Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why Giving Them Everything is Bad

It’s the noblest of causes, the issue of making things better for future generations. After all, who can argue with fighting to remove barriers so that those after you aren’t subjected to unjust challenges you and those before you endured?

But observe such movements long enough and you’ll find an ironic byproduct; future generations, without connection to these challenges, glorify the stereotypes that were once fought in the name of their dignity. In other words; they leap headfirst out of the frying pan and smack into the very fire the elders tried to save them from.

When women fought for suffrage and later for equal rights, they wanted future generations of girls to grow up just as boys do: feeling they could follow any dream they wanted; pursue any career or goal and be treated with the same respect. The goal was to be judged by their legitimate merits and not be objectified in the process. Fast forward to early 21st century, and you have a pop culture supported by young women who’d much rather be called sexy than smart. As if they couldn’t be both!

When hip-hop was born in the streets not far from where I grew up, I was still a kid but I knew I was witnessing something both hopeful and incredible. Once an upper middle-class haven, the Bronx we grew up had become a wasteland of abandoned and burnt out buildings surrounded by rubble-filled lots. This was our playground. The only parks and playgrounds still standing were infested with gangs, drug dealers and strung out junkies.

Those were the days when the Bronx was always burning. That summer the NY Yankees were in the midst of an amazing winning season. As their championship was televised across the country, Howard Cosell famously said the Bronx was burning because its people were torching their own city. Had he or anyone given enough of a damn to look, they would’ve seen the truth before the damage was done: Landlords, in an effort to cash in on the suburban boom Upstate, would hire arsonists to burn their own buildings then take off with the insurance money to build outside of the Bronx. Those families without the means to move out (mostly Black and Hispanic) had no choice but to live in the few buildings that remained standing.

Still reeling long after the Vietnam War depleted the country of resources (sound familiar?) the Bronx and the rest of NYC was left to rot. With nowhere safe to go, kids began gathering in the streets with milk crates of records and miles of heavy duty extension cords they’d rig to street lamps to power their turntables. A microphone and some speakers was all they needed and the sounds would echo through the empty buildings and into our windows. There, in the rubble, a party would break out. The guy on the mic would start rhyming over the beats, telling people to throw their hands in the air and wave them like “you jus’ don’t care.” Crowds would gather and kids would show up with cardboard and jean cuffs pinned tight around their ankles. They’d groove to the beats like robots, undulate like snakes and spin on their backs so quickly that their legs became helicopter blades. These kids made something out of nothing, and that’s what hip-hop was about back in the day.

Today, with few exceptions, the average hip-hop song sounds more like a shopping list of gaudy shit only new money would buy. The misogyny that was always an underlying part of the culture now takes blatant center stage, making old songs and videos tame in comparison. There are still some creative and even groundbreaking rappers out there, (Common, some Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, K-OS, Talib Kweli—to name a few) but they’re not the norm.

What happened to Hip-hop is the same thing that happened to the women’s movement. The new guard doesn’t know or therefore care what it took for them to get there. In the process, they’ve got nothing of substance to pull their aspirations from.

And nowhere is this becoming more of an issue than in the way we choose to raise the future generation of kids. Parents don’t want their kids to suffer any of the hardships they or their parents went through—great! But shouldn’t this be done so that the next generation is free to tackle new frontiers and challenges without being held back as we once were?

As a soon-to-be mom, I’m already thinking about what’s best for my little one’s well being. But I admit it makes me squirm when I see how some modern parents go to counterproductive extremes to make their kids’ world the best ever. Over-structured agendas, organic everything and constant self-esteem building sound great in theory, but too much of a good thing can be bad.

Making sure your children live in a safe, happy environment is something all parents should aspire to, but it’s ridiculous what we try to shield our kids from these days. As I learn about all the “must have items” I should be getting my new baby, I’m dazzled by how much we’re overdoing it: Baby wipe warmers! For shit’s sake—pun intended—will Child Protective Services come after me if it’s discovered that my baby experienced a cold snap on its privates with a wipey?

Don’t get me wrong, I want my little one to have it easier than his parents, but I don’t want a kid who assumes that he’s entitled to little or no discomfort in life. Striving has never been a bad thing, yet it feels that this has become taboo.

I’m not going off into a rant about how young people today are no good little punks with no drive; I don’t believe that, nor do I appreciate when older people punk out with that lame-ass excuse for their own generation’s failings. Kids can only do what they are allowed—or not allowed to do. If you don’t allow a child to face a challenge or resolve it on their own, then how will they learn? If you fix everything so that they never know rejection, loss or accountability for their actions, how will they really grow?

Give a child everything and you teach them nothing. With little learned, there’s little to inspire, hence why much of today’s pop culture lacks substance, why social progress seems to go backwards and why my little one will not be getting a Baby wipe warmer. It’s a cold world out there sometimes, and the sooner he learns it, the more prepared he will be for it.

Babycakes, you’ll thank me later, I promise. If not, I give you permission to write a “Mommy Dearest” book about me.

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