Young People Have Power to Make Wrongs Right

In recent months, millions of protesters rushed to the streets to demand a change in America’s unjust treatment of its Black citizens -- and many young people have rushed to their phones. As high school students, my peers and I recognize the power of social media in spreading awareness about systemic racism, encouraging others to sign petitions, and reminding those legally eligible to vote. We understand that racism permeates the American government and its citizenry at the local, state, and federal levels, and recognize the need for systemic change to enable racial equality.

A pattern of long-lasting oppression followed by brief, seemingly successful demands for civil rights exists in American history. Attempts to dispel slavery or segregation, for example, have spurred legislation that protects a previously disenfranchised class. Nonetheless, oppression sustains because those who benefit from this system of inequality frequently change the facade that conceals their discrimination.

The slave trade endured for 246 years in America before Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment; in rapid response, White oppressors devised segregation to maintain the existing societal dynamic between Whites and Blacks. Segregation remained for 89 years until President Lyndon Johnson outlawed this form of discrimination with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Seven years later, President Richard Nixon initiated the racially motivated War on Drugs that reversed the gains of the Johnson administration.

This nonlinear progress in the fight against the oppression of Black citizens underscores that racism is more than an idea system or a form of discourse, but rather, a deeply ingrained part of American culture, politics, and economics. Therefore, while contemporary protests call out newer manifestations of racial discrimination, such as police brutality, voter suppression, or mass incarceration, racism persists. Even amid the current civil unrest, deliberate actions by America’s elected officials perpetuate systemic inequality.

Racism in America hides behind an ever-changing facade because malevolent American leaders and legislators have instilled racism within the country’s most democratic practices: voting and protest. Historical resistance to Black citizens’ demands for civil rights typically takes shape in the form of paramilitary forces, such as the Ku Klux Klan or the White League.

Following the Civil War and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, state governments adopted new legislation that allowed freedmen to vote. Resistance to Black suffrage again arose through paramilitary organizations, who employed violence and intimidation to suppress the voting rights of Black citizens.

In the 19th century, Southern slave-owners responded to protests for equality with Slave Codes, which further limited the civil liberties of enslaved peoples in America. In the 20th century, violence at sit-ins and protests operated in conjunction with Jim Crow laws to deliberately harm Blacks.

The current administration’s deployment of the National Guard and use of intimidation tactics to quell peaceful protests reflect the profound role that racism plays in government action. Critically, the administration failed. The failure to account for a youth movement on social media, a forum unscathed by violence or physical force in which information spreads with the click of a button, largely caused this failure.

Social media not only accelerates the message of equality for all but gives life to protests that armed forces previously would have beaten down with tear gas, hoses, and rubber bullets.

The overwhelming availability of resources to educate Americans fuels the current protests. Education allows those rich and poor, Black and White, young and old to understand the implications of racism on their friends, family, classmates, neighbors, and colleagues. Those in government may minimize the perceptions of us in high school, but we have helped protests endure despite deliberate attempts from government officials to end the peaceful assemblies. And we will soon be voters — and the population empowered to end these injustices.

The revolutionary culture of activism prominent across social media platforms gives young people the opportunity to voice their grievances and take action. With #BlackLivesMatter peaking at more than 8 million tweets as of May 2020, young people have a novel and discernible impact on the fight for equality.

My generation has the power to end the aforementioned pattern of discrimination and finally create sustaining racial equality in America through demands for both policy and legislative changes.

Harry Gleicher lives in Alameda and attends Alameda High School.