For some time now, there has been much discussion and debate within
the Black community regarding the direction of Blacks in America. One of the most interesting and high-profile conflict is
the one that took place between Harry Belafonte and Jay-Z.
when asked by a reporter last year about people of color in Hollywood, he answered by saying: "They have not told the
history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. ... And I think one of the great abuses of this modern
time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social
responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you're talking. I really
think he is black."
Jay-Z, never at a loss for words,
retorted that he was "offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is
charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama's is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for
a nation, and outside of America is enough. Just being who he is. You're the first black president. If he speaks on any issue
or anything he should be left alone."
views of these past and current legends explain, in part, the challenges in leadership in the Black community.
Gap or chasm?
The Black generation gap is a difficult actuality that has become increasingly evident. At times it appears
to be an all-out cultural war. This gap can be seen in the differences the younger generation has with older Blacks when it
comes to leadership, goals and values. Older Blacks often complain of younger Blacks' viewpoint on social values, clothing,
hair, music, lifestyle, family, race and career. Meanwhile, young
Blacks often see their parents' views as old-fashioned or obsolete and say they feel misunderstood by their elders
who lecture more than listen. They are also tired of the current Black leadership, which often talks about civil rights victories
and a past that they feel is irrelevant in today's world.
Tyson attempts to tackle this dynamic in his essay "Exploring The Generation Gap: And Its Implications on African-American
Consciousness." In it he asserts that hip-hop is ideologically suspended between the hip-hop generation and the civil
rights generation, which fundamentally leads to an inability to develop Black political power, economic organization, and
overall race consciousness" (although, there are some who assert that in the early years of hip-hop, there were elements
from the Black Power Movement - seen in groups such as Afrikka Bambaata).
Tyson goes on to say that because of the civil rights generation's rejection of hip-hop in its early development,
they "forfeited the opportunity to mold the activist potential in the new culture" - therefore leaving this ideological
vacuum or generation gap that is present in hip-hop music and the younger generation. Furthermore, this disconnect between
the civil rights generation and the hip-hop generation thwarted the ability of Afro-centric and politically and socially conscious
rap groups such as Public Enemy, De La Soul, Arrested Development, X-Clan, A Tribe Called Qwest to sustain the long-term success
and influence that their music and message merited.
expectations and disregard
This writer believes
that both the civil rights and hip-hop generation needs to acknowledge the errors that have caused this rift. The older generation,
for example, has engaged in dangerous attitudes that have hindered their ability to influence the younger generation, namely,
low expectations and empty praise.
Many young people
at times have been the beneficiaries of low expectations. In some circles it appears that Black leadership has associated
avoiding prison or drugs as a mark of excellence. Although successfully avoiding the snares of drugs, gangs and crime is positive
and commendable, there's a need to begin instilling in the minds of the younger generation that this should be standard behavior.
Honest and fair dialogue with the younger generation will go a long way in bridging the generation gap.
Empty and vain praise for sub-par efforts and endeavors is to no one's
advantage. It prevents the recipient from achieving their full and intended potential and leads to a false sense of accomplishment.
It also makes any person who honestly critiques their work seem like either a lunatic or naysayer. That which is gained cheaply,
is lightly esteemed.
Disregard, envy and disrespect:
this is the opposite extreme to low expectations and empty praise. It appears, at times, that the older generation has declared
war on its younger counterparts. Perhaps it is the frustrations of the older and/or civil rights generation that prompts this,
for lack of a better word, enmity. Frustration about, what appears to be, the failure of the hip-hop generation to live up
to the perceived promise that was available to them after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
This disappointment, however, has often manifested itself in the form of utter disregard and
disrespect for anything that is achieved by the younger generation. Instead of validating the portion of
their accomplishments that has real value and caringly offering their wisdom and insight to address the aspects with which
they have concerns, the older generation, at times, condemns or disregards their young foils' achievements out of hand.
Envy may also play a part in this on-going antagonism between the two
generations. The $100 and $200 million contracts of young Black athletes, the exorbitant record deals of Black men and women
barely out of their teens, has the potential of rubbing more than a few Black elders the wrong way - especially those who
have toiled long and hard doing "serious" work in the Black community.
The older generation believes
that the younger is lacking in polish, eloquence and dedication, and yet it is they who now, by and large, command the spotlight.
This reality has created an rivalry between the two that has not allowed the young to benefit from the experience of the experienced.
Hypocrisy, mixed-messages and double-standards: No other saying
has generated more generational conflict than the tried and true: "Do as I say and not as I do" - and this holds
true in the Black community as well. The leadership of the civil rights generation, of late, has decried the excesses, indulgences
and self-gratifying lifestyles of hip-hop and the current hip-hop generation.
The tricked-out rides, the fat
platinum and gold chains and the diamond and gold studded dentistry have increasingly come under fire. Nevertheless, what
is being said about the corporate kick-backs, the governmental pay-offs and under-the-table money that is being channeled
through the coffers and pockets of certain Black elected officials, politicians and religious leaders? Save a select few publications,
The younger generation is not completely ignorant of this glaring contradiction and double-standard.
Further, the vast majority of the Black middle and upper-class - peaking in the mid 80's to early 90's - appears to have been
worshipping at the altar of the god called materialism. When fulfillment is consistently and largely portrayed in terms of
possessions; wealth and status, should we be all that surprised by the bling mentality that has taken hold of this existing
What the Hip-Hop Generation must answer for
The younger generation has a few issues that they too must come to terms
with. Chief among these concerns are: rejection of the older generation's values without sufficient replacements. The hip-hop
generation has had much to say about the civil rights generation's perceived "selling out" of the Black community.
They also speak of the older generation being out of touch and out of step with the times.
While some of their assertions may have merit, it is all too easy to make certain judgments
from a position that was secured for them primarily by the very generation that they are now being critical of. Also, it is
rather ironic that the economic boon of the hip-hop artist has not really helped to answer the economic inequities within
the hip-hop generation itself.
If there are some in the older generation who have indeed "sold-out,"
then there are many in the younger generation who never "bought-in." In other words, they have never made a real
investment in the Black community. They have never made any meaningful sacrifices. Their beliefs have never cost them anything
because they have operated, by and large, without a clear set of convictions.
To have no beliefs (or superficial
ones) is not a satisfactory alternative to what is believed to be out-dated ones. Yet, by not believing in anything
it absolves the non-believer of any responsibility or accountability - without which we have no real hope of unity
or identity. 5 x 5 = 25 does not cease to be true just because it's an "old" idea. There are standards that are
timeless, and there are values that have no expiration date.
must address the general lack of critical thought: In teaching Philosophy to college-aged young people, this writer must admit
that their inability to think critically never ceases to amaze. Nonetheless, their capacity to learn how is what keeps the
hope of a better day alive. To be sure, there exists a deficit in critical thought amongst our younger generation. By this
I do not mean they are stupid or dumb, but rather unaware.
Critical thought requires being able to make certain
connections and draw certain parallels. Without an understanding of the past, without a clearly defined foundation from which
to reason, the current hip-hop generation is largely incapable of making these needed connections and parallels. That understanding
of the past and that foundation could be provided by the older generation that they seem to be constantly at odds with.
This scarcity in critical thought also prevents the young from having the wherewithal to properly assess where certain
actions might lead. In other words, they are left without an appropriate understanding of the concept of "consequences."
Racism is real; discrimination is real; accidents, twists of fate, circumstances beyond our control are very real also.
The actions that the younger generation usually views as punitive, disciplinary or unfair, however, has more to
do with consequences than anything else - consequences that could have been avoided if they were more adept at critical thinking.
Another Inter-Generational Point of Contention
Defining "doing me" as disrespectful, misogynistic,
hedonistic or violent: In our recent history, there have been very few things more destructive to the younger generation
that the "that's just the way I am" or "I'm doing me" posture.
Ultimately this argument
is used when justifying some negative behavior - granted, the "I'm doing me" has been used by people of immense
integrity when defending their position on particular issues. Certain attributes are intrinsically a part of who we are, while
other characteristics are the result of conscious choices that we have made.
The devaluing of relationships; the glorification of lifestyles and behaviors that denigrate, rather
than uplift the Black community as a whole, is not a matter of "doing me" or being true to who one is fundamentally.
It ultimately comes down to who we have chosen to be and what reality we have elected to live in.
These slogans and phrases have been translated into the justification
for all manner of hedonism, misogyny and violence. It is because of the previously mentioned "values vacuum" that
such actualities exist. It is because of the afore-mentioned lack of critical thinking that a generation has not been able
to acquire the skills that empower them to choose and develop the qualities that enable them to become who they are "supposed"
to be, instead of relying on the weak and careless security blanket of: "that's just the way I am."
Cowardice, indifference and ignorance are all realities, but they are chosen realities
and they most assuredly are not the only realities. How then does "doing me" come to mean some
of the ugliest and most shameful characteristics in the human experience? Why is it that aspirations of peace, honor, excellence
and beauty are not viewed as "doing me" or "being true to the game?"
Conclusion This writer does
indeed realize that there are scores of individuals in both the older and younger generations who have been pro-active in
trying to bridge this generation gap. I further realize that not every person in the older or younger generation engages in
the attitudes and behaviors detailed above. Nevertheless, if common ground is to be established, then the things that are
obstacles and hindrances to those efforts must be earnestly considered.
In his song African Dream, rap artist
Talib Kweli once opined: "These cats drink champagne to toast death and pain like slaves on a ship talking bout who
got the flyest chains." The generation gap within the Black community has nurtured this flawed understanding
of reality by many in the younger generation.