THE GREAT (INNER-CITY) ESCAPE

On February 9, in response to an egregiously foolish Column by Booklist Boyne (even for him) proselytizing that poverty breeds crime, I wrote a critique which the Gleaner headlined Boyne’s Criminal Logic.

A bit harsh (I thought) but, as a great Chinese Chef once said “Wok the heck………..” Anyhoo, among the many online reactions, I found the following by “Curious” intriguing:

Mr. Robinson do you think there’s a difference between being brought up poor and being brought up in a Ghetto? Is the Ghetto a state of mind?  I’d love you to write an article on what you perceive as the differences between the two.
Thanks

First and foremost, Curious, I know you only meant to be respectful but the person you addressed is my late, lamented father. I’m just plain, ordinary (most will consider that complimentary) Gordon Robinson. I answer to either or both those names as well as many others including “The Hog”; “G. Hog” and, Gene Autry’s personal favourite, “Fatboy”. I’ve done a thorough check and “Mister” doesn’t appear on my birth certificate.

Second on my hit parade, I must take you to task for something you’ve no doubt unwittingly followed without serious thought. It’s similar to the bone I often pick with the homosexual community. By now, everybody knows I believe homosexuals to be no different from me (or anybody else) and have every right to be treated equally. This doesn’t mean that I accept or support everything they do.

My beef with the homosexual community is their aggravated assault on the English language. Why, if a homosexual believes, as I do, that his/her sexual orientation isn’t offensive, abominable or wrong, does a homosexual wish to be called “gay”? Mark you, a rose by any other name and all that BUT, thanks to the standard bigotry and hatred exhibited by anti-homosexual mobs, the word “gay” has become a “bad” word. One of my favourite movies, Hello Dolly (Barbara Streisand; Walter Matthau; Louis Armstrong) features two young store clerks employed in a small town near to New York who live below the store and never venture beyond town limits. Suddenly, they have a chance to visit the big city. One (played by a very young Michael Crawford) turns to the other and says “I feel so gay!”

Try that line in a movie today. And don’t get me started on the fate of “The Gaylads” one of the 1960s best Jamaican harmonisers. In trying to make a comeback in the 1990s, the prejudiced pack forced them to change their name. So, homosexuals, please, leave my beloved language alone.

I told you that long story to tell you this one. Curious, every time I hear a Jamaican use the word “ghetto” to describe inner city living, I gag. No Jamaican youth has ever experienced growing up in a ghetto, properly-so-called. Hopefully, none will.

You and me and she got to make it                                                                                                                                             (got to make it).                                                                                                                                                                                                  While there is life there is hope                                                                                                                                                  (there is hope)                                                                                                                                                                                               and where there’s a will there’s a way                                                                                                                                                  out of the Ghetto (ghettooo, oh).”

“Ghetto” is now euphemistically defined by the Oxford dictionary as “an area of a city where many people of the same race or background live separately from the rest of the population. Ghettos are often crowded, with bad living conditions.” The first ghettos were set up by the Nazis in Poland to ensure that Polish Jews were sequestered from the remainder of the “pure bred” population prior to being shipped off to concentration camps for hard labour, medical experimentation and death in the camps’ gas chambers. It was part of Nazi policy to purify the Aryan race and to eliminate all external breeding influences, especially Jews, blacks and homosexuals.

The Ghettos were identified by signage (just as you might see “You are now entering Clarendon”) usually Jüdischer Wohnbezirk, German for “Jewish Quarters”. Ghettos were classified: Open ghettos, Closed or Sealed Ghettos; Destruction or Extermination Ghettos.

There are German and Polish Jews still alive in Jamaica today who endured that atrocity (called “The Holocaust”). When I hear idiots like former Iranian President Ahmed Imawhackjob asserting there was no Holocaust, I have to chuckle because they’re partly right. A holocaust is a nuclear type disaster that doesn’t discriminate. What took place was a deliberate, cynical, evil extermination of particular persons’ humanity before proceeding to take their lives. “The Annihilation” or “The Extermination” would be more apropos.

So, I wish Jamaicans would stop claiming to have grown up “in the ghetto”. It’s insulting. Many Jamaicans have grown up in dreadful inner city conditions but their environment’s most disgusting condition is an externally applied stigma. This is much worse than simply growing up poor. People grew up poor all over Jamaica without ever experiencing the mind-numbing, ambition paralyzing embarrassment of discrimination. Both poor children and inner city children begin with the same chance of success. That chance depends on the sort of examples set by their parents. Many poor youth have used talent, education, hard work and discipline to make it in the world. Inner city youth need more. They need help. They require a benefactor/mentor who’ll assist regardless of address. Or they need to lie successfully about their address.

So, poverty doesn’t breed crime. Poverty plus discrimination (a.k.a. “hopelessness”) can. “Poor” youth with proper upbringing rarely turn to crime. “Poor” youth from the inner-city have, in addition to their bringing up, the need for a benefactor or outside world success is about as likely as flying backways on a broomstick to the moon. Thanks to external attitudes, inner city youth must overcome both poverty and discrimination. Success depends on the benefactor’s example. If the benefactor is a Don, that youth’s life will likely be nasty, brutish and short. If the benefactor is a teacher or other outside influence (maybe one who overcame similar difficulties and wants to “give back”) the youth has a chance.

There are two essential conditions to journey from poverty to success. They are the same as are needed to move from wealth to success (two different things). One is good parenting. Two is education for life. Both can be acquired by traditional and non-traditional methods. Gaining access to both is easier if one is just poor than if one also lives in the inner city. Regardless, it all begins at home.

Mother and father couldn’t take it                                                                                                                                           (they couldn’t take it)                                                                                                                                                                                 and all that they try they couldn’t make it                                                                                                                                     out of the ghetto (ghetto).

Curious, you sound like a youngster. Your future is in your hands. The history of inner city living is well documented. You know why Jamaica gives a poor youth a chance more often than an inner city youth. It’s not the poverty, it’s the address. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that the address sometimes contributes to its own stigmatisation. But that can change. The youth can reject Donmanship; garrisonization; political patronage; and the pervasive influence of criminal elements. It’s all in youths’ hands.

Now we come as the younger ones                                                                                                                                              (tired a ghetto living).                                                                                                                                                                                   We got to run come take our stand                                                                                                                                                      (tired a ghetto living)                                                                                                                                                                                 We’ve got a right to every inch of land                                                                                                                                             (tired a ghetto living)                                                                                                                                                                                That’s why we’ve got to fight for our rights                                                                                                                                   (tired a ghetto living)

Ghetto Living was a 1976 hit from The Mighty Diamonds, another of Jamaica’s best harmony groups. The Diamonds are still together and performing after 45 years in the business. Lead vocalist Donald “Tabby” Shaw; harmonizers Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson came together in school. Like many of their time, they patterned themselves off famous MoTown Groups. Their biggest hit “Pass the Kutchie” was made internationally famous by British group Musical Youth who, afraid of the drug connotations, renamed the tune “Pass the Dutchie

Peace and Love

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