Much has been made, not altogether charitably, of the efforts to make good out of bad – the showering of kindnesses upon an 11-year-old boy whose experience of the Common Entrance Examination was shared with this newspaper.
We briefly recount the events here, not out of any intention to cause him further harm or distress, but out of a desire to make a wider, and we believe, a more important point that what happened to him is more or less the lot of male children in the 21st Century Barbadian society, requiring our collective awareness and collective action.
In a video posted on Barbados TODAY’s social media pages on the 11-Plus Examination, the youngster made a grammatical error while speaking about his four-hour-long experience, but he immediately made the correction.
The video was edited by someone to only highlight the mistake and not the correction. That clip went viral.
His mother said: “I feel bad about it due to the fact that he now came out of the exam and he was so fussy to speak to the media.
“Mistakes do happen, but it is affecting him because he is seeing the comments and his friends messaging him making laughing sport at him and he is telling me that he feels bad about it and how it will make him feel when he goes back to school.”
The young man later declared: “The Prime Minister makes mistakes, lawyers make mistakes, I am only 11, and I am still a child. And I made my mistake and I corrected it.”
Before long, the child was not only receiving counselling but a host of civic-minded individuals festooned the lad with care and concern – and he got to meet the Prime Minister, too.
Critics have since emerged to attack even this act of altruism. They say that children are bullied all the time; what makes him so special?
Yes, children are bullied. Bad things of all sorts happen to people every day. And yes, some of these acts are crimes that are investigated but some will go completely unnoticed but to God.
Yet, it doesn’t, therefore, follow that because other children have been bullied, nothing should have been done to right the wrong committed against him. The distinction is very clear. This boy was bullied on a national and indeed, international scale And so the response to heal is to some extent commensurate with the public attempt to cause harm.
But the public embrace of a bullied boy is an important attempt to build self-esteem. Because Boys Lives Matter – something that we should be championing in this country beyond sloganeering.
As a majority black country, we should be deeply concerned that black boys stand a greater chance of shortened lifespans, lower educational attainment, fewer job opportunities, lesser income, and disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system.
This is a result of either policy, practice, tradition, culture, or law in this country, no different than the pathology of racism that is institutionalised against black men and women in the United States.
Make no mistake: we are mindful of the tremendous discrimination and prejudice woman and girls experience. But the history of Barbados and the English-speaking Caribbean over the last century has been of policies that have spared girls the ugly limitations placed on their counterparts in much of the world. We believe it’s possible for society to be fair and engage in the equitable distribution of the best of its resources, its attention, its time and love to both sexes.
Something has happened in the last few decades where the pendulum has swung, not to the middle but from one extreme to the other. Girls want to exist in a world with decent, law-abiding, humane, kind, sensible, sensitive, mature boys who go on to become men. Gender balance is not about looking after only one side or the other; it is about righting the relationships between males and females. For this world to continue, both have to get their act together; both boys and girls have to be safe in their skins.
But the object lesson for us of this young man’s experience ought to have been in self-awareness – which he clearly has – and self-correction which he clearly did. We should be cheering this.
Too many boys in this country are not going to be able to correct themselves because of what is going on in their lives. They can’t take a different course. But this boy did. He made a mistake and corrected himself, after just emerging from a gruelling examination that is set up to relegate him and thousands of other boys to expected roles and limitations and stereotypes.
As we write this, the world’s richest and most powerful nation is led by a man who cannot bring himself to correct himself for anything. Now, because of his ineptitude and the lack of capacity for self-correction, the health of its people and its democracy are in grave peril.
The world, indeed, this nation needs young men, not as potential target markets for their purchasing power, not as a voting bloc to secure electoral victories, and not even as a spur to population growth. The progress of nations depends on the young to dream a world that never was and ask, why not?
Over the weekend, the American civil rights movement of the 1960s lost two of its youth leaders – Reverend C.T. Vivian and Representative John Lewis – who propelled their nation towards equality in public accommodation and transport and ultimately, voting rights. The US inched further forward to being a more perfect union thanks to the efforts of these young men, students who were allowed to grow to old age.
But we wonder what windows to a brighter future have been closed forever by the foreshortened lives of young black Barbadian boys and men that have been stopped, not only by a bullet but also by the blunt force trauma of hopelessness and lack of opportunity.
Like much of our social order, our education system has been preserved largely on a model created in even more unequal times. Merely making education free at the point of delivery is no longer enough. It must be re-designed to create producers and employers, rather than consumers and employees.
We need to reform how we look after the mental health, physical well-being, intellectual capacity, talent and creative talent of our young boys in society.
If the drive to do right by our young men-in-waiting inspires a movement that Boys Lives Matter, then, we should be all for it.