Friday, February 6, 2015

African values and male empowerment

Mr. Michael Burke

By Michael Burke:

SO, we are once again in Black History Month. Much discussion has been generated about the marginalised male in the African diaspora, in general, and Jamaica in particular. All sorts of solutions have been bandied about, but I do not often read or hear about solutions that come from Africa. In most African ethnic groups the men are respected as the fathers and the chiefs. In most African ethnic groups the men have their separate meetings where they deliberate as men and they are told and held to account for what is expected of men.

While urbanisation and negative European neo-colonial ideas have permeated much of Africa, many of these traditional values remain. In Black History Month, shouldn't we be looking at such things for solutions to the marginalisation of the men in the African diaspora? After all, black women look to Europe and the United States for solutions to bring about advancement.

Women's rights groups were important 100 years ago, and even 50 years ago, as there were centuries of oppression to women. But much of that has now changed and women are not as oppressed as before, but the liberation groups remain and many of them are both obsolete and repressive to men. Indeed, the so-called women's liberation today seems to be going in the direction of tyranny to men.

Politically, the only way for the US Democrats to win a majority is to create a coalition of minority groups. While that might be excellent politics for the US Democrats, it is not all right for the empowerment of black men, especially when the women's liberation groups are added. Further, these anti-man positions breezed into Jamaica many years ago by the usual channels of media, travel and, perhaps, conditions for loans, grants and charity as well. So we in Jamaica have the dilemma also. And, of course, this marginalises black men even further.

Some of our national heroes placed a great emphasis on education. That said, there were many other people in black history that placed great value on education both here in Jamaica and elsewhere. While education is the starting point to achieve this liberation, it cannot be education by itself, especially if there is no emphasis on values such as family life, for instance.

But even if the education system does emphasise it, what happens if the availability of jobs is better for women than for men? Unfortunately, it is the person with the money who has the power, and if the wife and mother earns more then she has the power. And in such a scenario, the black marginalised male is marginalised even further.

The ideal situation regarding families is one where children are born within their parents' marriage. But if the marriage laws, or at least the dispensation of justice from the family courts, is of such that it gives an unfair advantage to women, then marriage will not be an attractive option to men. If our men feel that they cannot possibly receive any justice in a custody battle, or in a divorce settlement, then marriage will not be considered to be a viable option for the male onlookers.

By way of explanation, the Roman Catholic Church allows marriage annulments in situations where in the view of the church a marriage did not exist in the first place, although the requirements of civil law were met. But even if our church grants annulments, for it to be legally binding it has to go through the civil courts in the country of the dissolution. Many countries classify this as divorce and at that point one has no choice but to work with that. Having explained this, I continue.

When marriage becomes unattractive to men then it is a hard sell for Christians to preach it. The fact that officialdom says one thing but encourages free sexual liaisons makes it even harder to convince men to get married. Most will simply have sex with a consenting partner, and if there is a pregnancy, then so be it. And, of course, this is the entire reason for the problem in the first place, so the first verse becomes the last verse: "There is a hole in the bucket."

So, how do we empower the black man in the African diaspora? In the first place we have to do an overall improvement of his income. This is best done in co-operatives, but first the black man in the diaspora has to learn to co-operate. The best way to do this would be to show them the co-operatives in the motherland Africa. The traditional African way of life in the various ethnic groups was basically co-operative. The late Julius Nyerere made this point when he combined the traditional African way of life into an ideology called Ujaama, a Swahili word for 'familyhood'.

In the second place, we have to make marriage an attractive option for men; in terms of making sure that men are not at a disadvantage in matters of custody, alimony, and the distribution of marriage possessions. But changing laws is a long process, so we can only warn men to be careful when choosing a partner. And once marriage becomes attractive, then we can speak about raising children in a situation where they are taught proper values.

Equally important is the need to teach our black children to love themselves as they are, instead of aping the Europeans. A few weeks ago I wrote that it was sad that the first thing that ever had the 'Made in Jamaica' label on it was so-called haircare products that made black women's hair look European. This was during the war when there was a scarcity of all imported items and Madam Rose Leon made her own beauty products.

Some people believe it is easier for girls when going to school; others say that people of other races alter their ethnic features and so on. But it is still a sad commentary. We are talking about Jamaicans who, from the days of slavery, were told that they were inferior, unlike other races who made that choice from the solid background of knowing exactly who they are. Those who made such comments work at cross purposes with African values.

February 05, 2015

Jamaica Observer