The Civil Rights “Generation neXt”

In the American youth-obsessed culture, young Blacks consigned Jazz music–American Classical Music–over to young Whites for its perpetuation and continuity. Jazz had already undergone one transition after another: from New Orleans Preservation Hall, to Ragtime and Harlem “Jungle Music,” to the Swing Era, to Be Bop, to Hard Bop, to Modern, to Avante Garde, to Free Jazz.

But one Jazz expert I know says he won’t consider the merits of a young Jazz group today, until he hears them play some of the old Jazz Standards, so he can “see if they can play,” by comparing their skills to the performances of the music’s Masters.

There is no such thing as modern Rhythm & Blues. That form, now called “Old School,” is simply relegated to reunion tours and performances on public television fund-raisers and Hand Dance celebrations by whichever original group members can still stand in matching sequined suits and groove in front of a microphone.

Musically, young people today have moved on, and now even the original progressive, consciousness-raising Hip Hop has devolved from so-called “Gangsta Rap,” into pure shake-your-backside debauchery.

Even slang seems to transform every decade or so, to now we’ve devised words, rhymes, and beats that absolutely defy the spell-checkers and dictionaries it seems every six months or so.

In American culture today, and most particularly among young Blacks, there is no value seen in the wisdom of the elders. They are seen as “so-analog,” “so 20th Century,” “so Old Skool.”

Even in politics, education and business, the pioneers, who had to fight for admission into “The Room,” where important decisions were made, are now being replaced by younger Blacks who actually have seats at the table, and in some cases, are sitting at the head of the table.

Too often the Young ‘Uns feel as though the methods and ideas of the older set are outmoded and old fashioned, and that they know better than those who struggled and put their lives on the line to win even the most fundamental and basic rights for all. They believe we are living in “Post Civil Rights,” “Post Racial” America. Not!

The young leaders emerging today from graduate schools where the pioneering generations only read about, remind me of the two characters in a Richard Pryor joke. The young junkie tells the old wino: “Your problem is, you don’t know how to deal with the White man.”

And so it is. Young people today think the older generation, which did not advance far enough to actually anoint the youth, did not succeed, even though their silent suffering, and sometimes violent protests tired-out the oppressors while the youth made advances, qualifying themselves for positions the Old Timers only dreamed about.

As the 2008 presidential election draws near and the prospect increases that a Black man just might be elected President of the United States, many Blacks are declaring that “The Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is about to come true. They forget that Dr. King was not assassinated trying to help members of the Congressional Black Caucus get their rights (there was no such thing as the CBC when Dr. King was murdered), nor was he trying to help the Black CPAs get jobs on Wall Street, or to help get some Black mayor elected Lt. Governor somewhere. No. Dr. King was killed while he was helping to organize sanitation workers–a strike by Memphis garbage workers.

And what is the condition of the garbage workers and the janitors and domestic workers today–as so many of the offspring of those 1968 bottom rung dwellers now advance, sometimes earning more money out of college than their parents ever earned? The condition of those Blacks and others at the bottom is still pretty grim.

But the young, gifted, Black and successful are ready to concede, at the insistence of those who still harbor hatred in their hearts against Black advancement, that racism is no longer a big problem in America. Au contraire, mon ami!

They believe that the Old School protest tactics are antiquated, and too often that the reason some of the Civil Rights Generation did not be all they could be, is not because of institutionalized racism, but because they just didn’t know how to deal with the White man…not like they know.

So, we’re ready to put the Rev. Jeremiah Wright out to pasture with his Black Liberation Theology. Don’t do that!

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s own son, has thrown his father under the campaign bus of Sen. Barack Obama, hoping that if the Illinois senator is elected President, that he–Jesse Jackson Jr.–might be chosen to matriculate into that vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Some of the young folks are not even embarrassed to wonder out loud: when will the Civil Rights Generation leaders step down from the stage, so that they might succeed them. But they forget that Dr. King didn’t ask A. Phillip Randolph’s permission to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale did not ask for permission from Roy Wilkins, to go to the California State Capitol carrying unloaded shotguns, insisting on their right to armed self defense. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) did not ask Whitney Young for permission to declare on that dangerous Mississippi highway that we want “Black Power. Black Power. Black power.”

Nor will it be that way today. Not for “Generation X,” “Y,” “Z,” or for “Generation next.” Each well-born soul must win what it deserves. The struggle–in music, in law, in politics–must continue Young Black folks, because sooner or later you must learn, as 19th Century icon Frederick Douglass proclaimed, and it’s still true today: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has. It never will.”

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Pick up the cross and carry it on into the future!

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