Intergenerational Disconnect

Intergenerational Disconnect


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The current intergenerational disconnect, however, may be more severe; and it may result in more

unsettling consequences, than previous ones.  During the past thirty years, I think I have witnessed

the rise of generations of Blacks who are severely individualistic and uncommonly anti-historical.



Intergenerational Disconnect

Letter to Seneca Turner on Obama

By Floyd W Hayes, III

 February 14, 2009


Dear Seneca, 

I am in receipt of your last correspondence in which you ask: (1) whether the political landscape has changed since the presidential election of Barack Obama, and (2) what now is the role of Black elders in these changing times?  We live in complicated and tragic times, but this is not the first time this has occurred.  The times they are changing, but I am not sure I would characterize this transition as a “paradigm shift.”  Clearly, we are not witnesses to the arrival of a “post-racist” moment in American history!  I do think another kind of shift has been happening for nearly three decades that can help to explain some of the changes that are taking place now and that relate to the questions you have raised.

In the mid-1980s, I began to notice that younger and older Blacks no longer seemed to be talking to each other in a serious sense about life and living.  More and more my students were telling me that they and their parents hardly talked much.  One student said: “When I come into the house, my parents are leaving; and when they come in, I am leaving.”  I came to refer to this phenomenon as “intergenerational disconnect,” as I asserted at the last Black Studies Conference at Olive Harvey College in 2007 (please see the enclosed outline of my talk, entitled “Social Change, Intergenerational Disconnect, and Africana Studies: A Call for a Scholarship of Indictment in a Culture of Decadence, Disillusionment, and Death.”) 

The present intergenerational disconnect is the outcome of the post-Civil Rights and post-Black Power Eras, which declined for various external and internal complications and contradictions.  It could be argued that there were earlier moments of intergenerational disconnect.  Recall that many Blacks born near the end of the 19th century refused to tell the new generation much about slavery and its immediate aftermath.  I remember my mother’s grand aunt, Mary; she was my maternal grandmother’s aunt, and she had been born in 1869.  She used to visit us in Gary, IN, when I was very little; and she took me shopping downtown. 

My mother has told me often how she tried in vain to get Aunt Mary to talk about the family’s history; surely, Aunt Mary’s mother had to have been a slave.  But Aunt Mary refused.  She was an educated woman and a school teacher in St. Louis, MO.  And she looked pale white!  My mother and I think she was just embarrassed to discuss family history, which obviously included a white father and, thus, other white members.  My mother experienced intergenerational disconnect.  History stopped, perhaps as a result of conscious historical amnesia!  Blacks just didn’t talk much about the past.

Significantly, as a high school student in the late 1950s—I graduated in 1961—and during my first year at North Carolina Central University in 1963, I knew nothing about the early Pan-African (anti-colonial and anti-racist) struggles waged among intellectual-warriors from Africa, the Caribbean, and the USA.  I knew nothing of figures, such as Sylvester Williams, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, and Richard Wright.  The McCarthy Era of US fascism had effectively crushed earlier radical movements among Blacks and whites, creating an intergenerational disconnect between my generation and earlier ones. 

I didn’t begin to learn this history until about 1964, when I became conscious of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.  I also met students from Africa and the Caribbean.  By that time, I was a second-year student at NCCU, and I had begun taking courses in African and Black American history with the renowned Professor Caulbert A. Jones.  It was because of his engrossing lectures that I began to read this important history with a vengeance.  Yeah, I was a French major (and later added political science), but I read African and Black American history as if my life depended on that knowledge! 

In addition to writing formal research papers in class, I wrote 10-15 page letters home to my parents, excitedly telling them all that I was learning in Jones’ classes.  Therefore, I gradually embraced a historical perspective (with the aid of Carter G. Woodson and Du Bois) that challenged everything I previously had learned about American and Western history.  Although I had not experienced slavery or segregation, I came to embrace those historical realities as if I had.  Equally important was my reading of radical scholarship of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, C. L. R. James, Richard Wright, and Frantz Fanon. 

I did this reading independent of any course assignments.  This is the kind of existential experience and intellectual strategy that led me into the late-1960s and that has remained with me to the present.  Moreover, all my adult life, I have had older friends (like you and Thais) who have taken time to school me about their own experiences, knowledge, and ways of knowing the world. I suspect that this was a conscious and personal effort to bridge a possible intergenerational gap.  We were generations who knew the value of past and present connections.

Significantly, even though past intergenerational fissures occurred, younger generational members tried to read about or in some other way gain and maintain some knowledge about previous historical eras so that they could pass their knowledge on to the next generations.  Many older folks studied as much as they could in order to forestall absolute historical amnesia.  Think of figures like J. A. Rogers, Leo Hansberry, Dr. Ben, John G. Jackson, Chancellor Williams, John Henrik Clarke, and even the late book dealer Alfred Ligon in Los Angeles.  And there was Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal!  These and other historians preserved knowledge of the past for many in my adult generation.  They were the people I read from the late 1960s to the present.

The current intergenerational disconnect, however, may be more severe; and it may result in more unsettling consequences, than previous ones.  During the past thirty years, I think I have witnessed the rise of generations of Blacks who are severely individualistic and uncommonly anti-historical.  I first noticed the development of this contemporary intergenerational gap while I at San Diego State University in the mid-1980s.  Students would tell me that they hardly ever spent time talking with their parents about life and living.  This was the Age of Reagan; radical (and not so radical) social movements of the late-1960s had been crushed.  Unlimited greed and unvarnished anti-Black racism, crass individualism and cultural meanness, and mounting anti-intellectualism and professionalism, became the order of the day. 

This was the period of forced business acquisitions and mergers, as the gangster Reagan regime allowed corporate capitalism to go after mega-profits.  It was in this context that parents, even Black parents, sought not a wealth in knowledge but a wealth in money.  So busy were they in search of this enterprise that they avoided or neglected their children.  These parents had little interest in anti-racist struggle; they failed to pass on to the next generation any knowledge or commitment to collective Black struggle for liberation.  Increasingly, younger generations grew up with little or no knowledge of the past.  Never having experienced segregation, and too young to remember radical social movements of the 1960s, Blacks born in the 1980s and early 1990s constitute a new generation that is historically rudderless and lost in turbulent seas of America’s failing and decadent empire. 

I refer to this new generation as “personalist” and “presentist.”   Their knowledge and ways of knowing are personal, so focused are they on the self.  And because they are so young, they view the present as superior to the past or even the future.  This is a here-and-now generation!  There is much indifference in this generation, even to learning.  Today’s university students read substantially less than students of previous generations.  Is this also a result of advanced technologies?  But everything is contextual.  Absentee parents left this younger generation “dispossessed.”  Indeed, the last 20 years have given rise to a situation in which younger and older folks scarcely talk with each other about life and living.

Significantly, contemporary parent-child relationships seem to be producing students whose value systems are reflective of their parents’ acquisitive and indifferent orientation.  I find fewer and fewer students to be intellectually inquisitive.  Most of them read only what they are assigned, and many read only a portion of those assignments.  Many of my students generally do not write well.  They all want “good” grades, but they seem unwilling to put in the hard work necessary to earn those grades.  Intellectually indifferent, many members of new generations even are disconnected from the struggle for knowledge or quality education. 

When I speak of putting maximum effort in their scholarship, students often look at me like I were from outer space!  Over the last 10 years, this reality has become particularly evident.  Most of my students know little about earlier Black liberation struggles.  The know little about the history of Africa, the Caribbean, or Black America. Moreover, they seem to possess neither the will nor the commitment to engage in collective struggle.  Indeed, so many are individually conflict-avoidant, much like President Obama appears to be.  But even he has studied Black history well, as a reading of his books will indicate. 

It is against this background that one can look at the present social and political transition and the role of elders as the Obama administration seeks to manage American and global affairs.  There is no paradigm shift in terms of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, yet.  There is some movement on the part of young whites and Blacks, both of whom may be experiencing a good bit of historical amnesia.  This kind of amnesia also can alter the role of Black elders, especially those who are the parents of today’s younger generations.  The intergenerational disconnect of which I speak may very well be resulting in shifting the ground beneath the feet of Black elders.  Historical amnesia prevents the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of elders’ traditional roles.  Who has schooled the younger generations about the conventional roles of elders?   In many respects, the phenomenon of intergenerational disconnect has eclipsed those roles.  So, one might ask what role Obama might play in the lives of this new generation.  Will he inspire this new generation, directly or indirectly, to recapture the value of historical knowledge for the purpose of redesigning the future of Black people around the world?

Now, I have written in general terms, looking at trends, developments, and contradictions. Nothing is absolute.  But these elements may suggest future challenges to Black people in the USA.  Will post-Civil Rights and post-Black Power generations think that anti-Black racism is over in America and give up a concern for and commitment to the struggle for Black liberation?  Can or will elders and younger generations find common ground and begin to bridge the communicative disconnect?  Can they learn to value each other; can they learn to listen to each other; can they learn from each?


Floyd  Floyd W. Hayes, III, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science Coordinator of Programs and Undergraduate Studies Center for Africana Studies, The Johns Hopkins University Greenhouse 107 / 3400 N. Charles Street / Baltimore, MD 21218 Phone: 410-516-7659 / FAX: 410-516-7312 /

*   *   *   *   *


Floyd, thanks ever so much for sharing your work and thoughts with us. I quite agree that these cultural transmissions can be cyclical. One might say that these cultural transmissions of poverty result from the high rate of illiteracy in our communities, even Colin Powell spoke recently of the 50 per cent rate of school drop out.  You spoke of the lack of reading and study within our communities: teachers in working class high schools complain much about it, as well. But they themselves are not scholars, writers, and readers. Their emphasis is on individual career rather than community struggle. Then the accounting standards for public school education emphasize test taking as the least common denominator.  After more than a hundred years we have yet to develop, like the Jews, a culture of literacy and interpretation. Our emphasis is on performance and cultural aspects of poverty, namely, gangsterism and stylization. How we break this present cycle of the cultural of poverty, since the 90s, is beyond me.  I hope the Obama Era will start a new beginning, a new cycle, a new drive for literacy and thoughtfulness among black youth. $100 billion has been pressed into the stimulus bill for education. I am certain that resolving some of the difficulties of urban poverty, different from just being poor, is tied to this problem of valuing learning.—Rudy

*   *   *   *   *

Dear friends,

The percentage of urban blacks who value learning is very small, to be sure. Regardless of ethnicity, many of us poor working class folk who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s faced a cultural divisiveness imposed on us by middle and higher classes.

    For example, because I was a factory worker’s kid, I was not supposed to sit first chair clarinet. The son of a school Principal was supposed to sit in that chair and win all the challenges. The challenge system was blind and I won all of them, which angered the professional caste. I also faced opposition from my family, who rather wanted me to play football and win an Oklahoma University athletic scholarship. The men all thought I was a “sissy.” Then, as now, for a youth growing up in the violent culture of football, war mongering and the John Wayne or gangster or styling cultures of masculinity we have discussed before, one has to be stronger than strong. I was and triumphed as did many others across the nation. That should not be in the so-called “land of the free.”

    I preached about some February born changers of history in church today: Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, and Darwin.

Very different personalities to be sure, ranging from fierce, determined struggler to self-educated, outgoing, extroverted attorney to the quiet, shy, careful, scholarly son of well off English people. Their sheer variety reminded me of a training game NASA uses for astronauts.

    The so-called NASA game has participants imagine they are stranded on the Moon. They have a list of 14 steps listed in random order. When properly and precisely ordered, the 14 steps will enable them to get off the Moon and come home. The groups dominated by one or two loud mouthed people never get off the Moon. The groups where everyone gets to speak up and matters to everyone else usually make the right list and get off the Moon and back to Earth.

    I believe in this kind of process. If black urban education leaders come together  with the parents and youth they teach and really speak to and hear each other and value everyone in the group, then maybe, just maybe, we can “get off the Moon” of illiteracy and the culture of self-destruction and “come home” to a culture of valuing really valuable learning. Maybe. Ralph

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *



posted 15 February 2009




Home   Floyd W Hayes III Table  Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table and Bio

Related files: Seneca Turner’s Thoughts upon Revisiting Hip Hop

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.