Alienated Teens

May 29, 1992

In a national study, a Philadelphia-based market-research firm has found, not surprisingly, that black teen-agers not only move to their own beat, they hear what they want to hear, when they want to listen at all.

The study, "Reaching the Hip-Hop Generation," focused on blacks in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., and Oakland, Calif. After two years of small group meetings and a survey, it concluded that effective strategies for connecting with young, urban blacks don't exist for messages about safe sex or drug abuse.

What surprised its authors and Houston Baker, a nationally known educator, was that African American teens reject "mainstream" black culture. Appearances by celebrities the teen-agers idolize make no headway if presented on television, which the teens in the study considered mainstream. Anti-drug messages, even in personal appearances, are discounted as "obligations of celebrity."

What messages reach inner-city youths? In an era when the effective channels of mass entertainment are jammed with stories of instant gratification, teen-agers of any ethnicity are focused on the same things. With all channels of commercial advertising using sex to sell clothing, furniture, autos, food and drinks, occasional celebrity messages of forebearance seem like lone cries in the wilderness.

What this study shows is the alienation felt by young people who are bombarded with messages urging consumption at all costs, but who know they are persona non grata in many areas of society. Feeling locked out of jobs, met with consternation when they transfer to schools in middle-class areas and viewed with suspicion on the streets, the teen-agers know they have been rejected.

What's needed is a renewed effort to give these teens a better stake in the society that has treated them with such disdain. Their future truly is the future of everyone, and their productive capacities and participation as citizens will matter more and more in the coming decades.

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