Some Considerations on Cool for Young Black Men Today (Part 2)

Black Scarface

I reflected a few weeks ago on the need for alternative conceptions of cool for black youth.

While my thoughts were an indictment on my generation and the one immediately succeeding us, some critics mistakenly thought it was also one on black youth, although the latter are not without criticism.

I want, however, to reflect on two things as a follow up.

First, I had a wonderful series of conversations with my eldest son, who produces hip-hop music. He was ambivalent about what he heard the first week because he, too, had interpreted me as simply making an indictment on black youth.  But a week later he changed his tune.  “Dad,” he said.  “It’s worse than you thought.”

He went on to relate his experiences of meeting young wanna-be rappers who think the quickest way is to have a reputation premised on dangerous living.  One such young man who came to his studio valorized Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). He sought to be the rap version of that character. His antics included attacking a rival rapper, stripping him naked and posting the assault on public media, and then assaulting his rival’s mother on a city bus. The culmination? He was tortured, murdered, with his body left in flames in a local cemetery.

Try as they may, young people are always seeking direction. If my generation doesn’t offer better alternatives, there is always the mythic and violent offered by popular culture.

This leads to my second reflection. We talk about youth in a problematic way in our society. It’s as if they are Peter Pan characters—stuck in permanent designations of “youth.” We forget that everyone gets older even though, sadly, not often wiser. Doom is on the horizon where he or she, when no longer “youth,” is often abandoned without having been prepared for adulthood.

And therein is our societal crime. One could only properly be youth where there is the possibility of maturation.  Without adults, the youth become the conclusion of their lives, and that means no longer really being youths.   Our society is creating the valorization of youthfulness without the proper conditions for youthful flourishing.

One of the conditions of better growth is investing in the infrastructure for a good society: excellent public schools, safe environments—physically and spiritually understood—and resources devoted to opportunities for a better tomorrow.

But children also need parents and a community of elders to whom they should aspire to be and exceed.

So my message from that previous segment returns. The best example for our children, while the struggle continues to build the better society, is for us to strive to be the best women and men we could be. We need to be the parents young people need and deserve.

© Lewis R. Gordon