In a recent exchange of emails with a group of younger people in the San Antonio area, I offered my critique of what NWA represented to our culture. One of the recipients of the email retorted with the following critique of me. “Gee Professor Williams, that’s really easy for you to pick on NWA movie. Just like a lot of things you are totally out of step with what is going on with society. That’s why today’s generation no longer wants to listen to your generation.” I struggled with that rather acerbic attack of me, I guess because I am part of the older generation. But then I took a little time to analyze his statement. I tried to figure out, what we did wrong that the younger generation no longer wants to listen to us. Here is what I discovered.
My generation was the first to really attack segregation in the South. It was my generation that sat down at lunch counters and refused to leave until they were served. They were spat upon, kicked, physically attacked and called every indecent name you can imagine. It was my generation that got on buses, and rode into the South or if they already lived there, joined those coming from the North in order to integrate bus lines and bus stations. They were kicked, physically attacked and called every indecent name you can imagine. It was my generation, i.e., Robert Moses who challenged the registrars in the South who failed to allow Blacks to vote. It was my generation, i.e., John Lewis who attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery in a protest against the unconstitutional failure to allow Blacks to vote. It was my generation that organized campus protests throughout the entire country in an attempt to get universities to offer Black Studies. It was my generation that stood up and proclaimed their right to a just and fair treatment when such a statement could cause them serious bodily harm and even death.
The other part of my detractor’s statement was that “we are totally out of touch with what is going on in society today.” I thought about that statement and assumed he meant that with the young people’s assertion, “Black Lives Matter,” somehow my generation and generations before me never understood that concept. If that is what my detractor was implying, then he really hasn’t read his own history; because if you look back through time you would know that black lives have always mattered. David Walker wrote his Walker’s Appeal in 1829, because Black Lives Matter; Nat Turner began a rebellion in 1831, because Black Lives Matter; Harriett Tubman risked her life going into the South and brought her people out of bondage, because Black Lives Matter; Frederick Douglass spoke on the hypocrisy of the Fourth of July Celebrations back in 1852, because Black Lives Matter; Martin DeLaney, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, A. Phillip Randolph, Fannie Lou Hamer and many more all challenged an apartheid system, because Black Lives Matter. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others were murdered, because Black Lives Matter, and thousands of Black Americans marched and fought in the trenches against an oppressive and abusive social and economic system in this country for years, because BLACK LIVES MATTER.
I have nothing but admiration for the young people who are now continuing the work began by others, long before any of them were around. Our history is a continuum from one generation to the next. So therefore, what has happened in the past is relevant to what is occurring now. For any one group of people to make the charge that any generation, as far back as when our ancestors were brought here in chains, is irrelevant to our cause is destructive to what we all want to accomplish.
In the Chinese culture, the elderly are venerated, respected and listened to for worldly advice by their young, and the Chinese culture has survived since 1200 B.C., or even earlier. There must be something right about their culture of respect for their sages, and maybe some of those who don’t believe in the relevance of the saying, “with age comes wisdom,” could learn a valuable lesson from the Chinese.