One of the most common refrains traveling from old folks’ mouths to young folks’ ears, is “Young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat,” especially after a song by Parliament/Funkadelic or The Emotions comes on, or some elder mentions a name like Pam Grier or gets into a debate about which team was better, the “Big Red Machine” or Derek Jeter’s Yankees.
First, we have to address whether the phrase is justified or are old folks just trippin’? Whether them old folk are trippin’ or not, the phrase is mos def justified. Because there’s all kinds of things young folk don’t know nuthin’ bout. So, I put together a list of the Top 10 such things. Here they are:
Don’t get me wrong; I love hip hop. Or at least old-school hip hop. I can’t understand mumble rappers. And most other songs today sound the same to me. I’m not saying there aren’t any talented artists these days. There are. But they don’t get the love they deserve because our musical tastes have been dumbed down over the years.
The appreciation for live music, instrumentation and actual singing has taken a backseat to drum tracks, manufactured beats and lip syncing without a musician or singer in sight. I have a theory that when music became hyper-individualized, with everyone listening to their own tunes via ear-buds, that time-honored tradition of kids having to listen to their parents’ “horrible” music broke something in us.
When me and my sister were kids, our dad would constantly play jazz and blues. I heard every Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane and Sassy Sarah Vaughn album ever made. And FYI, if you haven’t heard Jimmy Smith’s “The Sermon” you haven’t lived. But the music that made my sister and I cringe the most was blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins. For some odd reason, he recorded a live album. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why. Every song ended with the three or four people in the audience clapping.
But years of enduring Hopkins and Johnny Lee Hooker and Miles Davis and even some Kenny Rodgers, allowed me to develop an appreciation for music beyond the “hits” on the radio. And I grew to learn that Lightning Hopkins, the brother that played to a bar room of maybe 10 people at best, also performed to sold out venues all over the word, and is considered by many to be the greatest blues performer of all time. See, young folk, your parents aren’t as clueless as they (we) often seem. And our musical heroes can teach you a thing or two. But today, young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
When my two youngest daughters were in high school, I asked them about what the dating scene was like. They laughed and told me people don’t talk face-to-face. They just slide in each other’s DMs and try to connect. Then, as these kids get older, they go the route of online dating services. But whatever happened to getting up the nerve to introduce yourself to someone you’re interested in, engaging in conversation, and attempting to establish something? Sure, it was scary, and it took nerve (and the ability to deal with rejection). But all this clandestine messaging and hoping something “sticks” seems weak. And sad.
In the classic movie Cooley High, one of the characters, the smoothest brother with the ladies, earned that reputation because he possessed a strong rap game. In fact, in one memorable scene, he convinced a young lady to allow his broke-ass friends to get into a rent party without paying. When the bruhs asked him how he convinced the sister working at the door to let them in, he replied “Rap 13 works every time.”
I’m not advocating brothers or sisters running game. I’m just saying we need a return to talking to people face-to-face. And your rap doesn’t need to be just some BS lines you use to try to get over (i.e. game); although that would be better than just slipping into someone’s DMs. But oftentimes the best rap is no rap at all. It’s just speaking from the heart, and letting the chips fall where they may. But, right now, it seems young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
When I’m walking from the parking lot into my local whatever store and a car slows down or stops so I can proceed, I put a little pep in my step to get across faster. I feel like it’s the least I can do. Conversely, when I see someone in that same situation not only choose not to walk with purpose, but literally slow down, I feel some type of way. It’s like there’s a rip or breach in the social contract to exchange kindness for kindness, courtesy for courtesy.
And I also see this loss of common courtesy on college campuses. I went to a PWI, where us Blackfolk spoke to each other whenever or wherever we saw each other. Fast-forward 75.9 million years, and I’m now teaching on a college campus (also a PWI), I’m amazed as I see Blackfolk pass each other with nary an acknowledgment. What the hell?
And this lack of common courtesy extends to the roadways. Would it kill you to use your turn signal before turning or changing lanes? And I don’t mean putting on your turn signal .0001 seconds before making your move, but in time for other drivers to figure out what the hell you’re trying to do. But to my chagrin, young folk (and a lot of old folk too) don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
And while we’re in our rides, let’s address these young folk who are habitual parking backer-iners. I understand the logic. They think they’ll save time on the back-end, being able to leave out faster than others. But if you add the 3 ½ hours it takes them to back into their dayyum parking space, are they really saving time? Old school folk know how to park “regular” and pull out just as fast (without hitting anybody) when it’s time to go. But I guess young folk don’t know ‘nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
Millennials and Gen Zers, I promise you I’m not lying when I say there used to be a thing called entertainers. I’m talking musical groups with coordinated outfits and choreographed movements, performing with military precision, yet with all the soul in the universe. Also, singers who actually sang, and possessed a level of showmanship that made for an entire experience. One of the reasons why so many parents and grandparents of these young folk love The Time, Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Jackson 5, the Commodores, Prince, and others, going all the way back to James Brown and beyond is because they put the show in showtime.
I can’t imagine paying money to go see someone lips sync or take the stage wearing absolutely anything and simply mumbling into the mic. As I’m typing this I realize how old I’m both sounding and feeling. But hey, I’ve seen young folk exposed to the power of a live concert experience with one of those old school acts, and leave out minds blown, wondering where all the real entertainers went. I’m wondering too. Because most young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
While in the heat of a little league football game, and totally unaware that my pre-teen voice could be heard by the parents (including mine) in the stands, I was cussin’ like a sailor. And I’ve never been one who used a lot of curse words, but in the heat of battle, I was letting them rip. A few days later, my mom sat me down and talked to me about using alternative words when I’m upset, like “shucks” and “pickles.” Funny, I know. But my mom’s calm conversation rocked me to the core. The idea that I cursed in front of my parents, and that they felt embarrassment behind that, put me on a trajectory of few curse words from that point on. And never, ever in front of my parents. Out of respect. But way too often, I see that such respect is fast becoming a relic of the past, because apparently, young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.
Honoring Family Name
I was not only committed to speaking and acting with dignity in front of my parents, but also folk in general out in public, especially my elders. Why? Because I was taught, like every other Black person I knew, not to act any kind of way after leaving home. To be disrespectful or involved in foolishness was to actively bring shame upon the family name. And our parents weren’t having it.
But for years now, that thinking has gone the way of the dinosaur. And I could offer a gazillion examples, but I’ll just stick to one. I’m in line at a grocery store. Two 20-something young ladies are in front of me. One of them has an infant with her. She’s talking to the other young sister about some person not there, and calling said third party every kind of b*tch and hoe in the book. In front of her child. And for all the store to hear. Either I’m getting too old, or honoring the family name is something young folk don’t nuthin’ ‘bout dat. Or both.
The Black Classics
This one is not young folks’ fault. But they are absolutely too shamefully ignorant of the Black classics. There was a time when you’d get your Black Card revoked if you hadn’t seen House Party, School Daze, Boyz N the Hood, Higher Learning, Sparkle (the original and remake), Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany, Do the Right Thing, Roots, Eyes on The Prize, A Different World, Boomerang, Roc… or if you hadn’t read any James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosely… or if you weren’t at least familiar with the Temptations, Supremes, Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, etc.
Us older folk weren’t on the job. We didn’t make sure our children got ample doses of these classics. So, young folk, when one of those movies, TV shows or songs come on, and one of your parents, uncles or aunties says, “You young folk don’t nuthin’ ‘bout that,” you tell’em, “You’re right. And it’s your fault.”
I swear, there used to be something known as neighborhoods. I kid you not. There was a time when people who lived on a street knew all their neighbors, even the ones they didn’t like. Sometimes, especially the ones they didn’t like. Folk could tell you who lived ‘round the corner, three blocks up the way, near the school, cross the street from the corner store and by the park. And that ancient rumor that all adults in the neighborhood would communicate with the parents of those kids who stepped out of line… that was very true.
See, what allowed for neighborhoods to exist was the existence of neighbors. These neighbors would have each other’s back, collect each other’s mail and papers when their neighbors were out of town (FYI: Newspapers used to be delivered daily to people’s homes, usually thrown in their yard by some young’un working a job as a paperboy… look it up if you don’t believe me).
And when everyone was in town, several neighborhoods held annual block parties, where folk would block off car access to the street, and everyone would be outside… kids running around playing, the adults doing some playing of their own (dominoes, cards, etc.), and everyone was eating and fellowshipping with music and merriment in full effect.
Nowadays, folk are hard-pressed to name two people that live within their vicinity. Hence, neighborhoods are a vanishing breed, because neighbors are becoming a thing of the past. Believe me, it gives me no joy to say, when it comes to neighbors, young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout that.
Saturday Morning Ritual
Back in the day, for children, there was nothing like Saturday mornings. Watching cartoons that only came on on Saturday mornings, eating cereal, and then getting on them chores, cleaning the house with your parents’ music blasting and/or cutting the grass. It was a weekly ritual that had us little ones diggin’ everything from Hong Kong Fuey, Mighty Mouse and the Harlem Globetrotters to Land of the Lost, Voltron and Superfriends. Now, everything is on all the time. So, that special feeling of excitement we kids felt on Saturday mornings, you young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.