For the past couple of years the New School has invited the esteemed author Gloria Jean Watkins also known as bell hooks, to host a week long series of talks and lectures as a Scholar in Residence ($$$) lol. This year the line up was pretty exciting with conversations taking place for public consumption and featuring some of bell’s most well known colleagues like Gloria Steinem, Cornel West and Samuel Delany.
With the life and times of New York City whirling me around, I was only able to attend the talk with Gloria Steinem and the closing conversation with filmmaker Arthur Jafa. I caught the livestream of her talk with Cornel West as well, which was very entertaining and reminded me alot of past family reunions at my grandmother’s home in Chicago.
Anyone can recognize that these great writers and social activists of our time have been important leaders for civil rights and equality within the past 50 years. And with the generational shift towards the politics of the 2000s it comes as no surprise that most of these intellectuals are not happy with the progress that’s been made. In many ways the legal rights of women, children and people of color have reverted backwards to conditions worse than the time of folks like bell hooks and Gloria Steinem.
I consider these points a given under the conditions of any person not thinking they’d live long enough to see if the groundwork of their legacies could sustain for decades to come.
What truly surprised me in listening to these brilliant minds was my realization that they were members of an entire age demographic I’ve had little to no exposure to. Aside from one Granny I still get to visit about once a year. At this point you might be thinking, so what? You don’t know alot of old people, big deal. Sure, it may not seem that bad, but I believe the disconnect to previous generations is why my people (Americans between the ages of 18-30) lack a foundation in community, history and personal identity.
I’m sure you’ve heard some old person declare something like this before, muttering on about kids today lacking respect for their elders- you’ve likely also seen a young person like me roll their eyes at such statements. What makes this lack of elderly exposure relevant is how hard I’ve been finding it to listen to the advice of this older generation, mainly because of cultural disconnect. I feel that if I had spent more time around this population I’d have more respect for them and actually be able to consider their thoughts on things more earnestly. As it stands I don’t always get where they are coming from and often find myself skeptical of their perspective even though they have years of life experience.
Why do we doubt them? First of all, I know I speak for many of us in regards to having young family trees. The one Granny I’ve ever known just turned 80 and outlived her 9 siblings. She’s likely to become one of the only people to make it past age 65 in my family lineage for generations to come. (we’ll cover healthcare another day) Every year my cousins are becoming grandmothers in their 30s and 40s. With the cultural norms of the African American diaspora being what they are, my parents come from estranged families of the 1970s where brothers didn’t talk for decades, mothers often introduced long lost “Uncles” and fathers were unclaimed whispers hidden in group photos on the living room mantel.
So what can we do? Listen.
We’ve got to try to listen to the wisdom of these great thinkers, even if we don’t agree with their perspective at times. When I am next presented with an opportunity to hear the perspective of someone older than my parents, I will listen hard.