Hoop of life or reparations?
MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, July 9 2012
“Our civilisation is imperiled not only by a consumerist mentality, which in itself is serious, as it impedes the development of individual judgment and reflection, but by a sense that everything in life is to be judged in terms of the entertainment it provides.” Alison Ribeiro de Menezes
Some decades ago UNESCO held a number of annual public lectures as part of its Race Programme. A well-known academic was invited to speak on aspects of race. First-class passage to Paris was paid and the speaker was given a per diem to cover hotel bills and expenses.
Speakers included Claude Levi-Strauss, the famous French anthropologist, Max Gluckman, one of Britain’s major social anthropologists, John Rex, sociologist from the United Kingdom, Stuart Hall, sociologist of culture from Jamaica and the United Kingdom. We tried desperately to get a Black American to speak. All but one turned down the invitation. It turned out that they expected a speaker’s fee which with a restricted budget we could not afford. The only one who accepted our invitation was the writer James Baldwin of Fire Next Time. Forgive me for asking of Shaq O’Neal, how much?
I never knew graduations at St Joseph’s Convent. Then it was prize-giving. Mother Francis Xavier introduced graduation, after a holiday in the USA. But not even Mother Francis Xavier could know how fertile was the Trini ground for the mushrooming of graduations.
Tiny tots dressed up in gown and hat look oh, so sweet! After primary school but before the SEA results come out, torpedoing the graduation party. Graduation is optional in parts of Canada.
Here it is an important introduction to the consumer society, as children are taught early o’clock to pressure parents in the name of being like all the rest. It integrates, not into the “traditional” values of Trinidad and Tobago but into the spectacle-driven values of a certain USA. It becomes another “eat ah food” for graduation providers.
The Hoop of Life and the presentation of Shaquille O’Neal took the spectacle syndrome to another level. Since the 1950’s part of the anti-racism struggle has been to remove racist stereotypes. One of the most difficult of these to remove has been that those of African descent are better at non-intellectual pursuits like singing, dancing and sport. Intellectual pursuits, logic and complexity are the preserve of Whites and Asians.
This originates from the belief that Africans are the lowest human in the evolutionary ladder and therefore not far removed from the ape. This stereotype meets another in the Shaquille affair.
It is of the African who is easily sold for a bauble. Yes, sport is important, but compare the reply to marginalisation and crime in European countries with the million dollar spectacle of Hoop of Life here.
In Europe the answer to youth crime is education with small classes, better trained teachers and measures to increase school supervision.
Yes, there is sport, but this is minor. In Apartheid South Africa however, sporting teams competing against each other were one of the major methods of social control in the mines. It was also one of the reasons for the maintenance of tribal conflict. It could be a precious support for gang warfare here.
It was Mervyn Assam who said it at the Tribunal on the events of 1990. The savage budgetary cuts ordered by the IMF in the economic crisis of the late 1980’s were made in education, health and social services.
These were the areas which affected the Black poor more than any other group in the society. It is already the fear of Ireland: that it is the vulnerable Irish urban poor who will suffer most from the present debt repayment demands.
We have not looked honestly at the social changes introduced by the decline in oil prices and the introduction of the IMF. As I listened to the Shaquille O’Neal affair, to the one million first prize, five hundred thousand second prize and Shaq’s unknown fee, it occurred to me that that money could be the core of a IMF reparation fund for those poor communities who have suffered most from the IMF demands, from the consumerism which followed, and have often been pushed into the obscenity of the drug trade.
This reparation fund (nothing to do with slavery) would concentrate primarily on upping the education in the depressed areas. Small classes, specially trained teachers with bonuses for working in violent and poor areas, the “taking in charge” by trained social personnel, the introduction of children into the literature, the music, the environment - middle class kids will know.
In other words, giving today’s cast-offs, wrapped in attitude and violence, the knowledge that they are part of us and that on them will be the responsibility of future citizens.