How many times will we go through the pantomime of outrage and do nothing to truly deal with the problems? We thrive on slackness, so why are we surprised?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries vociferous condemnation of some social misdeed that is not new but a hardened part of national daily life. The outrage and condemnation often come in the immediate wake of some clear evidence that things have gone too far. In Jamaica’s latest case, these have been brought on by a horrific bus crash that took the lives of four high school students. Quickly, we learned that the bus drivers were reckless and delinquent, with hundreds of tickets for infractions against their names. We heard (subject to court verification) that the accident resulted from a highly dangerous overtaking maneuver. The impression is that, if at least the law had been properly applied, the culprit driver would or have been at the wheel of the bus and lives would have been saved. Now, we see some bashing of police for not policing properly, and the police bash the Ministry of Security for not monitoring tickets properly and dealing with accumulated points and removing rights to drive. Something may happen, but don’t hold your breath.
Soon afterwards, we get another periodic reminder that many school children like excitement and risky thrills. So-called ‘party buses’, with darkly tinted windows, playing raunchy music, permitting on-board sexual activity, are running wild: for a fee of some J$300-500 a person for such pleasure.
But, wait a minute! Just make a random search online and look under ‘bashment’. The first thing I saw was a letter from 2005, in a Jamaican newspaper, mentioning girls on buses without underwear. So, eight years later, we’ve not dealt with the problem, or a new generation has taken over from the graduates. It’s not genetic, so learning has had to take place.
Why are we deluding ourselves that something with which we have never dealt properly can go away?
Our culture has built up a certain love of what some people term ‘slackness’. I’m not going to blame it on dance hall because I remember this attitude being prevalent with different music genres from when I was a boy, 50 and more years ago. We like to see people mimicking sexual acts and our styles of dance interaction have always stressed close and intimate contact. We can probably recall many instances of a child mimicking such dances and more people cheering that condemning the moves. “Oh, how cute!” would be more likely. So, why the shock and outrage?
In other English-speaking Caribbean countries, we know this is also the norm with music and our adulation of children, whether it comes to the fore during Trinidad Carnival or Barbados Crop Over.
Usually, by the time such stuff hits the public at large, the thrills have moved to some other form. In Jamaica and many other countries, we have heard of children engaging in all kinds of behaviour that most parents say they disapprove, by exchanging sexually explicit messages and pictures.
The condemnation strikes me as hollow. Ministers asking for the buses to be taken off the road. Calls for students to not ride these buses. That or similar has been on the menu before. If you’ve not been raised to not do certain things, you’re not likely to change when you’re grown. So, the seeds were sown much earlier, and well nurtured through formative years, and now they are flowering. But, of we think of this like weeds, that we don’t want, well we’ve let them strangle and stifle what we wanted to see thrive. In Jamaica’s case, you can publish as many stories and picture as you like of children excelling in exams, but most people know that they are outliers at net op of a pile of children who are far from excellent, and have to been directed toward nice behaviour as opposed to nasty behaviour.
Maybe, some will argue that it’s a social class thing. Don’t believe it. The kids from ‘better homes’ just do the same stuff in nicer situations, or with nicer equipment. Mummy and Daddy may be able to offer them their own rooms and their own phones and their own iPads, etc. They may get someone to take them around in a fancy car. But, the core culture is the same. So, don’t duck for cover thinking it’s ‘those inner city people’.
I read the same newspapers which condemn and I see their putting out images without any analysis or substantive commentary. Just this week, the Gleaner thought it good to publish a large picture of two women fighting, one wielding what looked like a piece of lumber, and each pulling at the other’s hair. For what purpose? Most of the reactions I saw disapproved, but I’d say the damage was done. I got no sense what possible news value was in the image. Why not put on the same scale a woman kissing her children as they headed to school? Boring? Trash sells.
The school children and their antics are just an example of something deeper and broader that is deeply unpleasant about the society that we’ve developed. Many times it’s the ‘rules for you, but not for me’ attitude. If you can get away with it, then let it go. I can be guilty, too, but maybe not in the same areas or ways. Sometimes, it’s the more modern form of ‘turning a blind eye’. Like the three monkeys. In Jamaica, we’ve many ways to ignore the obvious at our convenience.
Don’t lose sight that we will on the one hand talk about how much we cherish our children, yet freely put them into cars without seat belts, even sitting on the driver’s lap as I’ve seen many times. Adults will disregard their safety, too. I had the temerity to tell another driver to put on her belt: at least, she did and said “Thanks.” We applaud educational successes, yet also ensure that schools cannot function, without desks, chairs, electricity, enough schools. I still cannot understand why we have schools on shift systems. We applaud out athletes, yet forget they succeed DESPITE NOT BECAUSE of the support they lack, in terms of means and facilities.
So, keep digging the holes and wondering where all the dirt is coming from. Spare me, at least, the false outrage. Call me when something is really going to happen.