But it is not only violence that should make young black men insecure. AIDS too kills men more than women. And then there is the death that keeps you breathing, that of absence of purpose: unemployment can do that to you.
So, I said, you would be led to think that as a society we would do something to nurture black boys and young men, alongside all our young, because they live with this fact that they are most likely die from violence and that they are not going to know the ordinary right of earning a living, feeding themselves and, if they so feel, have a family. But, I repeat, you would be wrong.
Young poor black males are surplus. They can die, for all we care. And that’s just the thing. We don’t care about them, when you come to think of it.
Expect, that is, in a limited way.
We shine our metaphorical torches on poor young black only when they get violent; when they kill; when they rape; when they disturb our peace.
But, in these cases even, we really don’t care as much if they aggress against other poor young black men. Apparently, other poor young black men are ‘the right targets’ for violence. We don’t care as much about rape of young males because we do know it happens on daily basis in many prisons but we don’t do that much about it. We have funny way of showing our concern for violence because each year many young males die in fires in godforsaken shacks in Crossroads and other places, but the conditions don’t change much from year to year. We might say, ag shame, and perhaps even donate blankets, when we see them sleeping rough on the streets, but we won’t push hard enough for the State and the rich to provide adequate shelter for all, especially for those who can’t afford to buy houses for themselves. And doesn’t the unacceptability of violence shine through when they die, slowly but surely, of preventable and curable diseases and injuries.
What we do care about, and we can show you the money, is when their violence gets directed at the ‘wrong’ people.
This has come back to mind because, well, I have been working on a journal issue of men and violence. It seems to me that the problem with the violence of young black men (which, once and for all, has always meant those men who are said to be of colour, because, white men do not have colour, those who came up with the phrase wanted us to believe) is not, I have come to think, that they are violent.
The problem with the kind of violence young black men engage in is that it is not appropriately violent. Their type of violence is not well-aimed, thus obviously violent. They get stereotyped as violent precisely because they not violent enough. Theirs are what we sometimes refer to as random acts of violence. A random act of violence is a phrase that implies that other acts of violence are non-random, deliberate, well-planned. And it is so, indeed.
Legitimate acts of violence, in contrast, are those when young men are sent out to go to battle for country as part of a war. This is acceptable violence. In such cases you can carry a big gun. You can kill.
But when a young men turns and shoots, whatever his reasons, any other person other than a young black poor man, that is unacceptable because it is directed at wrong targets.
Can you see the problem here?
How can some people or group or counties be legitimate targets – even if we don’t use those exact words? What makes some subjects acceptable as objects of violence but not others?
I think there are many answers to these questions. One of the answers is that compared to others who tend to be the authors of the rules of the appropriate use of violence, poor black young men as a group do not have an equal right to use violence, to decide who can be executed, shot, imprisoned. It is true that in relation to the State, all of us have fewer rights to legitimate use of violence. But when you are poor, young, black, male or female, you will find that you don’t have enough clout, submarines, helicopters, or, for course, lawyers to get you out of going to prison.
And so, turning, and directing myself to young black men, until you have adequately reflected on the nature and aims of violent – when to be violent, what kind of violence is overlooked, against whom, how to make violence acceptable – you will always be caught in the stereotype. One must swop the knife and illegal hand-gun for drones, fighter jets, really big bombs, and nuclear missiles to be criminal. If you control the right to use violence, not just the knife or gun, if you write the rules, then you can be thought peaceful.
Let’s be honest, power determines who has legitimate right to employ violence. State, in cahoots, with big business, controls that right to use violence. South Africa is no exception. Indeed, the most powerful country in the world is indeed also the most violent. It is not by chance that it possesses the largest and most technologically advanced arsenal of killing machinery and methods. That arsenal is possibly one the major reasons for its super-power status.
What it comes down to is that until as a poor young black man you realise that your ‘random’ episodic violence against the ‘wrong targets’ is used to explain away the deliberate, chronic violence that provokes your rage, your kind will remain disproportionately represented in goals.
Until you educate yourself that violence structures your life and your chances in the world, bodies like yours will keep on piling up in morgues.
Until you redirect your righteous anger towards the State that criminalises your very existence, you will continue to be blamed for the social disorder that orders your life while the real criminals live high in the big house, segregated neighbourhoods, and travel in private jets and business class.
The State, which is in league with the elites, as the most insidious vehicle for the violence that characterize the lives of poor young black men like you, that is what confronted. It is the State that authors and stimulates homicidal and gender based violence. It is the State we must act against.
Fight the Power!
This has been written in my own capacity and does not represent the opinions of any organisation I am attached to or have links with.