists, very few, if not none will cite music of a rock genre. Their minds are not wired to appreciate rock music, even when there exists some very good rock bands that appeal to younger audiences.
And whilst the likes of Einstein and Michael Faraday are referenced to in Physics enough times for even non-physicists in the school to know who they are, Martin Luther King, Shaka Zulu and other ‘African heroes’ are found neither in GCSE Science nor English, not even in the History of the French Revolution or the American War of Independence, which is the kind of history which these kids first encounter (both in schools in Africa and in the West). Their own history is visibly absent. Further, few of them are informed that in the times as those in which Galileo, Einstein and even Henry Ford lived, black people were not really considered human in the western world, not really. So comparatively few got a decent education to provide a foundation for mastery in technical subjects. A situation that can probably be summarised with a cartoon that parodies this issue:
In addition, few parents encourage their children to learn about their past. “It’s too painful” you hear. “Study to get a degree then get a job” is generally the advice that is given. So few will bother with history beyond elementary school, creating ‘critical’ gaps of knowledge regarding their own past – a factor that will have an effect much later in life. Even their parents don’t know anywhere near enough about African history (or historians) such as these – who have over the years toiled to reconstruct and teach about African history.
While a 13-year-old Jewish boy knows what Yom Kippur is, and will give you an accurate account of the Holocaust including how many people died and other encyclopedic knowledge, why those who died must always be remembered each year, yet the African child of the same age doesn’t even know the estimates of how many black people were displaced or died during slavery, and what the impact of that was. The answers to such questions will have to be solely and painfully mapped (source BBC) by very few of his kind through judicious study, much much later in life. [- – – – – > Burning Spear – Slavery days]
(7) If you visit the local library or a Museum, few or no Afro-carribbean kids about. How could there be any, their parents are busy or in work trying to earn enough to scrape a living.
The other day I took my 9 year old nephew to the Museum of Science and Industry which is the biggest in Manchester, and has quite a lot to see. But in a space of 3-4 hours on a Saturday morning, by conservative estimates I must have encountered maybe over 300 people, but I only saw one other black person with their child??Is this because of pressures of work or lack of interest? In any case, entry is free 🙂
(8) So by the time they get to highschool they are already troubled. Then comes the difficulty in managing them…the pain, confusion and trauma all the above factors may have caused, over many years, is alien to a teacher, who has not been properly trained in dealing with such deep and multi-faceted traumatic behaviour, and who must be wondering what is wrong with these black kids?? Add to this spoonfuls of racism.
(9) If they are lucky enough to make it to college or University it doesn’t get any easier. They are constantly broke, they can’t fully participate in the collegiate school’s offerings, let alone socialize because of financial constraints. They have to take up part-time job which can interfere with their studies. Throw in coursework, friends and girlfriends, and the whole picture couldn’t be fuzzier. At Nottingham University, I had a white friend (who identified with Christianity) who innocently and with bewilderment asked me how come I could afford to leave Britain and go to the US in the middle of the University term (my US-based sister was going through a very difficult period at the time) when I didn’t have a job. The insinuation, without a shadow of a doubt, was ‘where did you get the money from…I thought you guys are broke?’. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my undergraduate degree, and it was said in a room where there were 8 – 10 other white christians listening, no doubt everybody wanted to know. 8 years on, I still remember the name of the boy who said it (including the fact that his father was a reverend).
So if someone gets through all this, relatively unscathed, guess how they will view the world? My guess, not exactly optimistically.
For those that don’t make it through, difficulty and struggle is standard, they fail to get credit at banks, some get into drugs, theft, fraud, get imprisoned and such like. They are not necessarily bad people, in my view, much of it (although not always) is circumstantial and reactionary — similar to the Jewish resistance movements that mounted attacks against Hitler’s Nazis during the second world war. Reactionary. Most of the victims want to be good citizens, are raised up in families that have a Faith, they believe it is in their best interests to do the right things, but they can’t, not always, their circustances push them in the wrong direction. They are no worse, for example, than the barrister son of a judge who was found with cocaine, yet got to keep his job.
Plagued by deep, unresolved and complex psychological issues, these people will continue to suffer as society is not equipped (let alone sufficiently interested) to assist them overcome their troubles.
So, in view of the ‘surface problems’ (such as lack of finances or not having affluent relatives who are able to lend them considerably large sums of money to start businesses, or to bail them out of life’s tricky situations) which disproportionately affect minority communities more than white communities ; without a quality education – their schooling having been somewhat biased, it follows that gang culture, drugs and other evils have an easier job in taking over many a life, giving to some of them a sense of belonging, importance and identity they long for — and which mainstream society deprives them; while to a considerable number, taking all these away to the tune of a criminal record and several years behind bars.
(10) And even those who manage to get a degree or two are not spared. I know many people (including some Malawians) in the diaspora, who despite a decent education from western universities, some with postgraduate degrees, cannot get jobs or are in jobs that pay them significantly less than their white colleagues. In some cases, they are not given suitable jobs for which they are qualified for, and few have the entrepreneurial drive (nor essential experience) to create for themselves a job. But even those who do are not exempt from the ‘onslaught’. Yet in view of this, as if by mockery, there are many relatively less educated westerners operating in Africa, who being armed with sufficient capital, are reaping huge financial windfalls…
So, where do you think they go from here? How do you think they will look at the world?
The majority who can’t make it to university, and who therefore can’t get the good jobs will settle for the odd jobs, some of them are plagued by the criminal records they got when they were younger (and irresponsible). They get deeper into the wrong groups, waste time with alcohol, drugs, women ..and debt piles up, desperation kicks in leading to crime, and as they grow older the cycle repeats itself, in the lives of their children.
History has got its cruel and finely defined pathways.
Those who go to jail (some doing so for street cred) end up causing more hardships to their families (“Prison and the Poverty Trap”-New York Times ), for the women – unplanned pregnancies, many remain in abject poverty, some Christian young men convert to Islam, among those some end up radicalized. The others will be pushing drugs, credit-card fraud and survive on underground businesses, or via the charity of others. ‘Our Babylon’ some will say.
But how can this situation be rectified (not that it’s necessarily easy or straightforward to do so), assuming we somewhat can see more clearly where the problems lay? What’s the solution? Well, in my view, you can’t change the future when the systems of the past are still deeply rooted in the present. So that’s a big problem, as to borrow the biblical saying, old wineskins cannot carry new wine.
And then comes views from some of those who are enlightened and lucky to have ‘made it’, who will often blame the victims for being lazy, for not working hard, for not ceasing the moment, for living in the past…. etc, when it’s all a much complex maze tied to their past, and is beyond their control a lot of the times. And it’s not only in back communities. Even low-income white families in council estates are thwarted by such vicious circles.
To keep this post short, I have cut out the next section, which will form my next post. In it is a skeleton template for a workable solution that could accelerate the reversal of this terrible African tragedy that has affected all families of African descent in one way or another.
Similar + sources:
1. Perspectives on the Educational Experiences of African/Caribbean Boys – Nisheet Gosai.
2. Black Youth Culture Blamed as Pupils Fail
3. “Is it ‘cos I is Black, Sir?” – African/Caribbean Males & British Higher Education
4. Challenging Racism – All London Teachers against Racism & Fascism, Russell Press, 1984.
5. Radicalised Boundaries, Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis, Routledge, 1992.
6. Poverty Has a Creation Story: Let’s Tell It