Not Your Father’s Black Panthers: On Election ’16 and the Youngs

By Michael Shaw

Photo: Ruddy Roye via Instagram

Besides urging you to read Ruddy Roye’s insightful backstory to his Instagram photo, I have a couple of thoughts to add. Yes, America is laden with issues, but the perception of the country as broken or “on the critical list” has been too easily manipulated in this U.S. presidential election. Each day, in fact, you see counter signals to the deep divisiveness, the portrait of doom and all the wedges that drive us down. In the news stream just this past week, for example, consider Obama editing WIRED’s new Frontier issue and his deep grasp of the technological paradigm shift. Or, Tim Kaine’s radical optimism. Or, the refreshing and sobering #TellAmericaIt’sGreat campaign out of Canada.

Ruddy is seeing Kevin with the same fresh eyes. He writes:

October 18, 2016

For many this might not mean much but for me, seeing this signals a new age in black consciousness or black awareness.
 I will admit, black panther on a school bag is nothing new. The marvel character has been around since 1966, and was the first black super hero to make it to mainstream America. The character is usually depicted as the king and protector of Wakanda, a fictional African nation. However this is the first time I have seen the marvel hero on anything since I migrated to the States some twenty six years ago.
 I saw 13 year old Kevin walking on his way to school this morning and immediately started to take pictures of him walking away from me. I was happy and giddy at the same time, but I was concerned that he thought me a weirdo, a photographer chasing behind him snapping away. In fact he was more than delighted to say,
 “Maan he is my favourite super hero. I got this bag because I wanted to rep him.
 He really is the only black super hero out there right now and that is important to me.”
 I feel like everything that is happening right now in America around “Black Lives Matter speaks to a paradigm shift in black consciousness especially from the viewpoint of this younger generation.
 I believe they are waking up to a “blacker,” more accepting America — or I would like to think so.

What this shift portends for black identity is exciting. As exciting and important in the waning days of this butchery-disguised-as-a-presidential-campaign is the clear, simple and straightforward recognition of that evolution in young people across the board. The other day, I posted this on Twitter:

There are so many cultural facets and factors that the Trump hysteria, the talking heads and the DC elders have blotted out this campaign season. One of the most important is the generational divide. Perhaps the greatest irony of this election is that the two candidates are as old as they are. If Clinton goes on to win, is it possible — with everything she’ll be facing — that the rally photo and the bridge building we allude to frames her ultimate challenge — and opportunity?

Anyway, it’s wonderful to be reminded how much less of our old baggage Kevin, and other young people, are carrying around. And it’s refreshing, too, to be reminded that optimism isn’t dead, and that consciousness — beyond the political and the culture wars — continues to evolve.

Reading The Pictures is the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Originally published at on October 19, 2016.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.