Activism across generations

Times have changed since I was a kid.  I grew up in the 50s and 60s in Japan; Hawaii; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I was born in Japan and raised in the US closer to the World War II era.  In the US, any of my fellow classmates’ parents fought against the Japanese in the war.  They felt superior, and many of them still carried anti-Japanese attitudes.  In Japan, being an ‘ai-no-ko‘ or ‘konkestsu-jin‘ was a dirty word, more-or-less. I was beaten unconscious and left for dead in more than one instance, by Japanese boys older than me and by white boys in New Mexico.  I was called ‘kurombo‘ – the Japanese equivalent to ‘black sambo’ but when said with venom, it meant nigger. In the US I was either called ‘Jap’ or ‘nigger’ but more usually ‘mutt’ and not endearingly.  But of course there were some people who befriended me and helped me in times of trouble-via-racism.  But most were just silent.

Racism has been a huge marker in my life, full of horrific violences. I have only named those above but the list goes on. This, of course, is a part of identity.  For the perpetrators, carriers of the legacies, as well as the victims.   How the effects play out, we continue to see.  There are changes in peoples’ lives.  But some things change forms but remain the same in its intent and perception, placements.  For instance, in the US, people like to think of racism as only existing in the Southern part of the US, especially when speaking of slavery.  This was convenient for non-southern US people, but speak to any colored person in the US during those times and post-slavery.  There was racism in the other parts of the US and dominant.  It was practiced differently with just the same more subtle, perhaps, results:  oppression.  In fact, the more subtle and ‘underground’ the racism, the more torturous it is.

In 2010, in San Francisco and many places around the world, many of the young people I see have better attitudes about race and ethnicity in general.  In other nations, it is increasing and perhaps more violent.  It is not born inside of people.  They are transmitted.  Intensified by state and national forms and institutionalization of certain views, laws, policies, and education.  In San Francisco, there is racism.  However, many activists 25 years old and younger, are much more willing to see their racism and for others, there is a healthier attitude toward difference.  But this does not mean that vehement racism and subtle racism is gone.  It is huge and prevalent in this diverse city, as it is everywhere, in their own forms.  Some individuals and towns are better at working with it than others.

There is one continuing  marginalization in one major aspect which I remain acutely aware and that is hardly ever mentioned.  It is age-ism.  Age-ism is also intensified by adultism, from the other direction.  Age-ism is the discrimination of older people, usually.  Adultism is the discrimination against the younger people- especially children.  As older people have tight and condescending attitudes toward younger people, making their prejudice against young people legitimate, it intensifies the need for the younger to exclude the older.  At the same time, the general American cultural norm is to glorify youth.  Even as discrimination against children is intense in the US, the media and popular music and much of the consumer products are geared toward their attraction of youth in order to exploit their materiality.

From both directions, the fragmenting of the generations intensify.  “Go away old man, go away little runt.”  The generations need to dialogue and co-create.  The way it is now, furthers the isolation of our lives because all of us grow old.  Relying on elderly homes and facilities is usually depressing.  But most of us think that this is all we have.  It is because we have not placed ourselves into the field of change.  Change is not worked for as an end.  It is a path.

The older generation needs to listen to the young, even as they may have less life-experience.  There is vital creativity and willingness to risk in the young, more or less.  In the older generation there is experience.  In both ways, there are limitations.  No one knows everything.  One experience may have some relation to another similar experience but may not be the same.  Also, the older generation frequently dictates.  It is the old colonial form of child-rearing.

In the US, the 60s brought changes slowly into the consciousness of ‘conscious’ child discipline ideas, born of the 1950s and ‘Dr. Spock.’ http://www.drspock.com/about/drbenjaminspock/0,1781,,00.html

It was a tremendous shift in perception and in some ways, healed aspects of the colonial legacy of punishment and discipline across harsh lines.  However, in the 70s, as transactional analysis “I’m OK, You’re OK” became popular and added to a licensing  to  think of freedom without responsibility or boundaries, there were further changes in how adults and children should now relate.  As capitalist economic production intensified and made its inroads into the family through more products for the young and more televisions and computers, fragmentation intensified and multiplied in-between people and thoughts and actions more than ever before.  This would help the makers of products, while the family relations suffered.  With a seeming loss of control, desperate control mechanisms or further isolation marked many families’ lives.  More adults were working longer hours, and more of the young were without their parents.

In recent times, there has been a response to this.  But we have a long road ahead.  It is not just about nuclear families.  Nuclear families themselves are isolations from what used to be clans.  Nuclear families put huge pressures on fathers and mothers, pressures that did not exist in previous times.  Nuclear family life is an invention in history and cannot be looked at as normal.  Nor can going ‘backwards’ into clan communities be superior because those lock tremendous amounts of adultism and other oppressions into a community as well.  Pick up any social science study on the development of communities and families you can see what has happened.  Also, after doing cross-cultural studies and seeing how this impacts people and the promise of individualism being the only or superior way to be free, is a product as a result to resistance against church rule over individual lives.  Individualism is an ideology, apart from individuality, furthering separation of consciousness that isolates.  Allowing for individuality is a whole other story and  I feel that this is more of what we would want: individual considerations.

The mutual exclusion of the young from the old is everyone’s responsibility.  Youth may move headlong into activism and social change without the benefit of stories and ways that the elders know and feel.  The elders may know what has been lost.  For some elders, they have become too embittered and too much has happened.  We get more ornery as time goes on.  Ha ha.   That’s me.  But this should not be mistaken for a legitimizing of exclusion and being invisible.  In the US, in particular, the ‘new’ is supposedly more important.  The ‘future.’  Well, guess what, the future is now, when is anyone ‘in the future?’

Trauma exists in society.  All of us are experiencing it, manifesting it, ignoring it, or living it.  Inter-generational dialogue and work together, exposure to one another is a big step towards a new society.  There have already been studies revealing how the contact and time spent between younger people and the elderly in elder home facilities in the United States, has worked to slow illness, improved moods, and prolonged life for the elderly.  In turn, many of the young people begin to enjoy the stories and perspectives that come from the times when the underpinning of their lives are understood to have not been permanent and eternal, but developed.

Let us continue to speak together.

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