Dear Black Youth,
As a biracial male and student/lover of politics, I’m conflicted. Within me lies a profound optimism for my future, clashing with substantial fear for it as well. Coming on the heels of a two term Black president, one would think my vision would be one of hope, belief, and ambition. But instead, what I’m witnessing is bigotry, xenophobia, and hate. This is a tumultuous time for American politics. Mr. Trump, the republican nominee, has awoken a sleeping giant of blue collar white folk that want their country back. And they articulate this in the cryptic code of a campaign slogan that is “Make America Great Again.” They see the increasing threat minorities pose within the power structure of the country, and they aren’t pleased about it.
Now to generalize a group of people into the small microcosm of a bigoted voter base that supports that type of rhetoric would be extremely irresponsible of me. The majority of the republican party and voters within the party are sensible, intelligent, decent people. There will always be a minority of people that feel differently and view a world in which tolerance and intercultural collaboration are unwanted. But I see this trend happening around the world. All throughout the West it seems, people are afraid of change. And the xenophobic rhetoric of countless politicians all throughout this hemisphere is troublesome for the next few generations. In my short lifetime I’ve never experienced such divisiveness around the world.
So in a time when I should be feeling optimistic about the prospect of becoming someone important because my president looks like me, instead I fear what’s going to happen next when I turn on my television. So this is a rallying cry. Fear flees when you have someone to conquer it with. I call on all young, African-American, socially conscious men and women to get involved. Not by violent protests, but by educating yourself and expanding something that can never be taken away from us… strength. To be strong minded is to be able to admit that you are sometimes weak. Turn the weaknesses into strengths. Turn poverty into wealth, turn ignorance into enlightenment, and turn destitution into opportunity. All of this can be done through education — unfortunately an education that you will most likely have to provide for yourself.
I think one of the first things to acknowledge are priorities. I’ve always noticed an inherent cultural affinity towards wealth within Black culture. There are many theories as to why that is. One of which eludes to the fact that as slaves we were deprived of so much, that whenever we obtain a little bit of wealth, it goes away quicker than it was earned. But who can blame us, when you’ve been in the desert with no water, all you want to do is drink. Black wealth makes up a large portion of the country’s assets, so let’s use it productively. Go to school. Major in Political Science. Major in Public Administration. Give to our communities. Help those in other communities. Set an example. Build. Get involved and make change, and stop chasing the dollar. By doing that, you’re following the bait into the incinerator the pre-modernized world wants our influence in. As Jesse Williams said in his famous BET awards speech, we have been “dedicating our lives to getting money, just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body… when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.”
Incremental change turns into monumental change. All can agree many issues face the Black community today. From the punitive criminal justice system, to the aggression felt from law enforcement, to the lack of respectable schooling in inner cities. These issues need to be and must be fixed from within the Black community. Our potential needn’t be limited to playing a sport or singing a song. When I watched President Obama get elected, and saw tears strolling down family members’ faces, listening to them utter the words, “I never thought it would happen,” I was confused. I had always grown up feeling I had all the opportunity in the world. And now 8 years later, we must salvage that feeling and not let ourselves be suppressed back into a submissive power structure.
My central theme to you, Black youth, is that politics matter. It seems as though every other generation gets involved in their own way. The 60’s provided us the civil rights movement and the ability to vote…the 70’s brought about Black Nationalism, the 2000’s brought about a Black president and the ascent must continue. There are a disheartening few amount of little boys and girls I have encountered that say they want to be the president. Like most unsuspecting youth, they all want to be basketball stars, or singers to follow in the footsteps of people like LeBron James and Beyoncé. While noble and crucial role models indeed, the viewpoint on politics needs to shift from rebellion of the system, as it’s been for centuries with good reason, to an embracing of the legislative opportunity we now have that our ancestors never did.
The internal conflict within the Black community concerning anti-intellectualism is the first step. And in this crucial time in history, we need to build and not fold. There’s an old African proverb that states, “if you want to go somewhere fast, go alone. But if you want to go somewhere far, go together.” I heard that from Senator Cory Booker, of whom I think very highly, and he’s absolutely right. Young Black men and women need to take this opportunity that President Obama has given us, and stick it to those who want society to regress. Instead of chasing the dollar, chase change. J Cole poetically rapped in a song he performed once on the David Letterman Show that they let a brother steer the ship, but ain’t let him know that the ship was sinking. Well now that we can steer the ship, let’s hoist the sails and go the distance.
Sean Ryan, 20, liberal, God fearing, God thanking, and still searching