About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"I Don't Really Care": Ruminations on History-Apathy Among the Young

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. You know, the I-don’t-understand-what’s-wrong-with-kids-these-days type. Arguably, the biggest issue with this way of thinking is the lack of consideration for upbringing. “Kids these days” are the way they are for a reason (or reasons). “The way they are” being, for many people, lazy, entitled, spoiled, addicted to cell phones and other technologies, etc. Of course, someone allowed the kids to be lazy, someone entitled them, someone spoiled them, and someone gave them cell phones at eight years old so that they became anatomical attachments by third grade.

In my own home, I’ve been guilty of some of this finger-pointing toward the child, and I’ve been trying various methods to point that finger where it belongs. My latest idea? Embrace the cool, little known bits of history that make Black History Month so much fun. Of course, I know black history is important every day of the year, but February offers a way to make my new idea especially festive—so I thought.

Upon sharing the news with the kid that I want him to find out about some new people this month, the following exchange ensues (or something like it):

Kid: If I do the Black History Bowl [annual trivia competition at school], do I get a pass?

Me: No.

Kid: But I’m not interested in any of the people.

Me: You don’t even know who they are. How can you already know you’re not interested?

Kid: I’ll only be interested if they’re from Africa. If it’s anybody else, I don’t really care.

Me: What do you mean by “anybody else”?

Kid: I don’t really care about hearing about people getting the right to vote. Or like Jackie Robinson, the one who was the first black guy to play baseball in the majors. I don’t really care.

Me: How can you not care about the things people did that allow you to go to the school you attend or that allow us to live in our neighborhood? How can you not care about your own history?

I’ll stop there. I don’t know if this is a generational thing, and I used to say that younger parents have got to do a better job of making sure our kids know and appreciate their history, which is why I was inspired to go forward with my idea in the first place. What do I get? Apathy. Jadedness. Over-it-ness.

I tried to understand why. Is it that the kid is so privileged that he can’t conceive of identifying with any struggles that would have precluded that privilege? Is it that our world is becoming increasingly “global” so that young people have a hard time appreciating their differences and the histories related to those differences (not to be confused with being preoccupied about race or engaging in superiority/inferiority complexes)? Is it because the kid is a teen now, and this “appreciation boat” has sailed?

I’m not gonna lie. I’m disappointed. My hopes for this month are shattered. Do I make him do it because he should know this stuff, or do I let it go until he’s reached a point where he can appreciate it? Do I force-feed him or wait for him to come to the table? I honestly don’t know. I want him to be proud of his heritage and to be eager to explore it. Is it too much/too late to ask?


  1. curmudgeon---someone's showing their age (yes you're 3 years older than me. I know this)

    You can't force someone to do something, especially at this age. Everyone has to make their own decisions. I think the problem is we have a generation of kids today that have a general antipathy towards history. They only care about the here-and-now. From what you said, I gather the kid does have some understanding of his history. I think that we as a people have to better instill a sense of heritage growing up and stop glorifying people who are just going to be footnotes in history.

  2. You make a good point about "footnotes in history." I call them "the usual suspects": MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, G.W. Carver, BTW. That's not to minimize these folks' extraordinary accomplishments. Heck, I consider them all heroes and enjoy remembering what they contributed. But I can see how "the usual suspects" can become "passe," so to speak, if young folks feel they have nothing left to learn about their heritage. Slavery, civil rights, boom. I get that.

  3. Wait until he comes to the table. That will probably be college. I am pleasantly surprised up here-so many students who are so passionate about current events, heritage issues, cultural differences, the apathy of their own peers, etc. At least at a school that embraces those exploratory and questioning mindsets, he will likely get caught up in compelling conversations and discover some of those things you want him to know now. I envision a future Christmas dinner where he arrives on his semester break to inform you about the most amazing thing he discovered. I did that to my parents. So did Craig. So do most young people. Kid just isn't in the right place for it. Don't push it on him or he may end up hating the subject and resenting you. Just my non-parental two cents, love. ;)

  4. I'm not a parent, but I am a middle school teacher. I would argue make him do it now, so that the seed is at least planted. The toddler learns words to build sentences. The kindergartener learns simple addition to move to multiplication. A foundation needs to be set. History is just as important as any other subject. Even if he hates it now, you are helping build his knowledge base, which will ultimately be to his advantage. Who's to say he doesn't stumble upon some great figure that inspires him.


  5. I think it's a little bit of all of your theories. Teenagers are much more privileged now, and the kind of social struggle that we want them to appreciate seems so far away to them. Plus, the examples they see in pop culture aren't the best when it comes to real concerns and a regard for history. I have a silly example for this, but it's always stuck with me. Do you remember how the networks used to love the "very special episode" where the characters learned life lessons? We don't really have those now, but I remember lots of shows talking about social issues in a passionate way--like that Fresh Prince episode about Black History Month, where Aunt Viv lets Will and Carlton have it because they don't really care about their history. I don't know that you'd see a character making a passionate speech like that now. (And now I have an awesome article idea.)

    Part of it is probably the teenage thing, though. It's a self-absorbed age, for the most part. The thing that matters is having parents who remind you of things like this and who value history and real examination of our culture--those kids eventually grow out of this.

    If it makes you feel any better, the teenager in my life and I have conversations like this all the time, mostly about the options that exist for her that didn't exist for her grandmother--and even her mother and I, to some extent. She doesn't see why I get so irritated when she complains about how hard her classes are, even when her mom and I tell her how we fought just to have difficult classes at all. She can't grasp the concept that only fifteen or twenty years ago, she'd be taking home ec electives instead of advanced math, and that if she somehow got in the math class, she'd be the only girl there. It drives me crazy, even though I'm glad that things have changed enough that it feels so far away for her. But I have faith that while she may not get it, she's still hearing it. That's really all that matters, I think--you're trying, which is more than a lot of parents do.

  6. Hi Monita! This is Cristine. Being not a parent, I don't have much to contribute to this discussion, although having similarly-aged siblings, I must admit they are so strange: they act so totally uninterested and generally boneheaded, and then suddenly out of nowhere will say something so insightful it'll knock me off my feet. I think the best thing you can possibly do is to keep doing what you're doing: being a really great role model. Kids tend to absorb things indirectly even if they don't let on to it, and eventually it just springs out of them! I can't think of a better role model than you!

    I also wanted to mention, oh I am so nervous, but I actually have a blog myself. I've had it for almost a year now but I never let anyone see it for a while, but since I've had the chance to spend time with everyone in Auburn again I've realized how much I would love to hear y'all weigh in on my daily catastrophes and etc. If you're interested, you can check it out here: stonyplaces.wordpress.com

    It is fun to talk to you about "kid." I feel like I absorb so much stress thinking about my 14 and 16 year old siblings and how they are progressing, and even though my responsibilities to them are so much less than what you do on a daily basis, it is fun to talk to someone else about these sorts of things!

  7. Thanks so much for the suggestions, all! I still haven't made a decision, though. :-/ I think you all have great points. I just don't know which way to go!