“Eenie, meenie, minie, moe, pick a seat it’s time to go!”
The 20-something flight attendant didn’t know what hit her. All she was trying to do was find a creative way to get passengers in their seats so the plane could take off. Two African American passengers were more than a little offended, due to the roots of the “Eenie, meenie” rhyme. They took the flight attendant – and her airline employer – to court. She had no idea that she had conjured up racial discord and opened scars from America’s racist past.
Welcome to the phenomena that I call generation consternation. It might on occasion rear its ugly head with matters of race, but generation consternation transcends racial prejudice. It is a malady that occurs every day in society, impeding communication among and between generations. Events that are meaningless to one generation might have significantly shaped or even scared another. Race issues are only the soft underbelly of this fascinating American phenomenon.
I am willing to bet that that the Gen X flight attendant had never heard the original version of “Eenie meenie minie moe” saying, which featured the “N” word. Gen X and later generations grew up singing “catch a tiger by the toe!”
Can anyone argue that the two African American “Silent Generation” (1924 - 1942) passengers had no right to be offended? What they heard was the racist nursery rhyme from their youth. To them, the offense was as plain as day.
Generation consternation. It’s everywhere. Here are some other recent examples to consider and reflect upon:
• Last year, an ex-KKK member was found guilty of manslaughter in a series of 1964 civil rights murders. Older generations of both blacks and whites rejoiced at the prospect of closure, while the youth wondered why old folks couldn’t just get over it? “Why are they always dredging up the past?” Again, the answer is generation consternation.
• In Paris, France, talkshow icon Oprah Winfrey tried to go shopping and got rebuffed. The shop was closed. It was after hours; out comes the race card. This situation was unfortunate and complicated, but racist? Maybe, but I doubt it. Winfrey is a Baby Boomer who has risen to the pinnacle of success in spite of racism, sexism and myriad other American-isms. Hermes, the store in Paris that Oprah attempted to enter, is French. Enough said. But how did Winfrey’s Baby Boomer perspective shape her reaction to the slight. On that topic, there is plenty to say.
The generations see differently. Where older Boomers and Silents see a racial dividing line, younger Boomers and the generations that follow suspect the line is just a mirage. “We shall overcome…” Overcome what?
Analysis of this phenomenon is critical to understanding how society operates and where conflicts often arise. We can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere.