My youngest child is currently a student at State University of New York and she just came home for spring break. One of the classes she is taking this semester is African and Latino Studies (ALS) and in light of all that happening in USA right now it is quite eye opening not only for her but to me as well. She told me of an exercise they did in class where everyone stands shoulder to shoulder. The professor would ask a question; for example, “who has a relative or someone close that has been in jail?” Those who did would then be instructed to take two steps back. Then the line of questioning would change to something like, “who has a parent or two parents that went to college?” Those who did would be instructed to take two steps forward. And so on, so that by the end of the exercise the back of the room was populated mostly with the African American and Latino students while the front had mostly white students.
I did not need my daughter’s college course to inform me about the truths of race in America that I’ve known for most of my life but it awakened me to how much I personally don’t do to try and change it no matter how liberal or tolerant I may be. It is not cliché for me to point out that if I am not part of the solution I am part of the problem. The election of Barack Obama as the first person of color to hold the office of US president is a milestone in the struggle for civil and equal rights. However, with a system so deeply entrenched even America’s first black president cannot reverse racism that manifests itself by over incarceration, racial profiling, disproportionate stop and frisks, suspicion and poverty in the African American and Latino communities.
My generation is certainly aware of the problems with race and even my most conservative friends harbor no hatred towards anyone because of skin color, sex, sexual orientation or ethnic background, certainly not overtly. For the younger generation like my college aged daughter – not being racist or prejudiced is just not enough, they are angry and they want change. As it is the millennial generation wants to know how we managed wreck the world’s economy, accumulated crazy amounts of debt, gotten ourselves into wars that have only made things worse and are bequeathing them a world with pollution, climate change and military instability, problems they will have to deal with for years to come. Those issues can at least be thrown up as bad geo-political and monetary policies. How to explain though that fifty years after Selma, we have social policies that cause African Americans to be ten times more likely to go to jail for petty crimes like possession of a joint, than whites?
To supporters of Israel of a certain age, last week’s address by Bibi before a joint session of the US Congress brought out passionate emotions from his supporters and just as vehement intensity from those who thought his speech ill timed, politically motivated and lacking any new substance. To most Jewish millenials the speech brought out a yawn and little curiosity. Bibi may have succeeded in convincing a lot of old folks and his natural constituency on the far right that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are still a big threat to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world but the kids still think Israel is a world power with enough might to take care of her own problems. They certainly question why the US should have to do Israel’s bidding on Iran and possibly start another war. To them Israel is better known for occupation, disparity in the rights given to Jews over Arabs and Orthodox over other denominations. They see Israel as they do America; great, strong, liberal democracies with many flaws. Victimhood either of Israel or America to terrorism rings hollow in their ears. Terrorism, like crime, traffic accidents, healthcare, social security and climate change are manageable problems being mismanaged by a gridlocked generation who prefers to stick to their outdated ideological purity than actually get anything done.
Old folks get their news from talking points spewing news channels whose demographic is catered to by advertisements for adult diapers, Viagra and pocket catheters. The young folks talk digitally to each other all over the world. They hear directly from the kid bullied by cops in Ferguson Missouri and from the Palestinian in blockaded Gaza. And they don’t care who shot first and how legitimate the crime fighting strategies of the police or the Israeli army is. Politicians and their sympathizers will point to statistics to prove a point, young kids will point to individual injustices and be appalled. What our leaders do well (for now) is cling to power but no one will accuse too many of them of being effective.
We are being given a wake up call and all the signs are there for us to strive for new ideas and alternative solutions. We just don’t get it nor do we want to. We’d rather call our millenials young and naïve rather than listen to what they care about and have to say. We forget that soon it will be them that will have to take care of us and carry the financial burden of our health, social security, defense and planet. The time has come to listen their voices, they have something important to say, are we listening?