Rosa Parks: No Love for the Hip-Hop Generation

"The Rosa Parks Story," a bio-pic about the civil rights matron who refused to give her seat to a white man and sparked the Montgomery Boycott, has been nominated for a number of awards this year, including two NAACP Image Awards. However, Mrs. Parks chose to sit out the ceremony, mounting a sort of personal boycott of the event, pre-taped for a March 13 broadcast.

Cedric the Entertainer, who acted as host, famously made some comments in his role as Eddie The Barber in the film "Barbershop" that rubbed Mrs. Parks the wrong way, insinuating she was less than heroic. Even so, the NAACP nominated the movie for five awards (all lost) prompting Parks to issue statement saying that she "[does not] understand the endorsement the NAACP gave to the hurtful jokes in the movie 'Barbershop,' about America's civil rights leaders."

As much love as I have for the civil rights luminati, I can't understand why these icons only wake up long enough to scold the young people.

Mrs. Parks is upset by less than 30 seconds of commentary in a movie she has most likely never seen and is unlikely to see. Parks, obviously being ill-advised, has missed a teaching opportunity. Instead of boycotting the NAACP event, why didn't she take that same energy and push pseudo-politico Russell Simmons off the podium and join in as a spiritual leader of a recent boycott attempt on cola conglomerati PepsiCo? Granted, she probably doesn't drink Pepsi anyway and isn't likely to be a Ludacris fan and doesn't understand the dis leveled at the hip-hop nation when Pepsi exchanged a "inappropriate" black spokesperson for an even less appropriate white one (Ozzy Osbourne).

But what a powerful statement to the establishment and a loving gesture to a generation largely consumed with consuming, too much so to grasp the poignancy of using the power of the dollar to affect change. How long could Bill O'Reilly and PepsiCo have stood up to Rosa Parks?! But she seems pre-occupied with preserving an image she herself has admitted is over-done.

The post-Civil Rights generation has imposed an agenda on a nation of black youth that, while as capable as any before it ( if not more so), has only been passed the fish but not the rod and reel. We have benefitted from the struggle of others without learning the value of continuous agitation. There has been a lot of criticism from the oldsters but no effort to empower and assist the next generation.

The freedom fighters hung up their gloves too quick, leaving a nation of hip-hoppers flailing at enemies unknown. Instead, the post-civil rights middle-class has passed down a Jeffersonian "movin' on up'" ethos about the culture of consumption, teaching that the power of the dollar is in the spending, not in the wielding of it. With millions in discretionary income and no fear of authority, they could be a formidable political lobby.

After all, the optimum time to agitate is when you're young, while getting arrested at a protest is hip, progressive and still gets a lot of finger-claps at the coffee house. Al Sharpton and Jesse "Side-Action" Jackson are too busy at the movies and chasing racist apparitions (real and imagined) to actively engage and work with hip-hop heads. Mrs. Parks already alienated hip-hoppers by hiring Johnny Cochran to sue rappers Outkast for alleged misuse of her name. Now, instead of bearing the dignity that takes a joke in stride, she joins others that expect so much from a generation they have nothing but contempt for.

How wonderful it would have been to see Parks hosting an MTV special with Cedric the Entertainer about the power of protest. She couldn't know how Cedric's comments probably sent many to the library to learn more. She could've embraced this faux pas and used it to move forward. But instead, she is at home, wondering what's wrong with kids today. What's wrong is that we need guidance and hands-on interaction, not admonition and scorn.

What's wrong, Mrs. Parks (respectfully), is that the hip-generation gots love for you, but you gots no love for us.

jimi izrael (jimiizrael@hotmail.com) is a journalist and opinion writer living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. His bi-weekly column, "What It Iz," appears on www.africana.com. A version of this piece appeared in the LA Times.

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