People who survive an accident which claims the life of a friend or relative subsequently experience a feeling similar to guilt. This guilt, which is unjustified if you consider things purely rationally, comes along with a question. Survivors ask themselves why it was that they came out alive of a situation which could easily have taken their lives, and did in fact kill someone near and dear to them. Combat veterans also go through such “changes.” In John Donne’s famous poem, he says that, “Every man’s death diminishes me.” Yes, there are Ebenezer Scrooge-types who appear to be surviving without any love, but such people are often victims of some earlier form of trauma. Overall, we are a part of other people, and they are a part of us.
When I watch the annual parade of our schools on Independence Day, the behavior of the young boys/young men in their uniforms is interesting to me. I think that the young males who are in school are being psychologically affected, whether they are fully conscious of it or not, by the behavior/lifestyle of their street contemporaries who are not in school. What jumps out at me is how many of the boys who are in school are trying to get as close as they can to “sagging” with their pants. The street style/culture of the teenaged gangsters affects the talk, the walk, and the attitude of Belizean boys who are in school.
When you look at a school like Wesley College, the physical line which separates the school from the violent streets around it is a very thin line. Other schools may be more removed from the streets, but almost all the young males who are in school but who live on the Southside of Belize City, have to walk and ride streets where they encounter young males their same age who are killing and dying too fast for us to keep count.
The young males who have dropped out of school and entered the street life have to become men “before their time,” as it is said. The average young male who is in school is sometimes affected by this phenomenon, in that he starts to wonder if he is a punk, he starts to wonder whether manhood is being denied to him, he starts to wonder whether real life isn’t out there in the streets instead of in here in the classrooms. That young male in school is sometimes tempted by the streets.
What I’m trying to say to you is that the murder and violence among the young Southside males cannot be totally compartmentalized. The remainder of the young males are being affected in different ways, and one of those ways includes a challenge to their manhood. The bar cannot be set any higher, beloved, where manhood is concerned, than killing and dying. Respectable society sometimes describes these Southside child soldiers as “cowards and punks.” If by that they mean that the child soldiers are clumsy and amateur and scared, okay. For sure, though their generational contemporaries do not consider them “cowards and punks”: the fact of the matter is that, in the presence of the child soldiers, the young male who is in school will himself sometimes feel like a coward and a punk.
Most of us feel that our community’s family life and sociology began to unravel after the massive post-Hurricane Hattie migration began. The effects of the departures of so many heads of families and parents, were delayed effects. After Independence, which was twenty years after Hattie, we definitely began to see and experience the sociological effects of losing a huge percentage of our mature adults, especially male ones. We could not maintain effective discipline of our young males. Today, this situation is recognized as a community catastrophe. But, it was decades in the making.
And while this catastrophe was in the making, the respectable families, those who were succeeding in holding things together, began to give up on helping out those families which were falling apart. Life was hard enough for respectable people to keep their own young males in line: how could they monitor and police a growing number of young delinquents? Belizeans had always looked out for each other. The community is so small that almost all of us are “blood related” to each other. We lived in extended families. That has changed.
I am neither a psychologist or a sociologist. But, I put it to you that the young males who have become gangsters were not born that way: they were Belizean children who became sacrifices to some socio-economic realities, and now they are our community’s nightmare. A long time ago in these pages, I said to you that you could not turn your heads or your backs on these emerging dysfunctionalities. You didn’t want to listen to me, or maybe you did not feel you were in a position to do so. You continued to hope that the red or the blue would provide the answer. They have not. This is manifest.
In the streets, we began to speak of something called “manhood training” a couple decades ago. A satisfactory brand of “manhood training” does not appear to be taking place in our schools, for whatever the reasons. This is one of the explanations, I think, for our young males in school to be sneaking glances at their street contemporaries, glances which are sometimes and somewhat envious. This is my thesis. Those of you in the establishment will not agree: you never do. That is why we are where we are. You run things.