By Comer, James P.
Ebony , Vol. 45, No. 10
What Makes The New Generation Tick?
Psychiatrist cites history, automation, "integration" and pop culture
Two young adult African-Americans--a "brother" and a "sister"--stopped for the traffic light in downtown New Haven and, obligious to everything and everybody, "got down!" They jerked wildly to the sound of earshattering rap music. My man was decked out in more neckchains than Alex Haley's ancestor, Kunta Kinte, had on when he was brought to America. A five- or six-year-old child in the backseat was taking it all in, preparing for tomorrow.
On my way home that evening, in my 1976 car, I spotted a young Black professional person--in his brand new luxury car. And on the television news that evening I saw a scene that is far too common--a group of young Black men spread-eagle against police cars in a drug bust. I lamented--as my father did years ago when he was disappointed in our people--"My people, my people." My spirits were down.
My response can be written off as "bourgeois," with little tolerance for generation difference, except for the fact that I will bet a dime to $50 that the two rapt rap enthusiasts didn't have the education and social skills that would allow them to take a job in any of the office buildings all around them. And most of the living wage jobs that don't require an education and good social skills are gone, or going. I'll wager the same that my young professional brother is over his head in debt and has not paid his NAACP or Urban League dues, or made any other contribution to our community.
If Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Whitney Young, Mary McLeod Bethune, Sojourner Truth, and the other "many thousands gone" had had my day, they would have shed a tear. They would have asked, "Is this what we struggled, sacrificed and gave our lives for? Is this the freedom and opportunity we sought for our people? What happened to the mind and the promise of our young people?
Fortunately, my spirit was lifted the next day. I read a news report about a young man who became the first African-American editor of the Law Review at Harvard University. And two of our Yale School of Medicine students were selected cum laude for their top academic achievements. And in a dean's meeting we talked about the fact that one of the reasons the pool of qualified African-American medical students isn't what it should be is that so many other disciplines have opened up to Blacks. And many of our young people are excelling in these previously closed areas--engineering, film, banking, business, and so on. My father would have said of this development, "Just give my people a chance!"
But given a chance by the crack in the caste system wall made by the Civil Rights Movement after three centuries of struggle, not all our young people were positioned, or of a mind, to move through and try to fulfill the dream of Black community leaders. The African-American young appear to be of at least three minds, no different than other groups, or the Black community of generations before. The problem is that our most successful group is too small. Too many in what should be a successful group have fallen victim to what ails all America--individualism and materialism. And our young people from families under the greatest economic and social stress--least likely to be able to improve the African-American condition, though they have the ability--are continuing to grow in number at the fastest rate. The dominant Black mind of the past--caring, courageous, determined and hardworking, balanced by fellowship and humor--is in danger of being wiped away.
The mind of a people is only partly determined by individuals, or even a group in a society as complex as ours. What groups think and do is greatly influenced by what the most powerful people in the society think and say about them; by the opportunities provided and denied most, and not by what happens to the unusual or lucky. …