Magazine article Ebony

The New Generation of the '90S; Introduction

Magazine article Ebony

The New Generation of the '90S; Introduction

Article excerpt

The New Generation Of The `90s

It is a marvelous and perilous time to be young and Black in America. On this the eve of the 21st century, the coming of age of a new generation of Black men and women is brightened by the torches handed down by a host of civil rights warriors and endangered by a swarm deadly social forces.

This is a watershed period for the estimated 7.1 million young Black men and women born between 1960 and 1974. It is a time when Black political clout is reaching its zenith, when skilled, young doctors, attorneys, engineers, MBAs, artists, architects, educators and students are making indelible impressions on the national consciousness and helping to redefine the American dream in new, multiracial terms.

Who are they? They are in many ways very diverse. In fact, one could view the young people in this demon-graphic sphere as one of the most schizophrenic generations of Black Americans ever. Included in this pool is a large often studied group of young people trapped in urban poverty, a slightly larger group of working-class people who are rarely studied and who rarely make the evening news, and a third, smaller group of upscale professionals.

Despite their differences in lifestyle and income, all of the members of this generation are bound by certain experiences that separate them from previous generations and affect the way they view the world.

They are, for example, a generation that is unfamiliar with legal segregation. They were not witnesses to the civil rights struggle that opened to them the doors of White institutions, nor have many of their lives been directly touched by a major war, a Great Depression or naked racism.

Almost one-third (32.9 percent) were born after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. And, to a surprising number of them, King, the Selma March, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Vietnam War, are viewed with as much emotional detachment as the signing of the Magna Carta.

This is a generation that, in part, takes for granted the wonderous social changes that have affected their world. After all, for most of their lives there has always been a Black Supreme Court justice, and Black men in the mayor's offices in Atlanta, Newark, Gary and Los Angeles. The ordinariness of these achievements has deluded many of them into believing all is well in race relations.

"A large number of people in my generation have been lulled into a false sense of security because things are a little more accessible for us than they were for our parents," says Linny A. Bailey, 30, an attorney and city councilman in Athens, Ga.

This is a generation that has watched (and helped) Bill Cosby rule the television airwaves, Eddie Murphy become the nation's No. 1 box office draw, Michael Jackson outsell every recording artist in history. They have seen the ascent of Black CEOs in major corporations, watched Jesse Jackson make two serious runs for the presidency, and L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia become the first elected Black governor since Reconstruction.

This is a generation weaned on television, trained and entertained by computer. No previous generation of Black people has benefitted more from the combined forces of technological advancement and affirmative action.

It is because of those advances that the current generation often finds itself ill-equipped to cope with the covert racism it continues to encounter. And, it is perhaps because of racism's sly new face that some in the new generation strike out in frustration at the wrong targets.

Young Black people by the thousands are falling each day to the hazards of inner city life. Drug addiction, gang warfare, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and urban poverty have crippled this generation, creating an almost impenetrable divide between the haves and have nots.

At a time when more than 50 percent of the nation's Black adults over age 25 have earned high school diplomas, the dropout rate for inner city youths between the ages of 13 and 17 is near 37 percent and rising. …

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