When They Reminisce Over You...
Meeting at the Crossroads
Dengue Fever - "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong" (mp3)
OutKast - "Spottieottiedopaliscious" (mp3)
In a way, a generation has officially passed. Rosa Louise Parks was the last of the landmark figures of the Civil Rights Movement (certainly, Jesse Jackson will be heavily eulogized, but history will likely not elevate his '60s efforts to MLK proportion; and as much as I will boost for Angela Davis, I am doubtful she will be remembered like Ms. Parks in my lifetime). Although a finer scan of history deflates a bit of the mythology around Parks, she remains the bastion of the previous generation's achievements in social progress.
For my generation (born between the late '60s and early '80s), Parks and the Civil Rights Movement represent a spectrum of symbols: hope for further social progress, harsh lessons for playing by the rules. On either side, there are strains of the truth, grains of falsities. Instead of debating how great or overrated she was, I would like to redirect the question: what does the passing of Rosa Parks signify to my generation, or, to expand Kitwana's idea, the Hip Hop Generation?
The Civil Rights Movement came about at an apex in social and economic tensions in the U.S. These were days when race was explicitly criminalized, could lead to physical confrontation, and did in fact lead to physical confrontation. It was a boiling point period and a generation of citizens recognized the situation. The success of the Movement was to stand up to legalized (key word) discrimination, and persuade the Courts to back the law down. Hence, the achievements of our activist predecessors got us so far. The torch was passed, and off my generation went toward the multicultural, millenial ho-down.
But the hand-off wasn't so smooth.
I suppose there are no entirely smooth transitions from generation to generation. However, in my generation's defense, we got stuck with a complicated part of the puzzle. Courts are not so much the battleground as much as personal engagement (You mean I gotta talk to these bastards? I keed!); after all, we cannot dictate personal behavior by rewriting the laws (knock on wood). It's like those group projects you had to do in school where you split up the work and half the group goes to the library, gets all the books, and then passes volumes of notes onto you and you're supposed to synthesize it all and write it out in a comprehensible manner. Huh? Not to say that the Civil Rights Movement got "the easy part," no way; too many people lost their lives for that kind of disrespect. I am just saying that the method to approach discrimination and prejudice in the 21st Century requires a subtlety that my generation is only beginning to grasp.
So, as 2005 winds down, as the 50th Anniversary of Montgomery approaches, and I look back not just on Rosa Parks (who stood for more than just sitting her ass down), but also Fred Korematsu, I am considering how we can build on their achievements, regardless of how small or large, significant or insignificant one considers them to be. After all, Siddhartha may have been onto something when he saw suffering and desire walking hand-in-hand...
Today's music selections are from artists of my generation, both of whom hold highly personal belief systems that require deep engagement. More important, the music is meant as a small tribute.
"Sleepwalking" takes a distant, wistful quality today. As I look out on the torrential rain pelting an entire corner of the country, Ch'hom Nimol's vocals echo like battered memories. A fitting soundtrack to the long road back to the earth, taken from Dengue Fever's excellent sophomore album, Escape From Dragon House.
Rosa's legal standoff with those two dope boys in a Cadillac seemed like an inevitable conflict of the generations, much like how Cos blew up the spot. But damn, damn, damn, damn... "Spottie" marinates in the sticky muck of today. The past isn't so foreign, is it? Hollywood Cole still tears his shirt off at the first sign of adversity, and necks still smell sweet like yams with extra syrrup. I hope that even Rosa would recognize that.
I'll end by riffing on Cos' May 2004 spiel: It's time to get in the face of our own business. Then we'll see what's really goin' on.