Monday, June 13, 2016

The Return of the Elders

Everyone in the black community talks about who's not fulfilling their role.  The men say the women are not women anymore.  The women say the men are not men anymore.  And everybody says the children are buck wild.

But nobody ever talks about the elders.
That's because in America, elders are a waste of space, getting in the way and keeping the young people from doing their thing.  Everybody knows it's all about the youth.

Clearly, our African ancestors didn't see it that way.  Anything you ever see from the Motherland has the elders propped up high and getting mad respect.  

But maybe that's just lip service.  Maybe they see them as "almost ancestors" about to cross over to the other side.  Maybe they're trying to get the hookup.

Nope, that can't be.  African elders not only made most of the social policy, they were in charge of enforcing it.
So what happened to us?  

Can you believe that when I was a child, elders were much more loud and visible?  We would be playing up and down the street, and about to get into something we shouldn't, like sneaking to smoke a cigarette.  Our eyes darted to all the houses that we knew old people lived in.  There was always a curtain rustling in one of those houses.  If we kept on looking like mischief, one of the elders would come stand on the porch and stare us down.
If we still kept it up, they would say something.  The last and final step was to say something to our parents.  That meant an automatic whooping if the elder was trusted and known, but we were lucky;  in my mama's day, that meant TWO whoopings.  One from the elder, and one from a parent.  

When we grew up, we became aware of the world around us.  Our elders knew we would soon be "out there" and exposed to all kinds of things, and they wanted to prepare us.  Sometimes they would call you over and sit you down for long talks.  Sometimes, they would just talk to each other, but real loud so you could hear it all.  The convo might go something like this:

Elder #1:  "White folks is just as nasty. They over there wife swapping and whatnot."
Elder #2:  "Wife swapping?  What is wife swapping?"
Elder #1:  "That's when they go with each other's wives."
Chorus of all elders present:  "Ugh! Ew! Un unh!"
Elder #1:  "White folks is just as nasty!"

Now, YOU might be "just as nasty" yourself.  YOU might be itching to try wife swapping too.  But you learned 3 things in just walking by that day.
1. Wife swapping is nasty.
2. Wife swapping is something that black folks don't do.
3.  White folks is just as nasty
So if you were going to do it, you better hide that shit.  And in hiding it, that means you had better take it outside the community or else it would surely get around.  And because you snuck and took it outside the community, the children of the community never got exposed to it and it never got a foothold there and that's how the black community stayed so conservative in the old days.

Elders were everywhere, and all the young people were sick to death of them. They did a lot of match making, making sure they picked to death anybody that was looking to coast and be single indefinitely.  They also kept bullies from doing as much harm as they could, because they were always watching.  People couldn't rob and steal while folks were working in our neighborhood, and the news always circulated.  They were extremely active members in the community.  But mainly they were the structure of the community itself.

Think about it.  If your 20-something year old cousin loses her first apartment due to smoking weed when she should be working, and spending her rent money on getting her hair did and partying, you wouldn't be all that surprised.  
But if your grandma, whose had the same phone number since nineteen hundred and seventy-two did all that, you'd be shocked.  

That's 'cause old people are stuck in their ways. They are dependable and solid.  So if you want your community to have those qualities, you need elders.  
After all, you cannot get those qualities from testosterone, from estrogen, and certainly not from children.