Black Kids Will Save America

Flickr/scottlum
Our kids aren’t just fighting against the oppression that threatens their lives, they’re also fighting for the quality of living that they deserve.

T he night Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, my brother called me. He was sobbing. I hadn’t heard him cry like that since he was a child. There was no greeting, no yells of elation, just the same sentence through his sobs.

“Nobody ever told me I could have been president.”

He repeated that a few times, told me he loved me, then hung up the phone.

Nobody ever told him that he could be president, and nobody told me, either. I don’t think I ever heard a black classmate say that they wanted to be president when they grew up. Our parents loved us and believed in us, but they were realistic about the world. A world that was (and still is) out to get their babies.

For decades, many of us have believed the promise made by White Supremacy, that if we keep our heads down and work hard, while asking politely — but not for too much — we will be rewarded. We won’t be rewarded with power or freedom, but with safety and a little financial security. A chance for something slightly below middle-class white respectability. We didn’t believe this because we wanted less, or because we were naïve. To want more than that meager offering would cost you your job, your home, even your life. Complacency was necessary for survival.

Those who didn’t believe the lie, or those who wanted more, were branded as dangerous radicals, as opportunistic race-baiters, as ungrateful children. We were taught that Martin Luther King was a “good negro” who was soft-spoken and mild, while Malcolm X was a reverse-racist driven by hatred of white people. MLK’s assassination was shown as the martyrdom of a saint, while Malcolm X’s assassination was shown as the just and natural consequences of black audacity.

But our kids know they can be president. They know that this is their country and they are stepping up to claim it. They are demanding a future built in their image. And it is a beauty to behold.

But our kids know they can be president. They are demanding a future built in their image. And it is a beauty to behold.

When Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted prominent political events, those of us in the older generations took notice. These young kids, rushing the stage, demanding the mic, refusing to apologize for their anger, inspired me more than anything has in years — and scared white supremacy more than anything has in years.

Our kids are out there fighting for their lives. They’re fighting against police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, discriminatory drug laws. It is an uphill battle met with resistance and danger at every step, but they keep fighting. When the news media labels them terrorists, they move to Twitter. When the old guard of civil rights leaders refuse to represent them, they decentralize and represent themselves. They pay heed to nobody. They don’t ask, they demand.

Our kids aren’t just fighting against the oppression that threatens their lives, they’re also fighting for the quality of living that they deserve. And their continued activism show that black youth are refusing to settle for less. It is not enough to just go to college, they demand the respect and safety that their tuition affords. It’s not enough to be in grad school, they demand the wages and benefits that their work deserves. It’s not enough to be on campus, they demand the ability to walk the halls without insult.

When the old guard of civil rights leaders refuse to represent them, they decentralize and represent themselves. They pay heed to nobody. They don’t ask, they demand.

And if you do not give them what they demand, they will take you down. They will strike. They will march. They will shut down your sports programs. They will interrupt your recruitment events. They will broadcast your bigotry and ineptitude to the masses. In the case of the University of Missouri, they will force your resignation, and they won’t stop until those who have tried to hold them back are punished.

There is still a long way to go, and the deck is still stacked against our kids. They do need our support. But if you had asked me 5–10 years ago if a group of black college students could take down a university president, I would have laughed in your face. These kids are bolder than I could have ever imagined.

Our children are brash, brazen, and yes, as gloriously and righteously uppity as can be. They are a force to be reckoned with. It would be wise to step out of their way.

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