(ThyBlackMan.com) The esteem and respect once given to the grandparents and elders within the African American community has vanished. “Grandpa” is usually absent, due to African American males having the shortest life expectancy in America, shortened by heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and homicide. The roles of “Big Momma” as philosopher, psychologist, chef, baby sitter, innovator and motivator are mere remembrances of a time past. “Big Momma” is now on Facebook, dating, watching “Empire”, and has limited time for family. The mantra of self-centeredness fed to Americans has turned “Big Momma” into a member of 50-and- over dating sites. The distance, frustration and, for some, loathing the younger generation has towards their elders derives from a spiritual and psychological abandonment they feel victims of.
Youth must deal with a society that constantly derides them in the media. They find no solace with elders who also criticize them, without providing them a means of progress in our ever-evolving, high-tech society. This generation has watched their financially insecure grandparents, who have dedicated their lives to their employers, full of anxiety over the uncertainty of their future. America’s elderly are faced with the burden of funding their own retirement as companies have traded retirement pensions, for 401K’s leaving the responsibility with the employee. The youth watch first-hand as their grandparents’ health deteriorates from stress, an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle, leaving them dependent on medication during their golden years.
Grandparents and elders role as an in-house “YODA,” providing wisdom for the successful survival of the future generation, has been trashed. They lack understanding of the current environment in which they live and are unable to provide guidance to the next generation in our confusing technological society. This is the catalyst for the younger generations’ disdain toward the elderly.
Leaving out animals who eat their young, such as sand tiger sharks, spiders, and chickens, homo-sapiens can learn a lot from other animals in regards to child rearing. Animals, regardless of them being matriarchal, patriarchal, practitioners of polygyny or monogamy, the elders prepare their young to survive in their environment. Elephants are born blind and are fortunate to have full-time baby-sitters (wouldn’t that be nice if we had free daycare in America). They learn what plants to eat and what plants not to eat from their elder. Cheetahs learn hunting from their elders. Are we as African Americans teaching the youth successful tactics for survival in America?
In our community elders are unknowledgeable about the skills and information needed to survive in our highly competitive, fast-paced environment. As stated earlier, modern elders are also financially burdened themselves, fretting about their future as pensions are becoming obsolete and Social Security’s future seems very bleak. Those fortunate to receive a form of pension are faced with checks that do not fully cover living expenses forcing them into a semi-retirement working to make the balance.
As for information passed to the youth, outside of universal life lessons, any concrete information about our society is not spoken of. The elderly cannot be blamed, for the environment they live is foreign to them. Numerous mature people of America struggle with online applications and automated customer services. Smart phones are also not so user-friendly to someone born before 1950 who has not followed the changes in technology.
Despite these short-comings, grandparents and parents can recapture respect of the young by accumulating information applicable to the survival of their offspring, staying abreast on updates and changes, and having the means for successful participation. Our future generation must be abreast of technological advances for educational and employment opportunities. We must be financially literate so our young will have financial literacy, avoiding the pitfalls of debt that previous generations have struggled with.
We must do away with “Big Momma’s” idea of “soul food”, providing nutritious means of sustenance for our bodies; learn and apply a healthy form of eating while implementing a healthy lifestyle. We can no longer demand behaviors from our youth if we are unknowledgeable in those subjects and unwilling to gain that knowledge. For the role of elder to change we must be stalwart in changing our approach to the accumulation of information that can assist our young so when they are released in the harsh world in which they will have to live, they will have the knowledge and strength to survive.
Staff Writer; Linton Hinds Jr.