Saturday, February 03, 2007

Generation Gap

This is neither here nor there, but it jumped out at me a couple of days ago.

A couple days ago the New York Times ran an AP article about "gangsta" parties thrown by white college students. The parties feed on racial stereotypes, and so the question is whether the white college students realize that, well, these parties are pretty offensive.

At the end, the story quoted a researcher who suggested that the students were just oblivious to the existence of racism:

''This is a new generation who grew up watching `The Cosby Show,''' Picca said. ''They have the belief that racism isn't a problem anymore so the words they use and the jokes they tell aren't racist.''

Picca said she found it ''heartbreaking'' to see so many well-educated students perpetuating the stereotypes.

That leapt out at me, because I thought I was part of the generation that grew up watching The Cosby Show. (I never actually watched it, but never mind.) And a quick check of Wikipedia confirmed my suspicion: The Cosby Show ran from 1984-1992. That means it went off the air 15 years ago. In other words, it went off the air when today's 21 year old college student was 6 years old. And that means they could hardly have grown up watching the show. (Yes, I know this discounts reruns, but then you might as well also say that they also grew up watching "I Love Lucy" or any other once-popular sitcom.)

This is a mistake that we college professors risk making all the time: referring to some cultural touchstone that, actually, isn't a touchstone for our students. Usually that just makes us look dated and fusty. But here it can also show how little we really understand our students' lives.


Blogger Kristin said...

As a member of the generation of which you speak (although I attempt to avoid being so as often as possible), I would venture some guesses.
I don't exactly know what my generation grew up watching because I was not interested in TV in the least (I was too busy being a child) but it seems to me that we grew up watching sitcoms which were racially mixed to the politically correct percentage. This would probably be something like this: one white protagonist, some supporting white people, two supporting black people (one male and one female, treated with respect by the white characters), one occasional asian person (of little to no character depth), and zero Hispanics or Latinos/Latinas. The shows that had a black protagonist were usually not watched by whites. There was not, to my recollection, a strong African-American figure such as Cosby for us to look up to (Will Smith was still too comedic in those days, although I enjoyed Fresh Prince quite a bit). Racism was thought to be dealt with properly by then so henceforce it is a topic not publically discussed.
This is how misogynistic rap and the use of the word "nigga" snuck in to popular culture without serious consideration, crowding out the rap artists who don't endorse the "gangsta" lifestyle.
Accordingly, children of the material generation, and those born since, have assumed that nothing they do or say now is racist since it was a mental disease of the past that has since been "cured."
The current generations of young people, if I may say so myself, are less aware of anything meaningful then any others.
I can't point to why, other than to suggest a cultural and political correctness overload. Perhaps what I am seeing is normal teenage tunnel-vision.
Whatever the causes, racism would be too uncomfortable a subject for most college students to consider outside of a mandatory (and moderated) classroom discussion.

5:14 PM  
Blogger John said...

A subject such as racism cannot thoroughly have been dealt with, regardless of whether or not it was thought to have been so. This can be embodied in the scrutiny associated with a judge's potential to be a "reverse-racist." The term itself implies a new face of the issue in that people who judge others based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character can now avoid being "racists" if they are already people of ethnic minority. That creates a fasle pretense in which racism is a sin exclusive to the majority which is then reciprocated upon them as retaliation by the various minorities. Its cycling will not let it go away until we learn tolerance, mercy, and kindness often overcome what legislation cannot.

12:21 PM  

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