Psychological ills of Caribbean society and cricket
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October 7, 2005
Psychological ills of Caribbean society and cricket


by Dr. C. Malcolm Grant

It’s only the naive fan who can inertly and sincerely believe that the WICB and or the coach (of the day) and or poor playing facilities are the primary reasons behind the recent ignominy of West Indies’ cricket. To set the record straight, when we were knocking all and sundry for six during our golden decade of the 80s, the team’s coaches, administrators and playing facilities played little to no part in the resounding success of our omnipotent team.

The central premise of this article proposes that the current underperformance of the West Indies cricket team is not a primary issue; rather, it is symptomatic of a much more deep-rooted sociological issue – and the young West Indian male is trapped at the epicentre of this crisis. {{more}}

Looking at another regional institution, the University of the West Indies, we observe an inversion in the male to female demographics across all faculties over the last 25 years (Claudio Rama et al, October 2003). Rama’s study revealed that the female to male ratio in all Caribbean tertiary level institutions stood at 2:1. The authors of this study prognosticated that if the current trends are maintained by 2010/2011 this ratio is likely to increase to 2.6:1 across the board and up to 8:1 in some of our tertiary level institutions!

Almost weekly we hear someone – including regional politicians, educators, newspaper editors, law and order personnel, the clergy, social commentators, etc. – bemoaning the fact that the young West Indian male is in crisis. The picture that is being painted is one that depicts far too many young West Indian males as losing their way within our evolving Caribbean civilization.

At any given time in our history, West Indies cricket has drawn on the available pool of young, talented and capable males for its sustenance. By extension, the West Indies cricket team represents a microcosm of Caribbean males and essentially serves as a societal barometer, unveiling what was happening, or not happening, to the archetypal sub-35-year-old male within the wider Caribbean society.

At least five successive West Indies coaches,

Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Vivian Richards, Roger Harper and Gus Logie, have noted that the current generation of cricketers are no longer willing to listen or by extension to learn.

There are a number of issues that have contributed to the marginalization and emasculation of far too many of the last two generations of West Indian males, both on and off the cricket field. Below, I have highlighted some of the psychosocial issues that have contributed to endemic indolence in an alarming number of our young West Indian males/ cricketers:

1. Illegal drugs: This the seminal issue challenging the basic fabric of the Caribbean society. This scourge has the potential to seriously undermine democratic governance within the region. In recent months the gravity of this pandemic is being increasingly acknowledged and elucidated by our Caribbean leaders. (Prime Minister Owen Arthur – Addressing the Barbados Parliament – June 14, 2005, Prime Minister Patrick Manning – Addressing Caribbean Forum For Development Dialogue – May 2005).

The Caribbean archipelago links the major supplier (South America) and primary consumer (USA) of cocaine and our island states, caught in the middle, are used to northwardly relay billions in dollars of narcotics annually. While in transit in the respective island states, a significant quantity of the hallucinogenic drug makes its way into the local community (Caribbean Narcotics Trafficking – what is being done – 2003).

Statistically there seems to be little sexual bias re drug use, for a recent study released by the National Council on Substance Abuse (Barbados), May 21 2005, showed that over 40% of male and female teenagers admitted to using drugs; interestingly, the study also uncovered that children as young as seven years of age were using drugs.

The regional monetary spin- offs from the multi-billion dollar narco-trade are of such magnitude (US$3.3 billion/ year – UNODC – 2001) that it’s unlikely that any Caribbean country, including oil-rich Trinidad, is capable of controlling this distressing problem.

For any Caribbean politician to systematically tackle drugs, he/she is not only placing his/her respective life on the line but they also run the risk, in many cases, of committing political suicide by undermining their financial support for future political campaigns (Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, Principal of UWI St. Augustine – Addressing American Chamber of Commerce – November 2004).

2. Challenging authority: In the 1960s and 1970s, the Caribbean’s more vociferous and eloquent social-activists – e.g. CLR James, Stokley Carmichael (KWAME TURE), Rafique Shah, Lloyd Best, Trevor Munroe, Walter Rodney, Ralph Gonsalves, Parnell Campbell, Bobby Clarke, George Odlum, Rosie Douglas, Maurice Bishop, Tim Hector, et al, beseeched the youth, especially the young males of the Caribbean region, to challenge the status quo.

While the young males were encouraged to reject any and every thing that was a vestige of an often repugnant and pernicious colonial past, they were not simultaneously given a lucid and pragmatic alternative to what they were rejecting. A fall-out from the social revolution of the 60s and 70s was the birth of the “rude boy phenomenon”.

Our testosterone-overloaded males often mistook the message of social activism to mean that hard work was no longer “cool” and that all voices of authority, societal mores, rules and laws were misconstrued to be anathema to the embryonic, malleable and evolving Caribbean civilization.

We have seen and continue to see an alarming number of our young males, from all strata of society, living out the “rude boy” image; they are revolting, with disastrous consequences, against most forms of authority (Dr. Compton Bourne – Address to CDB Board of Governors, Guyana, May 2005).

3. HIV/ AIDS: The plague of HIV/ AIDS has affected our youth more so than any other sector of our Caribbean community. The Caribbean is the second-most affected region after sub-Saharan Africa in the world. Among those adults aged 15-44, AIDS has become the leading cause of death (UNAIDS 2004). Over 340,000 persons in the CARICOM region are HIV positive with an estimated 48,000 acquiring the virus in 2004 (UCSF – December 2004).

Human, economic cost

There is a significant human and economic cost associated with HIV/AIDS. The World Bank/ HEU (2001) estimates that the financial cost of HIV/ AIDS accounts for up to 1.5% of the GDP of the region.

Some regional and international health organizations estimate that up to 6% of the Caribbean’s population, between the ages of 15 and 30, may be HIV positive. The social fall-out from the HIV/ AIDS plague touches nearly everyone within these close-knit Caribbean communities; while 6% of the population is directly being decimated by the disease, the other 94% who are standing on the fringe of this epidemic, are their family and friends (The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank 2003).

4. Co-ed education: Over the last 25 to 30 years a number of traditionally male-only schools within the Caribbean have been converted to co-educational institutions. While I suspect that such a move was intended to benefit ALL, especially reversing the pre-1980 disenfranchisement of girls, this move, however, directly exposed the impressionable young Caribbean male at a relatively early age to a more mentally mature and focused female contemporary (Parry, O et al Unmasking Masculinities in the Caribbean Classroom, 1996).

Negative fall-out

The amalgamation of the sexes in the secondary school system, has resulted in negative fall-out for the male, including potential West Indian cricketers (Layne and Kutnick 2001; Kutnick 1997; Helping Boys Become Educated Men in Barbados – Cara Mason). Not only has co-education in many cases undermined the confidence of the young male but anecdotal evidence suggests that it has contributed to producing an increasing number of dysfunctional males (Boys Themselves: A Return to Single-Sex Education – Ruhlman – 1997).

5. North Americanization of the Caribbean society: The unrestricted and unregulated introduction of Cable TV and Network TV into a significant number of Caribbean households has served to distract and influence our young ones. North American TV’s pedaling of basketball has provided an alternative to “King Cricket”.

With the introduction of the Internet, electronic and computer games, etc. we have seen a reduction in the relative time spent by budding West Indian cricketers on the cricket field.

North American rap musicians are often worshiped by many of our youths; the young fanatics spend a disproportionate quantum of their parents’ hard earned salaries on the ear- drum-deforming, mind-controlling, violence-promoting and female-denigrating rap music (Christenson, P.G. et al 1990; DuRant, R.H 1997). Additionally, far too many of our youths attempt to emulate their favorite musical stars by dressing and behaving like them. In an interesting study published in the March 2003 edition of American Journal of Public Health (Ralph J. DiClemente), a link between listening to rap music and societal violence was unequivocally established.

Far too many of our young parents in the Caribbean have adopted the North American style in nurturing our youngsters in recent years. Consequently, children of today’s generation are less likely to be taught “good manners” or respect, are more likely to be “let off” for significant infractions and their liberties are unprecedented when compared to their predecessors a mere generation or two ago (Prime Minister Owen Arthur – Address to Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce – June 10, 2005; International Watch – Growing antisocial behaviour and education – Tony Marshall – May 2005).

6. The liberalization of West Indian women: There is no one who lived in or has been a student of the history of the Anglophone Caribbean who could deny the fact that there was institutionalized discrimination against West Indian women in the colonial and immediate post-colonial era. In a coordinated approach, there were a number of women’s organizations that coalesced to fight the traditional gender imbalances and empower the disenfranchised West Indian female.

Once unshackled, the sky became the limit for West Indian females, in that, traditionally male-exclusive areas were no longer off-limits to West Indian females. For example, more and more of our boys’ secondary school teachers are school mistresses as opposed to school masters; the psychosocial implications of such remains unappreciated by far too many within the wider Caribbean society. Anecdotal evidence shows that as a consequence of such a social evolution – the average school mistress is much less likely to tolerate an untidy, sweaty and odiferous male in her classroom when compared to the school master of yesteryear.

Rescuing cricket

Consequentially, many of today’s secondary school males, in order to escape the verbal wrath of their school mistresses, are less likely to participate in sports, including cricket, during the school’s breaks, when compared to a school boy of a mere generation or two ago.

The aforementioned is only intended to be a nidus around which we can systemically identify the incendiary milieu that is negatively impacting on the young West Indian male and, by extension, the game of cricket that is so dear to many of us.

The WICB and the CARICOM governments must work assiduously in tandem in order to ensure that West Indies cricket is rescued from inevitable extinction.

To be continued next week.

• Dr. Malcolm Grant is a Barbados-based Vincentian Physician.