REAL LIFE: A scene from the movie Kidulthood
I'M NOT sure about our daughters, but all our sons could do with a coming of age ceremony. Like a bar mitzvah - the institution which underlies the apparent success of Jews wherever you go in the world, or at the very least their self-confidence/cockiness in the face of the world’s challenges.
It’s all about tradition, said the 13-year-old boy who was celebrating his bar mitzvah concurrently with the bat mitzvah of his twin sister.
That is what his grandfather had explained to him as the roots of the ceremony. A tradition that goes back thousands of years. A tradition that his father and his father’s father and his father’s father before him had also undergone as they went from childhood to the next stage of life. A tradition that gives them not just the key to life, but ensures that they go forward on a solid foundation - solid as a rock.
While every Jewish boy and girl leaves their childish things behind and enters adulthood with a bar/bat mitzvah when they become teenagers, our children have nothing. Nothing! Nada! Zilch!
Our sons (and daughters, who I exclude from this conversation) wander through childhood and somehow stumble or land upon adulthood or, perhaps more correctly, adulthood lands upon them from a very great height and licks them on the head in the way that Plymouth Rock landed on enslaved Africans on their arrival in America while their white exploiters until today talk proudly of how the rock didn’t land on THEIR ancestors but that their ancestors landed on the rock.
When life lands on you, you have to crawl out from under it as our sons have to do when they realise that the things that they used to do as kids are the very things that will now land them in jail or in one way or another undermines the rest of their lives. And, let’s face it, our sons are treated in society as adults way before their white counterparts who might have the benefit of a second chance or a third chance or a fourth chance to get themselves out of jail before they pass the ‘go’ of adulthood.
Kidulthood is what they called in that movie. But I ain’t kidding.
The irony is if we don’t draw a firm and distinct line for our sons, how are they to know that the ‘kidding’ has to stop?
For girls, of course, it’s simple things. Their physiognomy tells them that they ain’t children anymore. That first bloody encounter with womanhood is at the core of every young girl’s realisation that life is serious. I’m not saying that they couldn’t also do with a more philosophically thought-out and constructed welcome into the big, wide world. It would help if they had some kind of ‘coming out’ ceremony like the English upper classes and the quinceanera that the Latin Americans do for their daughters around the age of fifteen. If nothing else, it would help our girls find a man from an early age and maybe make something of it, rather than have to scrape around as spinsters wondering when a suitable middle class black man will come around the corner. Such is the dilemma I have as a father of two girls.
But at least they’ve got something. At least nature has confirmed that they are women. Our sons have got nothing.
There are so many traditions around the world that welcome boys into the world with a ceremony. It doesn’t always have to be painful as Nelson Mandela’s circumcision amongst his Xhosa people of South Africa welcomed him into adulthood as teenager. Thankfully my own circumcision was done when I was still in a cot, such is the tradition amongst us Yorubas, and I have no lasting and abiding memory of it.
But none of these great traditions in Africa, in China, amongst the Aborigines of Australia and the Polynesians of the South Pacific suit our children in the human condition that they find themselves in in Britain.
So it was with much interest that I intended an inaugural black British coming-of-age dinner for a 15-year-old boy that I have known since he was a two or three year-old. His father, Sharif, had wanted to do something like this for him since he was born and had researched far and wide for something that would be suitable. In the event he had to make it up as best he could.
Firstly NO WOMEN ALLOWED. And when a wife of one of the attendees (who happens to be my cousin - dear oh dear!) called up at the beginning of the proceedings it was frowned upon and the hapless husband had to terminate the call with no excuses or apology. That’s more like it.
We were 30 or 40 men in all. All of us in some way connected to the celebrant. His father says that he had invited us because we were all in some way influential in the boy’s life.
Well, we had a slap-up meal in a West End restaurant (fathers wishing to emulate this fantastic coming-of-age ceremony, note you’re going to have to shell out some sheckles to get uncles coming all the way from Birmingham and Liverpool as they did on this night. But, hey, what cost your son’s future, eh?)
Then the ceremony began. The celebrated solicitor and barrister and founder roof the Genesis Group think-tank, Dele Ogun was master of ceremonies. He asked the boy to first stand up and tell us in his words what it means to be a man. The boy had prepared an essay like he would in class, but he didn’t get off so lightly with marks out of ten as he would in class. On the contrary he was quizzed further by the men gathered on his integrity, leadership and readiness and was assured, as he had stated in his essay, that his passion was football and girls, that he was going to have a great time with girls.
Then four of us who had been previously selected by his father gave him a gift to take with him into the adult life that awaits him. Dele Ogun presented a knife to remind him of the Yoruba story of creation. The knife would be his weapon (no not that kind of weapon - Dele advised the boy, as his solicitor, not to walk on street with such a dagger) and his pathfinder.
Then one of the white guys present gave him a compass to guide him on his journey to leadership. One of the Asian guys present presented him with £100 to invest for a rainy day and gave him a lecture on why money is important. And finally, I presented him with a baton because he stands on the shoulders of giants around that table who were passing the baton of manhood to him.
And he, now being a man, has to consider that there will be a generation coming after him to whom he must pass the baton on in as pristine a condition as it was passed to him - without dropping it.
If every one of our young boys were blessed with such a coming of age ceremony, they would know what it means to be a BLACK man.