How the New Generation Changed Black and White America

By Chappell, Kevin | Ebony, November 1995 | Go to article overview

How the New Generation Changed Black and White America


Chappell, Kevin, Ebony


If you haven't got it, you can't show it. If you hove got it, you can't hide it.

It is the creativity that has oozed out of Black folks since the beginning of time. It's what authors have written about, philosophers have explained, corporations have capitalized on, Whites have imitated and Ebony has reported on for half a century.

Decade after decade, generation after generation, for 50 straight years, Blacks, particularly youngsters, and especially those from urban areas, have marched in the vanguard of American culture. Despite being plagued by a vicious cycle of poverty, violence, drugs and poor education, Blacks have dominated every trend and style imaginable, causing a cultural stir from South Boston to North Hollywood by simply being themselves.

Ignored, stolen and written off as ignorant, the rich style of Black youths, time and time again, has prevailed, sucking in the entire country with its mood, texture, tempo and rhythm. Whether it was doing the Jitterbug together in 1945 or the Butterfly alone in 1995, wearing long knickers or short Daisy Dukes, listening to be-bop or hip-hop, slam-dunking or high-living, when Black youths did it, America followed.

Blacks created the music and culture of the swing, be-bop and rhythm-and-blues eras of the '30s and '40s, the rock `n' roll era of the '50s, the activist-soul period of the '60s, the funk and disco revolution of the '70s, the rap up rising of the '80s and the new-jack swing culture of the '90s--fighting all the time to keep others from stealing their creations.

In the process, lily-White America has been slowly covered with a coat of rich, brown chocolate. And millions, over the last 50 years, have found it so tasty, so good, so satisfying, many social, economic and political barriers--unshaken by legislation, protests and appeals for human decency--have shattered as a result.

Just look at the impact the new generation of young Blacks has had over the past 15 years. Super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have dominated the recording industry, a young Oprah Winfrey has become queen of daytime television and Arsenio Hall, leading the entire nation into a barking and fist-cranking frenzy, ruled late-night TV. Then there was, and is, Michael Jackson, who has outsold every recording artist in history, had Americans moonwalking and wearing studded jackets and one glove, and created the billion-dollar music-video industry. And the nearly 200-year-old "Star Spangled Banner" even became a hit when injected with a little soul. Nearly a million copies of Whitney Houston's stirring rendition of the national anthem were sold.

Not to mention the emergence of rap and its transformation from urban street poetry once produced and distributed by small independent Black studios to a golden art form bankrolled by the large White record companies. In fact, the entire hip-hop culture has been adopted by America. When Black kids wore Kangol hats, unlaced sneakers, oversize medallions and breakdanced on cardboard boxes in the early '80s, America followed suit. When Black boys started wearing earrings, baggy shorts, team-logo jackets and faded hairstyles, America did too.

Even the way young Blacks talk has been adopted by America. "Black English" was once looked upon as a lewd, detestable, inconsequential language, but now it's hip, accepted into the mainstream and commercialized. Webster's Dictionary has even taken notice by adding such words as "homeboy," "dis" and "gangsta" to its new version.

But this is nothing new. In fact, language, dress, music and dance of young Blacks have always been major social and economic forces in America, even if Blacks weren't given the credit.

When Ebony was launched in 1945, juke joints, a wholly Black creation now referred to as dance clubs, were filled with couples Jitterbugging, Lindy Hopping, stepping, swinging and embracing one another. …

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