The “First Generation” passing away.
Jane Bolin was the first African American woman to graduate from Yale Law School; Carl Brashear was the US Navy’s first African-American master diver, Victorine Louistall Monroe was the first African-American fulltime professor at West Virginia University, and the list goes on.
A look back over the year reveals that the “First Generation” is passing away. The first African-American graduate.the first African-American city council member, the first African-American winner. every place you look, the generation that had achieved the “Firsts,” that had set the milestones, are leaving. As this generation passes away, these children of segregation, grandchildren of Reconstruction and slavery, they take with them an understanding of racial struggle and what it means to achieve in spite of in-your-face opposition and the obstacles littering their path.
Taking with them lessons learned at their parent’s and grandparent’s knee. The lesson that being average is just not good enough. The standing rule for achievers in Black families was, “You have to be better than everyone else.” You had to be the hardest-working student in the dorm. The hardest-studying student in the library. The hardest-working intern, trainee, clerk, manager, you had to be the hardest worker if you wanted to succeed in what was known to be a cold, hard world where forces are arrayed against you.
They grew up in a world before words like “multiculturalism, diversity and affirmative action” were used to hide the racism that continues to permeate the nation and all of its institutions. This cultural camouflage has left the next generation confused and misunderstanding the nature of the world as it is. A laxity of spirit and notions of entitlement have crept into the place where once there was willpower of steel tempered by adversity. Now, looking at smiling faces and words of “equal opportunity”, there is craving and desire, and an incoherent understanding that the tools are not at hand to achieve.
The doors that the “Firsts” had passed through did not have automatic openers. They were kicked in by excellence, hard work, agitation and persistence, and only those things can hold them open. There are no silver platters and white linen waiting for your presence. And putting gold teeth in the mouth is not the same as having a silver spoon between the lips.
What has been nurtured by mass media and marketing is a lack for appreciation of effort and a lack of respect for hard work. There is a loss of personal dignity. I’ve seen mothers in cars with young people listening to lyrics that are indescribable in civil society and heard mothers using language toward their children that would earn them a street fight if used toward an adult.
Now we’re moving into 2007 and facing an enemy that the First Generation never knew. Negative imagery and energy encircles us and permeates the home. There is no more time to stop and think. Television, computer games, cell phones and music devices now occupy the minds that were once focused on primers for reading, writing and arithmetic. Children and their parents are being scientifically distracted from understanding what is happening around them. And there is no magic bullet, no one solution. We are surrounded by battlefronts with cries for more ammo and more reinforcements. In the schools, African-Americans are at the mercy of rich white men who say, “Trust us, we know what’s best for you,” and that has to change. Recommendations and action points of the Black Brooklyn Development Conference have to become a part of the ongoing dialogue. The criminal industrial complex, a self-perpetuating structure for social control of African- Americans, has to have profit incentives taken out and become rehabilitation and learning centers rather than graduate schools for criminal training. Televisions have to be turned off, computer usage monitored, the Web that can empower can also ensnare untrained minds in distractions and a superficial facility where eye – hand coordination is mistaken for computer literacy.
The changes that are needed are internal and external. There is so much that has to be done and there is plenty of work to go around. Happy New Year and see you on the front lines.