Hip Hop Generation Challenge: Creating Family

The African family is still in shreds from the 90s version of the auction block. The new term to describe a family relationship is "baby mama," as in "That's my baby mama." Lately I've heard of a shorter version -- "BM" -- often used to refer to someone who doesn't get treated much better than the bodily function usually associated with those two letters.Not girlfriend, not fiancee, not wife, not even ex-wife: baby mama. Ex-husband, ex-wife was how our parents' generation referred to each other; they left us with no clue to the universe of love and commitment. The ties that bind are only sex. What the hell happened?During slavery our marriages had no legal standing, since we could be sold off at will. One day you're a couple with a new child; the next day your man could be sold up the river without you knowing if you would see him again (today they call it "jail"). When they stopped importing slaves from Africa, they bred them, paying men both black and white to get black women pregnant. We've been lost and struggling ever since.In the face of all that, I and all my friends have grandparents who struggled to hold their families together, back when "'til death do us part" was still taken seriously. Most of our grandparents grew up in small Southern towns where everybody knew everybody else, and married people they'd grown up with. That generation ran their own communities -- and families -- without the benefit of any university "degrees." My great-grandmother was a midwife who delivered all six of her grandchildren without so much as a peep from the American Medical Association.Our grandparents were the ones who came out of the South; who fought, cried, collapsed and died trying to move their interwoven families ahead into the next century. When black people moved to California to get jobs in the 1940s, family ties were still strong. But what happened to their children -- my parents' generation?Our parents came up when the world was changing so rapidly. Planes, trains and automobiles moved them faster than ol' grandma, who had to walk umpteen miles to school, could have imagined in her day. But economic changes created an incredible amount of stress on a generation a hundred times less patient than the one before it. Integration decimated our economic base, leaving us dying for affirmative action.Black women, who were on the tail end of both the Black Power Movement and the Women's Movement, began to want some freedom of careers. Free love meant lack of sexual responsibility, and "'til death do us part" became "'til I get sick of you." People began to move out of the community -- it was "everyone for him/herself."My generation grew up in the aftermath, and our relationships reflect it. We meet each other without context -- on the street, in a club, at a party, where small talk ends in "Can I have your number?' It don't matter if it's as smooth as Notorious B.I.G. asking what your interests are and who you be with -- what about where you come from?Marriage has no ties to culture for the hip hop generation. Traditionally, marriage meant the uniting of two families, not just two individuals "in love" with each other. Today, with no economic base, what could be fruitful about our unions? And where do we learn how to stay together? We have access to the Playboy Channel, but no access to relationship building techniques.Mixed messages confuse us even more. I was told to save myself for marriage, while my brother was given condoms at age 13. What to look for in a mate was never discussed in detail. Good-looking was the first priority, and after that it started to get fuzzy. And no one told me what I finally had to learn for myself: a healthy relationship hinges on a sense of one's own worth.My generation needs to take another look at history, to take the best and leave the rest. If teenage pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases are prevalent, it would seem logical to deal with one mate at a time to ensure your safety. For females that means saying "no" to sex before you are ready. Since it is a "man's world," that means you must face rejection and the appearance of being frigid.But no suggestion I can make on the individual level can mean anything without community support. It takes more than just mom to influence young minds. The elders need to communicate honestly and openly with the young folks.Instead of just meeting on holidays to make small talk, we should hold family forums to discuss questions like "What is the purpose of a relationship?"; "What are the family's objectives?"; and "How is the family as a whole going to get there?"Only once we begin the real conversation can we make a new plan. And without a plan for the family and the community, we can plan to keep going nowhere.

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