Friday, May 01, 2015

From Baltimore To Grays Farm: Fight for Economic Empowerment

The attention of many people around the world is glued to what is happening in Baltimore. Not only are people focused on what's happening in Baltimore, they are paying attention to what happened in Ferguson and tens of other cities across America. So what are they fixated on?

On the surface it is obvious that criminal police brutality on young Black males is the focus of attention. Maybe I should have said 'criminal White police brutality on young black males...' But, we should make no mistake about the fact that racist White police officers are joined at the hip by other White police offers and their Black colleagues in perpetrating violence on young Black males. That is a phenomenon on which I must write in another article.

The questions I want to raise in this article are as follows: Why do so many Black males find themselves 'in trouble' with the law? Why are so many Black males in jail? Why is there an uprising and revolt among young Black students... not college students... high school students? Why are younger Black students leading these uprisings?

One must realize that many, if not most, of these high school students are not familiar with - or have no conscious connection to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's. Yet, today, they are experiencing their own Civil Rights Movement! Why?

They are disenchanted. They see no hope for their economic future. One young man told Congressman Elijah Cummings (D - Baltimore) that everyday he felt like if he was in a coffin trying to claw his way out! Imagine that! Hopeless... helpless... can't see the blue sky of economic opportunity... won't be able to feed his family... can't take care of his parents or grandparents... can't take care of himself financially!

Why Black males are in trouble with the law? Because they are angry, discontented, disoriented, and disconnected from an America that promises 'equal opportunity' and 'equal rights' and 'economic freedom' for all! Here is a frightening statistic: 67% of America's prison population are Black males in a country where Black people make up 15% of the overall population!

One teenager said that her high school textbook was written in 1973! 1973!!! Is there any wonder that they don't do well in high school? Economically disempowered neighborhoods... disempowered schools... old schools... old text books... overworked and overburdened ineffective teachers... poor parents... poverty stricken communities... all set in the midst of the richest country on Earth.  Set in an environment where when you watch TV you see only riches... They live in cities where rents have sky rocked. For example, 15 years ago one could get a one bedroom apartment in Washington DC for about $700 per month.

Today, new apartments are being built all over the city - even in traditionally 'Black' neighborhoods. The rent in many places is over $2000 per month - for an efficiency which is smaller than a one bedroom apartment! Who are the new renters? Young White people just out of college who grew up in Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota, etc. (If you are not familiar with the US then check the map...) Powerful, economically successful cities where the underclass is economically disempowered young black people. Yes... many of them work: at McDonalds, CVS, Burger King, Costco, Safeway, Target... Doing what? Minimum wage clerical or cleaning jobs!

From Baltimore to Grays Farm... No we don't have young Black people protesting in Grays Farm or Point or Villa or Old Road. But they should be. Why? Because we have some of the same conditions. Poor neighborhoods... poor schools... old schools... old textbooks... overburdened ineffective teachers... poor parents... poverty stricken communities...

No, all of that is not set in a rich Antigua... but it is set in an Antigua where our  leaders purportedly only look to line their pockets with the next best deal. It is set in an Antigua where successive political administrations have turned their backs on the young people - young black males in particular. It is set in an Antigua where you can see officials are transformed into financial success stories as soon as they are elected and/or appointed while leaving behind the people who either voted for them or supported their political appointments.

Our young people live in environments where everyday they see yesterday's "Meego Man" become today's Market Street business man and who they can predict will be tomorrow's financial wheeler and dealer.

Today's young people understand that they are going to school to learn to work in the kitchen, to be 'waiters' to tourists, 'construction workers', to serve customers in 'Meego Man' stores. Yes... of course they are some who will become accountants, doctors, lawyers, and administrators. The problem is that there are too little of those and too many who will work for the minimum of minimum wages.

Frankly, several years ago, I lost many friends who could not understand why I would criticize the former Prime Minister in an article I wrote on CaribArena entitled "My Tears". I wrote that article because I understood what they did not... The principle job of a political leader is to uplift the young people so that they can become the economic leaders of tomorrow. Instead, what Spencer and others have done is uplift others and pave their way for their children to control the economics in Antigua while leaving our children... his children... the children of his constituents...  with the crumbs off the table of the rich "Meego Man" merchants.

From Baltimore to Antigua... No we don't have any uprising in Antigua. But we have recently had demonstrations about the racism projected on Antiguans by "Meego Man" merchants. The courageous actions of Baltimore's high school students were preceded by the courageous actions of people in Antigua who were indignant over the racist actions and statements of a "Meego Man" merchant. Those demonstrations showed what I have always known... that simmering beneath the surface of the Antigua psyche is a realization that the foreign merchant class in Antigua see Black Antiguans in ways that harken back to how plantation owners saw slaves.

My concern today, however, is not with the racist "Meego Men" of Antigua. Today's focus is about the realization that many young people of Antigua - like the young Black people of Baltimore - are disenchanted with their future prospects. Young people have looked at St. Johns and noticed that very few of the businesses there are owned by Black Antiguans. And, they understand that with their current trajectory they will never have a store on Market Street or High Street alongside the "Meego Man". They probably won't even get a chance to work in the store (most of those jobs go to young women - some of whom are not even Antiguan - but that's another story).

Our young Antiguan males from Grays Farm, Green Bay, Hatton, Point, Old Road, Bendals - from all over the country - are born hopeful. But by the time they get to their upper teens - many of their grand hopes begin to dissolve and they begin to settle for lesser dreams... and then those become even smaller by the time they try to find work. Go sit with them on the corner - or on the side of the football field... look into their eyes... listen to them as they trudge home from school...

To be clear... the failings in Baltimore are the same as the failings in Antigua: Poor leadership... inattentive leadership... incompetent leaders! Leaders who focus their attention on the 'Meego Man' business men... who focus on the rich so-called investors... who see foreign people with money as the saviors of the national economy... who give away our land resources for '30 pieces' of worthless paper in return for fleeting feel-good economic band-aids (plus really nice under-the-table personal bank-aids).

In America - I feel the pain of young Black people; In Antigua I see the reality of young Antiguans (males and females) who really don't stand a chance because they cannot find a way to 'claw their way' out of the economic desert we find ourselves in... and to which incompetent leaders have not only led us but in which we are now held captive!

To the youth everywhere - I celebrate your right to demonstrate, to agitate and to fight for your right not only for social justice and political freedom... but for economic empowerment.