By PAT WATSON
If we are to believe it is the manner of parenting that is behind Toronto gang culture and related violence then we also have to believe that there is a pathology that can be specifically identified among Black parents in lower income and disadvantaged neighbourhoods. So is there a specific pattern of behaviour that such parents are using that precipitates a given outcome?
The corollary is to dump on single mothers and, by extension, there is a sideways criticism of the lifestyle and culture of poor Black people – a double dump of classism and racism.
Every time someone starts to sing from the ‘bad parenting hymnbook’ as an answer to the root of gang violence the subtext is that if the parents of kids who get involved with gang violence can be blamed – that would be Black parents – then the rest of society can count themselves free from contributing to the problem.
Yet, it’s funny, but it is hard to find any commentary on Hell’s Angels gangs that points to the harmful or negligent parenting of members as being at the root of their activities. It’s also hard to find any such commentary pointing to the emergence and continued functioning of the mafia.
If bad parenting alone is the reason for gang violence then it would have to be the reason for just about every other vice and sin with which society has to deal.
There is no question that those who should most be responsible for our formative years will, knowingly or not, influence and almost inevitably do some damage to an emerging psyche. The innate personality of any individual is also a significant contributing factor at the same time that environment has an impact. The nature-nurture debate is still ongoing.
What bad parenting theorists are arguing is that parenting in isolation is the cause of anti-social behaviour. Not the fact that these youth are living in depressed environments in which there is a pervasive pall of despair about their future. Not the fact that as they go through life the pathway of life choices grows narrower. Not the fact that they have an excess of examples of those ahead of them heading into jail. Not the fact that by the time they have reached their teen years they already understand deeply that they are not wholly accepted by mainstream society. Not the fact that they are viewed with suspicion every time they enter a retail outlet. Not the fact that regardless of what they are doing they are seen by the police as being criminals or criminals in the making. Not the fact that they do not have the same opportunity to get a decent job that offers them a chance at self-respect and a viable livelihood. Not the fact that others who look just like them are facing long-term intransigent unemployment. Not the fact that the education system is failing them. Not the fact that guns are flowing across the border because there is more interest in profit than public safety.
No. None of that weighs on these kids, because the parenting they have received is really what has set them off?
The problem of young people, especially young men becoming involved in gangs and then gang-related violence is complex. But because people desperately want to understand it, they look for easy answers. And, because the problem is so terrible, there is a need to calm the mind by placing the blame elsewhere. But here is something else to understand: As long as the mass of society attempts to place responsibility outside themselves, they will feel powerless to resolve the problem. The result will be that the circumstances will continue.
As a society, we are all responsible to respond to this crisis. That is respond, not just react. Reactionism only deepens the crisis, raises anxiety across the city and never fully addresses the real root cause of gang violence.
We want solutions? The answers are already there: Education that has real results; guaranteed literacy; realistic funding and support for community-building programs; end economic and social ghettoization; return to parenting classes in high school; dynamic youth employment programs; mentorship not as charity but as the standard for social and economic investment. And yes, it will be necessary to ‘hug a thug’.
That’s how to quell gang violence.
A note on a petition…
Could we consider getting a petition going to put an end to the fences along the parade route for the annual Caribbean parade?