No doubt you have all seen the video. You know the Youtube video Im talking about. The uppercut heard around the hood!
I dont want to get into whether she deserved to get chin-checked (for the record, I think she did). I dont want to get into the specifics of the case (passenger gets on the bus, refuses to pay, shoves and spits on driver for three minutes).
Instead, I want you to discuss and meditate on the role of our Black elders and how we interact with them. Thats really what that video was about – a young, arrogant, foolish, violent, and ignorant hoodrat without any regard for a community elder.
For those of you who havent had the pleasure…
We spend so much time discussing the role of Black women and men in the community, gender issues, and how urgent the need is to do something about the youth, that the topic of the role of our elders is often overlooked. Truly, our elders are pillars of the Black community – they always have been, and they always will be. Our elders are the receptacles of the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of those who came before them. They are our direct link to the past, and capable of bestowing on us insight that we lack in our youthful ignorance.
I would argue that a large part of the destruction of the African American community is attributed in large part to the destruction of the relationship that we have with our elders.
Elder vs. Older
So now we find ourselves in a time and place where the integrity of the Black community has been compromised and is in a state of crisis. Our elders either live in fear and isolation from the youth, or they have become calloused and resentful, reluctant to assume their rightful role as the matriarchs and patriarchs of our communities.
Of course, all elders are not venerable elders.
Professor Manu Ampim teaches us that in African culture, there is a fundamental distinction that has to be made between an “elder” and “older” person. An older person has simply lived a longer life than most of people, but it not considered one who deserves high praise and respect. This is because the older person’s life has not been a positive example for the community. An older person could be a thief or drunkard, an evil person, or could be someone who never married and had children, and thus these examples would certainly prevent a person from being considered a respected elder.
An elder, on the other hand, is someone who is given the highest status in African culture because he or she had lived a life of purpose, and there is nothing more respected than living a purposeful life. The life of an elder is centered in the best tradition of the community, and is a living model for the other groups in the society to emulate. An elder is given the highest status and along with new infants because these two groups represent the closest links to the wisdom of the spirit world.
Our elders shape who we become, as individuals and as a community. It was our elders who affirmed for us early after Reconstruction that our values of hard work, racial pride, integrity, and dignity were the cornerstones of the success of our future generations. It was our elders who stood up in the face of certain death (I’m thinking Sojurner Truth and Harriet Tubman) to liberate their children. Our elders have kept alive the revolutionary spirit of the past, and are the embodiment of our struggles.
For these reasons, the youth must be taught to respect their elders.
Restoring our Elders to their Rightful Place
Paying homage to your elders is more than offering an older woman your seat on a crowded bus, or listening to grandpa’s World War II stories. We should be humbled in their presence, and listen to their counsel without ego. It is accepting their council without debate. Their advice should be received respectfully, and meditated upon. Of course, not all advice is good advice, but I would venture to say that after a few years these men and women have picked up a thing or two.
For those of our elders who bear the psychological and social scars of America’s racial and prison-industrial complex, they should be treated with empathy, and held in the same regard as any other venerable elder – for they too possess jewels of wisdom that we in our youth can learn from. Remember – you can learn just as much from a “bad” example as you can learn from a “good” example.
On a larger scale, every Black community should establish a council of elders to both guide that particular community, and to serve as an example of the proper role that elders should play. There are many indigenous African societies that go so far as to exclude all but the wisest of elders from seats within government. These elders are then consulted in a variety of matters, ranging from family or marriage disputes, community-wide issues, naming of buildings and community centers, and directing resources to supporting important projects.
We can all agree that the Black community suffers from a disconnect – both physically and psychically – from our past. If we are to move forward, that disconnect must be remedied. Without a council of elders most Black communities will remain disorganized and lacking direction and effective leadership.
Until the day comes when we have that, I will be standing right next to that elderly bus driver to assure him that I would have hit her ratchet ass, too!