Ras Olugbenga

The Roaring 20’s

Ras Olugbenga
The Roaring 20’s

“Seasons change, mad things rearrange but it all stays the same” – Lauryn Hill

The more things change the more they stay the same. Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) said a line that always resonates when I reflect historical events: “screaming brand new when they just sanitized the old shit.” American politicians and news correspondents can be heard at almost all national holiday events proclaiming how far America has come. Such a cliché statement begs the questions of “come” from where? And where are we supposedly going?

Checking my social media newsfeed I often see headlines surrounding police brutality, hate crimes, misogyny, legislation debates, and discrimination of all kinds. One of my friends published a status that read, “Sometimes you have to check the calendar to be sure its not 1916.” I agree. As we are nearing “the roaring 20’s of the 21st century its only right to compare this era.  


1) Sartorial Dress

For starters we can see similarities apparent in the fashion choices of today. The dandy or sartorial style has become popular once again with Jidenna’s hit song “Classic Man”. Men have always used their dress to show sophistication but during this era compared to previous eras men are paying much closer attention to what they are wearing and how they look. Unlike the early 2000’s where baggy of loose fitting clothes were cool, slim chinos, tapered blazers and wing tip shoes are the new (and old) cool.


2) African- American Migration

From 1910 -1940 many African-American families left the overt discrimination of the south and headed to the economic promised land of northern cities with industrial jobs abound. This geographical shift catalyzed many pivotal events during the 2nd half of the 20th century. However in our current time we are witnessing an influx of African-Americans migrating back to southern metropolitan areas such as Atlanta & Houston. As “Harlem” became the key term to identify products (I.e. Harlem Renaissance, Harlem Globetrotters) Atlanta has become the Black cultural Mecca. From music, movies, television, visual art, etc. ATL has become synonymous with the home of Black cultural expression.


3) Immigration Conflicts

Along with the reverse migration of African-Americans, immigrants from other countries have also changed the tapestry of American demographics. During the 1920’s America received immigrants from western European countries such as Italy, Germany, France, and Ireland. Today we see immigrants from countries such as India, South Korea, Africa, and Central American countries. But the place that has caused the most contention is Mexico. Americans have always been xenophobic, or unreceptive of new people and cultures. Ironically, America is a cultural hodge-podge, so nobody except for Native-Americans and Mexicans (Native Americans that speak Spanish) can truly say this land is theirs. But in the coming presidential election the issue of immigration will move to the forefront.


4) KKK resurgence  

America’s changing cultural makeup has not only allowed for more diversity in sports, entertainment, politics, it has also catalyzed a resurgence of hate groups. Since 2008, the KKK has used the Obama presidency to recruit members.  Just like the in the early 20th century when President Woodrow Wilson was also a documented KKK member, the social hacktivist group Anonymous has recently released a list of active KKK members that are concurrently serving as elected officials.


5) Racial Tension in Sports & Entertainment

Racial tension has not only been seen at the Super Bowl (see Cam Newton) but many Black professional athletes have been targets for blatant and veiled racial aggression. Serena Williams, arguably the greatest professional athlete of the modern era is often called racial slurs at her European matches. And of course this is not new; the first Black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson was also called many sordid names at his bouts. To many Black people, Johnson’s victories against white contenders (namely Jim Jeffries) were a source of racial pride just like when Serena consistently routs her opponents.


6) Opulence

Although musical artists and athletes have recently become more actively involved in social justice initiatives (see Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance), sports and entertainment celebrities are more well known for their lavish lifestyles, excessive spending and consumption. With reality television ironically showing how the excessively wealthy live. As portrayed in the classic novel and movie The Great Gatsby, the early 20th century was full of liquid spenders, and conspicuous consumers.


7) Corporate Titans

Modern American entrepreneurs have built mega-companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft.  These companies have created innumerous opportunities for other business-minded creatives. For example the mobile operating systems of iOS and Android have made it possible for gamers and programmers to develop games and apps that have sold over hundreds of millions of times making a new pantheon of uber-wealthy individuals under 40 years old. The 20th century industry titans like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan set the precedent for Americas robust industries  – energy and finance, respectively. We’ll see how software and hardware companies can stand the test of time and what effect they will have on the economy into the 22nd century.


8) Global Market Crisis

Although great companies have been built in America that employ millions of Americans (directly or indirectly) and compose a substantial portion of the American GDP, the global market may cause the American financial markets to tank. Just how the trade relationship with Europe caused USA to feel the effects of the political discord in France, Germany, and Britain. America has felt the effects of the Chinese market dip, the financial crisis in Greece, and the UAE’s control of oil production. Oil barrel prices are falling to decade lows, and although we appreciate filling up at the pumps, our 401K’s are currently taking a nasty hit. In the early 20th century America was hit with a financial crisis so bad, war (and the subsequent production boost) was the only way out.


9) Brink of World War

The byproduct of international markets being intertwined is politics inherently becoming intertwined as well.  Mao Tse Tung said, “Politics is war without bloodshed”. Unfortunately, war with and without guns has developed and been sustained across numerous fronts – Syria, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia. Eerily similar to the 20’s the country is on the brink of World War with North Korea, USA, Russia, China, Syria, Iran and whoever else decides to show up for the international battle royale.


10) Prohibition  

Alcohol was prohibited in the USA from 1920 to 1933. Retrospectively, it seems silly that alcohol was banned in America. Now marijuana is the substance our government is debating on the national and state levels. It seems just like the repeal of the liquor prohibition, marijuana prohibition will be based upon economic benefit. Colorado specifically has seen a significant jump in tax revenues from legalized marijuana sales. It will be interesting to see if the Federal government will capitalize on the opportunity to make green from green.