Fifty-nine years ago today, Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a Montgomery bus. The rest is “history.” Behind that historic day was a girl name Claudette Colvin. Yes, nine months earlier it was Claudette that refused to give up her seat long before Rosa was handpicked to start the movement. This was an easy case of respectability politics. They dismissed Claudette because of her age, her darkened hue, and because she was pregnant. Though she was the sparked the movement she for all of these reason was not chosen to be the face of it.
For decades we’ve held the belief that to attack injustices, or to just show and prove, we needed a perfect storm of acceptable attributes that would allow us the best chance to succeed. It is for that reason young people are typically left out of the “grown folks business” that is social justice. The burden of intersectionality is so heavily skewed towards race, that often times the very children/youth/teens we fight for rarely have a voice in their cause. We as adults sweep in ready to scream “no justice, no peace” without asking the young people what exactly is that they need? How can I be your best ally? How can I help you find your voice?
Kids, especially black kids, are asked to posture themselves as adults. To not be intrigued by the candy in the supermarket checkout lines (me), to walk in the street on your way to your destination (Mike Brown), to wear a hoodie when it’s raining (Trayvon Martin), to remain demure in stance while bored out of their minds (Sasha & Malia Obama), to hang with your friends with your favorite music on fleek (Jordan Davis), to stifle the desires to play outdoors with the toys you’ve always wanted (Tamir Rice), to knock on a door of a stranger when you’re in need (Renisha McBride). The youth of today must dress a certain way, enjoy their music a certain way, speak a certain way, be and breathe in a non threatening manner. Daily we walk past businesses that have signs posted on the door: “Only 2 Students Allowed At A Time” or “No children without Parent or guardian” …and as adults we quickly forget how disenfranchising that was.
Over and over again I’ve seen and heard comments that “they should have known better” but even when you do know better, and you’re raised right, and you go to church, and you get good grades, did you always follow the rules? Were you everything your parents demanded of you?
I’ve heard no one talking about Youth Oppression. It is the underlying current that has been completely ignored. So here it is adults; regardless of race… can you take a moment to acknowledge your privilege as a grownup? Can you take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror, reflect back to whatever era comprised of your “back in the day” and think about what you wore that your parents and teachers looked down on? What music was unacceptable? What slang was inappropriate?
Your ability to remember could literally save a child’s life.