The pandemic is impacting young males especially hard. Crime and deviancy from male youth in the Virgin Islands has been a worrisome trend. From general antisocial behaviours to outright murder, robbery, sexual assault and traffic crimes, there appears to be no solution at hand. Why? Because the problem is social and psychological. A wise man stated once that the most difficult thing to change is culture. Deviancy is a culture.
Deviancy can be traced back to the very early years of childhood, with the first manifestations in primary school. By the time the child enters secondary school, it is usually too late to reverse deviant behaviours.
It is difficult for law enforcement to solve crimes that are driven by emotion, mindset and attitude. A law enforcement officer is usually an investigator and not a psychologist or a counselor.
And poverty has a part to play in the epidemic of male deviancy, but youth anger and resentment appear to play the greater part.
Male anger is a social issue deriving from the home mainly. Poor home socialisation is the key factor at play in antisocial male behaviours. The absent father has been laid at the door of deviancy.
But this writer believes that in the time of Covid-19 the matter goes deeper than missing dads. There is rising frustration with youth at the abnormality of life in the present pandemic. Parents are advised to adopt patience in dealing with their kids as the pandemic continues.
And after all, the matriarch as head of the clan is a West Indian subtext that in the 1950s-1980s did well in fostering safe and wholesome community: The village was ruled by granny. So why this dangerous deviancy discovered among young males in the VI and wider Caribbean?
It appears young men in the VI — and this happens elsewhere in a world where success is defined in material terms — are dealing with myriad social issues: poverty, parental abandonment, learning limitations, and domestic abuse, to mention some.
And apart from the issues of racism and underdevelopment in the Caribbean and developing world, there is the fact that greater wealth and social inequality deriving from digitisation and globalisation is a factor in black male deviancy.
The world economy today is knowledge based, heavily rewarding specific skills such as advanced science, computer engineering and programming. Science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM disciplines — drive wealth and prosperity in today’s world.
Male youth especially, who cannot become men in the traditional sense of meeting social and economic obligations, will frequently resort to crime and socially irresponsible behaviors.
Males who have the opportunity to learn a vocation, earn a decent living, attend university, or who can go into employment with the public and private sector at a sustainable income will tend to avoid a crisis of masculinity that asserts they are “failures” who must resort to crime to become “somebody.”
Path to success?
It is crucial for government and society to enable young men to see a viable path to social and economic success. Too many boys appear to dwell in a negative world of hopelessness and frustration.
And it is not sexist to assert that the pressure to succeed is greater for males in a world subtly defined by machismo. The colourful entrepreneur is a draw for young men everywhere, notwithstanding how he got his millions.
Presently, in the VI, and driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, milestones of education, employment, starting a family, building a career that buttresses fulfilment and self-esteem, are blurred and getting lost to young men dwelling in a culture that socially rewards quick money schemes and that respects the outcome and not the process, even if the process is criminal and violent.
This is a culture that subverts the traditional path to social success, placing male youth in a juvenile phase of social life where they seethe with frustration, anger and rage, entering into early manhood with a hopeless and alienated mindset.
‘Passage to manhood’
In the past, the passage to manhood involved a traditional route: a vocation, education, marriage, family, savings and investment. Today that route is blurred for most youth. That path is muddied and lined with ditches and craters.
Society is failing to offer youth the social and economic skills, and the supporting economic infrastructure, needed to sustain them socially and economically for life.
The solution starts with an awareness that the young black male is in crisis. And then it continues with the government and private sector investing in areas of the social economy that will place males back on the right road.
And that means a focus on ways of training young males for the needs of the present economy, placing young males in apprenticeship programmes that feed into the real economy while investing in the infrastructure that will build safe and resilient community.
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