I WANNA BE DOWN
Or
CAN I ROLL WIT' CHU?

Let me throw something out to you, my intelligent readers. There is an idea in the annals of sociology, that states that "values are the instructions to higher prestige in a society." To me this was not only profound, but allowed me to see the world in a brand new light. After I explain this idea, I hope the light shines on your path also.

We all have older relatives who may look down upon some of our behaviors with disdain.

"Boy, how 'bout pullin' dem pants up off of your tail." Grandmother would say while pursing her lips and shaking her head.

"I just don't understand why you young girls wanna go puttin' all dem kool aid colors in your hair for." And older aunt may say with her hands pressed against her hips.

Let me tell my readers that the kids of one generation are trying to accomplish the same thing that the aunts and uncles and grandparents of the older generation are and were trying to accomplish all of their lives. They are trying to achieve higher prestige&emdash;they are trying to be the big shots in their society. We all want to do this. We all do things to look good in our peers' eyes. We want to be "down". We all adopt the mannerisms and styles and values of our peers in order to gain popularity. Both the old and the young hope to do things to gain this higher prestige.

The clash between generations occurs when the instructions to higher prestige are different. Older people remember what the instructions were like in their culture (for example, my grandfather considered a low hair cut with the hair greased to the scalp with pomade, a white tee shirt, and narrow hipped jeans as what one should wear in order to gain prestige). While these days the rules or values in certain environments are different (I may consider a temp fade and slightly baggy jeans with a Polo shirt as what I should wear to gain prestige). This clash in values are what causes the older people to shake their heads in anger, and younger people to rail up in anger at their "square" adults.

The young and the old both want the same high prestige&emdash;and one has to look at the environment in which a person is placed in order to see what rules that person will follow in order to gain it. If a kid sees his classmates playing video games, cutting school, and getting cornrows he is going to adopt the styles of his classmates, because he wants higher prestige. He wants to be "down". But, quite frankly, the grandmother or mother also wants the kid to be "down" with her idea of what it takes to gain higher prestige.

The examples don't even have to be so drastic. The way one speaks, the kinds of cars one prefers, the music one likes, all depend on the environment one lives in and the actions that one is exposed to.

Take me for example. Because I was always a loner, and was an only child for most of my life, I lived in the world of books. I ended up reading the autobiographies of great writers and intellectuals, and I spent little time "hanging out" with the fellas. So for me, I wanted to gain higher prestige by going to school, getting degrees, and writing books and columns.

And this is where I want to make a point. If in a child's environment he sees people not into education, or not into religion, but instead into misogynistic behavior, profane language, and the like&emdash;then those are the things he thinks will lead him to high prestige, and those will be the things that he does. Regardless of what the people say, its' what the people do in his environment that will influence that child. He just wants to be down. Berating a child for choosing something that seems silly to you is due to a lack of understanding on your part, and not the kids'.


Roderick Graham is a graduate student at the University of South Carolina working on my Ph.D. in social psychology. He can be contacted via e-mail at grahamrs@mailbox.sc.edu


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