How Far have We Come?

by Damon L. Fordham

This weekend, I had some time on my hands so I decided to perform a little experiment. People who grew up in the 1970s usually have a lot of criticism (some of it being justified) of the current youth culture. But being 34 years old myself and having seen the sunset of the 70s era and the dawn of the "hip-hop" era, I've always felt that the youth of today are actually following the foul examples that were set for them by the previous generation.

Case in point, I have seen "Sweet Sweetback," "Shaft", "Superfly" ad nauseum as well as their modern counterparts "New Jack City", "Menace to Society," "I'm 'Bout It," etc. So I tried a little something. I rented "The Mack," with Richard Pryor and Max Julian from 1973 and "Belly," a recent "ghettoes and gangsters and guns" (oh, my!) film with the current stars DMX and T-Boz Watkins that Magic Johnson banned from his theater chain. Fact is folks, I might as well have been watching the same damn movie!

Let me break it down. In "The Mack," you have some of the popular stars of the day in a tale about pimping. The pimp (Max Julian) is the hero of the story and "lives large" in spite of his heartless exploitation of his community. There is a voice of reason in the film (Roger Mosely as the pimp's Black nationalist brother) and the violent end shows that pimping is not the way to go, but this message is lost upon the young ghetto viewers the film is aimed toward since it is shoehorned in at the last moment and we have just been bombarded for 2 hours with sweet soul music and the ghetto glamour of the pimp's lifestyle.

"Belly" is pretty much the same story 25 years later. Only this time, the music is rap instead of 70s soul. Here we have a drug dealer instead of a pimp as the hero and he also comes to the conclusion that its time to change his ways. This film also pretends to be a cautionary tale (Minister Benjamin Chavis Muhammad of the Nation of Islam gives a very moving sermon at the end of the film to warn young people of the dangers of this kind of lifestyle). But once again, this message is lost to the impressionable ghetto youths due to the film's 2 hour bombardment of violence, sex, and the ghetto glamour of the drug dealer.

The historian Lerone Bennett, in reviewing the music, movies, violence and drug abuse among the young people has said "WE ARE LOSING A GENERATION OF PEOPLE!" I'm sure that most of you would agree, but get this: he said this in an article in Jet magazine-back in November, 1976! Sadly, much of what Brother Bennett had predicted has come to pass. The decadence of the youth of today did not come from thin air, they learned it from those who came before them.

Dear people, the wise and intelligent among us must do as the great revolutionary David Walker demanded of us back in 1829-"Men (and women) of color who are also of sense-WE MUST GO TO WORK AND UPLIFT OUR BRETHERN!"

How Far have We Come? by Damon L. Fordham

© Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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