Black Lives Matter.
June 15th, 2020
How can teenagers get involved in the current climate of America? What are things, as American teens, that we can do to combat systemic racism?
I knew we were living in really important history when the coronavirus sent us all home for many months now. But George Floyd’s murder spiraled us into not just a time of passive history for me, but active history. I couldn’t really do anything about the coronavirus. But systemic racism? This is something that everyone must do something about. It is a disease that has plagued the nation far longer than the coronavirus. Anyone who doesn’t think that non-white citizens have a very different American experience than whites isn’t paying attention. They can’t be.
This is a time of blossoming and recognition for African Americans that is necessary to kill prejudice and police brutality. But it is a time for all of us to dive into the deep end. Helping in the most effective way possible is opening your eyes wide enough to see every aspect of the situation. No matter your background, we all have things to do, whether it is learning or teaching, donating or organizing, listening or speaking, lamenting or triumphing. We’re all at different points in the process. Whoever you are, I commend you for reading this and wanting to help even after the hashtags on Instagram begin fading away, because unfortunately, as the awareness begins to dim, the intensity of horrific injustice only ramps up.
There are a ton of different lists on the internet that describe what each of us can do to pave the road towards justice, not just this month but every day of our lives. Here are some practices I’ve found on the Internet this month that I think teenagers specifically can practically incorporate into their lives. I am including methods that have been recommended by many black fighters, not just those suggested by white people like me who can't understand the depth of these wounds.
Mourn. That is a step that many people don’t want to take, and that many people are rushing through. Action is the key, but mourning is what turns it in the lock. You cannot create real change without the desire to change, and the desire to change stems from a deep mourning over the way something is.
Talk to your families and friends! Please! You want to build a team around you that is always looking to advance social justice. It is necessary and beautiful to talk to those who are openly against white supremacy and are anti-racist in order to mourn, notice issues within your hearts, and build a plan to create internal and external change. But then there’s that relative of yours that you see once a week… and you can recall some things they’ve said that were insensitive, privileged, ignorant, and/or hateful. Those are the people you absolutely must talk to. Don’t underestimate the change that can happen. The people in your life are there for a reason—they respect you and care about your thoughts and feelings. You may open their eyes by being raw, honest, and unafraid to offend them in a constructive way.
Contacting your political representatives is so important. It might seem out of your comfort zone, but they are your representatives for a reason. We want them to actively represent the ideas and respond to the desires of the people they serve. I am a person who usually doesn’t know quite what to say, but I found an app called 5 Calls that gives you a script to read while you call your representatives (whose numbers are provided). You can choose topics like “Support the House Resolution to Condemn Police Brutality” and “Demand Reform on Police Use of Force.” We are the new generation that will be making important changes to how our country works, so we need to start learning to use our voices now.
Talk to people. People of all kinds. Ask them about their struggles and what they feel their place is in this country, if they have ever been discriminated against and how. You can keep your eye out for similar situations. If you have been discriminated against, don’t be afraid to inform people about your experiences—you are not being selfish!—and teach them ways in which we can become more aware, empathetic, unified, and just. Every day, do something that scares you. Start a productive conversation that you think may be awkward—you won’t regret it. Trust me, an introvert. We need meaningful conversations now more than ever.
Wake up every single day knowing that you don’t know everything. In fact, you hardly know anything. It is when we think that we understand when we are farthest from the mark. This puts you in the right position to learn and truly change for the better. And don't get all puffed up because you think you are so humble, either.
Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Before you think you know what is best for someone or a group, listen to what they have to say. Don't make assumptions about anyone—get to know them yourself and be pleasantly surprised. Change your vocabulary and toss out (for good!) the words or phrases that are tinted with privilege or division.
My hope is that the voices of other marginalized groups are propelled through this time and heard at an equal volume by our country as well sometime in the near future. African Americans are not the only ones suffering. I know you are aware of this Shai, coming from an Indonesian background. We cannot forget how much improvement we have ahead of us.
This is active history. Every single one of us has the opportunity and MUST do something. I’m not saying that you have to start 20 nonprofits and get yourself in a history textbook for all of your fighting against systemic racism (but that is amazing!!) Any step is a necessary and important step that we should all value. And besides—the people who are fighting unseen battles behind the scenes where they live are so necessary and important.
I feel awkward in my white skin, in my nice house, in my safe city, but I should. The very first step to changing anything is feeling uncomfortable. When you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position, you are motivated to move. So it is with social injustice: if we don’t allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable and partake in the pain attached to the wounds of this world, then we won’t budge and we won’t heal.
- Brooke Johnston
Yeah, we are definitely living during one of the biggest movements in time. I honestly have so much anger, sadness, and disappointment building inside of me. After decades of systematic racism and inequality towards the black community, you would think that REAL change would be made and that things would be different. But alas, the fight continues and yet another innocent black man must die before people can finally realize the racist systems that continue to stand today. The police - although individually may undoubtedly be good people - work for a system that is flawed, unjust, and racist. How many more black people must die until America sees that? I am Indonesian. My parents are both immigrants, coming to America seeking a better life and opportunities. Ironically, they have been denied many opportunities such as jobs because of their thick accents and their backgrounds. Although I cannot imagine or truly understand what it means to be black in America, I stand with you. You are not alone in this movement and this fight WILL NOT end until there is change. Today the sad, hard truth is if you are white, you are privileged. You are protected. But that doesn’t mean that you are excluded from this movement. Everyone has a role in this fight and it’s important to use whatever platform you have to be actively anti-racist.
As teenagers, we have SO much power in our hands but we just don’t know it. Brooke listed a ton of things we can do to combat systematic racism but I have a couple more things to add to the list.
Act locally. We cannot change the world but we can change the communities we are living in. Take a look at your city council, school board, water board, or any other leadership positions in your community and ask yourself are these people really going to fight against systematic racism? Brooke and I live in the white flight town of Santa Clarita where our city was LITERALLY built by racists. Our city councilmen Bob Kellar, openly said he was a “proud racist”, why is he still in office???? We have the power to directly send emails to the people appointed. USE IT!! I have sent over 20 emails to get this racist person to resign. The same goes for teachers. If you have ever experienced or witnessed a teacher belittling a student and his or her ideas/opinions about the Black Lives Matter Movement, what are you doing? Contact your school board member right now! Everything is available online. Racism and microaggressions should be not allowed, especially when they’re coming from people we should look up to.
Speak up. When you hear racial slurs get tossed around in casual conversations like its no big deal. Speak up. A part of being actively anti-racist means educating yourself and others around you. When someone says something racist, shut it down. It’s not okay.
Email your school board. In public schools across America, we are forced to read books made by white men, we are forced to learn America’s watered-down history. Diversify what we read, watch, and listen to at school We are never taught systematic racism. We are never allowed to speak out on real, prevalent issues. We are never exposed to works written, directed by, or created by black and indigenous people of color. I have just now realized that we are playing into systematic racism and that we should target the curriculum at our schools. STOP FORCING US TO READ PIECES WRITTEN BY OR ABOUT WHITE MEN. Let’s read about the systematic oppression of black people in America. Let’s read about the experiences of Native Americans as they were killed on their own lands. Let's have a real freaking conversation about American exceptionalism.
Brooke, how do you think this movement is going to change America? What do you think will come out of this at school, locally, or nationally?
- Shaira Busnawi
I really love the “speak up” part. It is SO important to do it in. the. moment. Speaking out on social media creates a change of heart, but speaking up at the moment changes the course of a real situation.
There are examples of things we can fix everywhere. A couple months ago, my mom got a call from our neighborhood guard asking if we had called an Uber Driver. My mom was suspicious—we’d called for countless Uber drivers before and we had never gotten any calls from the guard. When we met our sweet and chatty Uber driver, it clicked. He was a black man. And apparently he gave the guard more reason to call and ask for our confirmation than any of the probably 20+ other Ubers we have taken before. A sickening irony was made known to my mom after only a few minutes of conversation: the driver had LIVED in our neighborhood for years. She called the guard that night and told them to stop racial profiling and to let every single Uber driver into the neighborhood without calling or none at all.
The thing is though, she doesn’t notice every time. She isn’t perfect. She is white and as such, things do go over her head. The key is acting on what you DO notice and constantly educating yourself so that you notice more. Open your ears to not just what other white people have to say, but to those who are actually experiencing the injustice firsthand. You will learn something new every time you listen.
How do I think this movement is going to change America, you ask? Well, I really have no idea like at all. We will take small steps, that is for sure, but steps nonetheless. I hope and pray that other racial minorities (who won’t be minorities in the USA for long according to recent studies) turn up the volume as African American’s voices are ever-amplified! I’m guessing that at school, there will be TV segments on the issue. History teachers might spend much more time on slavery and the detailed history of ethnic minorities’ stories. While they may be racial minorities in absolutely NO WAY do they share a minority of the history of this country. We also must realize that slavery didn’t just end with the Emancipation Proclamation. African Americans and other minorities are slaves to systemic racism, and the terrible complexes that caused slavery are still running amuck in our country today.
I’m not sure what changes will come about. Unfortunately, white supremacy isn’t fully going to go away. At this moment in time, we need to drown it out as best as possible and to get people in office who are not there for their own gain!
- Brooke Johnston
Wow- I love your mom Brooke! I love how she does what she can to speak out against racial profiling. It is so important to do whatever you can against it. At home, around your friends, or wherever you are, it is crucial that you are constantly being anti-racist. I agree with you; I definitely think that when we go back to school we will have more open conversations about systematic racism in America. We definitely need to talk about real issues in today’s world and how we can practice anti-racism in school. I am really hoping that this movement will finally bring long-lasting changes in our systems. It needs to, but if it doesn’t, we K-Pop and gen-zers will lead the way to a better tomorrow.
- Shaira Busnawi