Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

15.  Memorandum submitted by Mr Melvyn Davis, Founder and Director of the Boys2MEN Project

  1.  Within this written submission I have chosen to focus on my personal experience of working with disaffected and socially excluded black young people over the last 20 years. In particular I will be focusing on the experiences of black boys.


  2.  The reasons for the overrepresentation of Black youth within the criminal justice system are numerous and complex. Black youth face discrimination at every level within the criminal justice system from pre-arrest through to sentencing. The statistics, which are well known and readily available, show that, from the point of stop and search, pre-sentencing reports, through to the duration and severity of sentencing, black youth face discrimination.

  3.  What message does this send to our black youth? How can we who work to raise their self-esteem and promote a sense of hope and values, answer their feelings of racism and injustice which I believe is inextricably linked to attitudes of disaffection which provides a rational for criminal behavior within a society that sees them as deviant, dangerous delinquents, "different" and unequal.

  4.  What processes and conditioning do they go through within British society in order to commit crimes without regard to the consequences or guilt? How can a boy feel justified in committing such a violent crime as murder? The answers to these questions are I believe the key areas that require political consideration and intervention. We must do more to tackle and dismantle once and for all the consequences of institutional racism and discrimination.

  5.  I would like to make five clear suggestions as to how we might be able to move things forward. I believe that unless specific, targeted and sustained effort is made to: (1) reverse the negative impact that black boys have of themselves; (2) drastically reduce the exclusion of black boys and improve their educational outcomes; (3) provide long-term financial support to black organisations that are able to provide tried and tested interventions; (4) provide professional mentors to work with the most at risk within those communities and (5) ensure that existing funding and statutory agencies are charged with ensuring that they are able to engage with the black community, and in particular black boys.


  6.  The reality for many black youths, particularly black males, is that the journey from social inclusion to exclusion starts long before they enter the criminal justice system.

  7.  The statistics on black boys underachievement within education tell a very compelling story with overwhelming consequences. Black boys are less likely to receive GCSE qualifications and are more likely to be excluded from school. Even though there has been a drop in some boroughs of formal exclusions, the picture on the ground is that informal or unofficial exclusions are on the increase. Unofficial exclusions which do not show up on fixed or permanent exclusion rates include: parents being called into school to collect their children; sitting outside of the head teachers office; being "encouraged" to find another school; and being placed in an in-school learning support unit.

  8.  The failure within the educational system to produce significant numbers of black boys who have a standard of education that leads to viable routes into employment is a scandal. The failure of the education system to educate our black boys provides a breeding ground for disaffection that undoubtedly leads many (not all) to seek alternative means of obtaining a good standard of living or gaining respect from their peers.

  9.  In a vain attempt to take ownership of a process that is largely outside of their control, the black community within the UK has begun to define itself and its culture, in response to the discrimination they face. The consequences of social and racial exclusion are being reclassified as cultural norms. Certain sections of the UK's Black community are accepting as norms behaviours that are criminal, deviant and socially excluding. From the way they dress, walk, behave and the music they create (protesting behaviour) black youth are expressing an unarticulated anger that is in direct response to the way they are perceived, the social barriers and deprivation faced.

  10.  The impact on many of the black boys I work with is that they "feel" discriminated against. They "feel" that teachers are treating them differently and they "feel" that others get preferential treatment, they "feel" targeted by the police, because they are black. These powerful messages (real or perceived) impact on them emotionally and have the detrimental effect of eroding motivation and lowering aspirations. The further along the educational scale you go from KS1 to KS4, the worse the picture becomes.

  11.  A 9-year-old black boy once called me a liar when I told him that I had never been excluded from school. In some areas and sections of our community this has become the norm. Our black boys believe the statistics about them, and as consequence are living up to our low expectations. I see KS1 and KS2 black boys creating a negative pathology of black behaviour and identity based on media images and statutory agencies perceptions.

  12.  Those black boys who are able to achieve despite the barriers that they have had to face often do so because of one or more of these key resilient factors being in place:

    (a)  A positive male or father figure in their lives.

    (b)  A significant individual that provides unconditional positive regard.

    (c)  A strong cultural identity linked to moral and or religious values.

    (d)  A good standard of education.

    (e)  A sense of equity and citizenship.

  13.  (This is by no means an exhaustive list but one that highlights what I consider to be the factors most pertinent to the black community.)

  14.  Black youth are turning to crime because:

  15.  Certain types of crime are glamorised by rap and grime music and black artists portray crime as a legitimate means of making money. Videos that show black artists being pimps, drug dealers, robbing banks, and committing acts of violence do have an effect on black youth who lack protective factors that can produce a reasonable level of resilience. What other culture portrays themselves within their music in such a manner? Where are the alternative counter messages of black achievement or pathways to success within the UK—in significant numbers—to challenge the perceptions that black people can really succeed within British society?

  16.  The barriers to social inclusion are inextricably linked to the question of British identity and belonging. Even though born here, too many black youth do not feel a part of British society. They are identified within the media by their ethnic origin; politicians talk of "tolerating" migrants coming to their country; they are asked to adopt a hyphenated identity (Black-British); despite the abolition of slavery, they still face discrimination at virtually all levels of society. Many of the actions (reactions) of government are making the situation worse.

  17.  There are fewer safeguards within the black family that can act as resilient factors against the allure of crime. Absent or uninvolved fathers, teenage mothers with no support or poor parenting skills, no religious or moral guidance, poor role models and growing up on sink estates surrounded by all the indicators of poverty and deprivation. At the heart of it—the black factor—a lack of a black cultural identity that provides a sense of self-esteem or self-worth that incubates them emotionally from racism and discrimination.

  18.  Certain types of crime within areas which are populated by black communities such as drug dealing and the desire/need to validate themselves through material possessions provide both a saleable commodity and a complicit community within which buyers, become runners and dealers. Black youth are exposed to peers and family members who "hustle" for a living and receive mixed messages about law and order. The line between law and order is easily blurred and because offenders are revered and feared within those sections of the black community, the man that gains respect (and is glamorised) is the man on the corner who has, rather than the man who is studying to go to university (leaving with £15K worth of debt) and with the real prospect of earning less than the man on the corner.

  19.  The absence of an involved father or positive male role model further compounds these powerful influences that so easily seduce so many black males into crime. The absent father/male in the formative years of a child's life can often lead to an accelerated childhood. The boy in particular, quickly becomes or perceives himself as the man of the house. He is more inclined to adopt machismo behaviours in order to cope with the harsh and competitive environment he has to exist within, and to protect himself emotionally from the father that is absent and a society that is discriminating towards him on a daily basis.

  20.  I cannot overestimate how all encompassing this process can become. It takes place on a subconscious level and is daily reinforced. This black machismo male identity not only seeks to protect the individual from painful messages of rejection that he receives from his absent father, school, the media, the music he listens to, people's reactions to him from entering stores to getting on and off a bus; it also seeks to counter in a passive aggressive way, the negative perception of self held by the indigenous population, whilst at the same time creating the emotional detachment needed to commit crime.

  21.  How important is self validation and self efficacy to black males? I would argue extremely important. Look at the lengths they go to in order to look good. The amount spent on clothes, jewellery and cars. This tells a powerful story of unmet need not greed. Where in society outside of sports and music are black people validated and acclaimed? Where are black men regarded as equals and allowed in on mass, based on ability rather than the policies of inclusion designed to allow in just a few "appropriate" black individuals.

  22.  Although British society has come a long way in regards to social inclusion, it still has much further to go and this is evidenced by the nationalistic debates around immigration, the racially biased reporting of crimes and the existence and continued rise of the BNP and other far right parties. Black youth are aware of these tensions and despite our reassurances, they know what they "feel" and experience on a daily basis. They see and experience the disparity between what we say and do and therefore they become easily alienated, even seeing themselves as "soldiers" fighting against society and each other. They wear hoodies not to make a fashion statement but because there are cameras above their heads. They are reacting to a society that they have no stake within.

  23.  The saddest and most damaging aspect of the negative perceptions of black youth and how this impacts upon their behaviour is the self deprecation that takes place which manifests itself in the form of Black on Black crime; the content of rap videos; the disparaging language used towards each other and the disregard for the impact of drug and gun culture on their own communities. How they talk about each other, the violence, aggression and the objectification of women all form part of the loss of identity, values and systematic destruction of the family unit during slavery, the affects of which are still being experienced today. I would go as far as to describe it as a form of self harm and self loathing that manifests itself internally and externally. I believe Black males are more susceptible to the internalisation of racism and as a result fall more easily into the net of crime because they have more social barriers to overcome. They are now not only feared by white society but they are also becoming increasingly alienated from each other, which is why mentoring of black males, by black male mentors, is so important.

  24.  There is a considerable emotional disconnect that black males are experiencing in order to survive within their communities. They are increasingly becoming disconnected, from their parents, their children, their communities, their values and their subjugated place within society. The disproportionate numbers of black males within the mental health system also leads me to conclude that they are also becoming disconnected from themselves. The numbers are significant enough for politicians to make this a priority.

  25.  Patterns of negative behaviour are already generational and create social ghettos in which black youths are being born into families within notorious neighbourhoods run by gangs and individuals who are seen to operate above the law. Recently a member of my staff attended a funeral in support of a young man we were working with. It was his father's funeral. His father had died whilst in prison. In attendance was his uncle—chained to his prison guard and his grand-dad—chained to his prison guard. The young man was on our youth offending programme.


  26.  We need more specialist black mentoring schemes, with male mentors trained to challenge their views of black men, black culture and their personal identities. We need to dismantle the "conveyer belt" within our communities that deprives so many black boys of an education and produces so many disaffected black males who are unable to realise their potential outside of crime.

  27.  We need more funding and resources within crime "hotspot" areas and targeted support to the siblings of offenders. We know there are strong links between offending, siblings and re-offending rates. Greater effort and resolve is needed to prevent black communities becoming ghettos as a consequence of this powerful social dynamic. Resources are needed in the form of specialist teams going into areas of concern to provide support to schools, families and the young people. This is a socio-psychological war against disaffection that must be fought on all fronts, simultaneously.

  28.  Produce targets and closer monitoring in schools to stop the formal and informal exclusions of black boys alongside more resources and incentives to schools to raise the attainment of black pupils and work with experienced and successful outside agencies in order to do so.

  29.  Positive media and political campaigns that stop demonising young people and youth culture which only serves to alienate them further. Political leaders need to be seen to care and stand up for the needs of black communities. Their silence and inaction on issues of race and discrimination is heard and felt and further serves to alienate.

  30.  We need workers and agencies that are better trained and equipped to work with black boys and who actually understand what is "really going on" and have a clear rational of how they are going to change it. There are too many "hit and miss" programmes that fail to deliver what they promise.

  31.  We need to stop funding music projects and channel funding towards projects that provide access to learning and employment and challenge the negative images and stereotypes of black males.

  32.  We need peer-mentoring programmes which offer young offenders a real way out. Programmes in which those who were previously offenders are trained and supported to reach those resistant and persistent offenders, providing them with real avenues of support that would enable them to do all that is necessary to start a new life. This work in the first instance should be voluntary leading to paid employment for those who show willing and aptitude.

  33.  We need more support to teenage mothers—not from well-intended parenting programmes that do not take account the environment or life experiences, cultures and discrimination faced by their participants. A naughty step or time out will be of a little use to a child who carries a knife to school or whose father fails to turn up to see him at weekends.

  34.  And finally we need more men working within early year settings who can work with boys to develop them emotionally. Emerging research clearly shows that the absence of males has an impact on boys educational levels and future offending behaviour. Boys need to be able to form masculine identities via social interaction with males who are in touch with their full range of emotions, rather than media images from MTV or Hollywood.

  35.  Our failures in addressing the psychological affects of discrimination and in providing a reasonable level of education are two of the primary factors that impact on black male criminality. The perception and experience of Black males needs to be better understood. How they see themselves and their position within society needs to be challenged and changed and the significant numbers that fail to get a reasonable standard of education or end up excluded, needs to be arrested. If every child matters, then all children irrespective of race must be given an education that provides them with opportunities to realise their full potential. Sadly this is not yet the case.

December 2006

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 15 June 2007