We all knew this day was coming. The day that Generation Z would have to find its voice. What we might not have considered was who would speak for us and represent what we cared about. For Black Generation Z members, what happened recently in the news should make us understand what is coming and how important it is to speak up and vote to ensure our views and experiences are heard and understood.
In late August, David Hogg, a popular Gen Z activist, co-founder and board member at March For Our Lives, posted a series of tweets attacking Democrats for doing little to nothing for “young people.” His push on Democratic Party elected officials was specifically focused on the issues he said young people care about: climate change, gun reform, and student debt.
Hogg expressed in his tweets that if this is not done, young people will likely sit out the next elections and not vote. His Twitter thread has been shared by thousands and is being discussed by not only Gen Z’ers but those from older generations too.
As I read his tweets, I was moved by the clarity and position of authority David held in his own opinions of what “young people” cared about in the area of public policy. He was clear that the issues of climate change, gun reform, and student debt are major issues of concern that would decide if young people would vote in the 2022 election. More importantly, many older Americans read his tweet and accepted his voice and opinion as representing our entire generation.
I thought of my own experiences and discussions with fellow members of Generation Z, especially with Black students, and I realized that the issues that we talked about and cared about the most didn’t line up with the three issues raised by David Hogg. In fact, for most of the discussions I have had recently with my peers, the focus of policy concern for Black students has and continues to be the issues of the ongoing racism that is built into our society.
Yes, we care about climate change, but we come to that discussion with a clear understanding of how environmental racism and government policies have deliberately created the lack of clean air and water in many of our communities. So yes we care, but we care from a perspective of clean water in communities such as Flint, Michigan.
Yes, we care about gun reform, but our deeper collective community experiences also shape the way we look at our local police departments that use deadly force against Black people across our nation. It’s why we march, protest, and deeply embrace movements like #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter.
Yes, we care about student debt and the costs of higher education, but from the real and ongoing perspective of how racism has created deliberate generational wealth issues and the historically deliberate and ongoing lack of funding by our government for our nation’s HBCUs.
It is what David Hogg left out of his Twitter thread that showed the quietly emerging deeper divide among members of Generation Z on what issues we care about most.
Let’s take for example education. For Black Gen Z members, our collective experiences in education is one that makes us challenge our nation’s commitment to ensuring a high-quality education for all children. Our public, charter, and private education K-12 systems are plagued by adults who help create well documented and ongoing inequities. Black students face the realities that they are far more likely to be disciplined at school. Black girls are adultified by teachers and administrators. The way our hair grows out of our bodies is attacked by school dress code policies across the nation.
These are just some of the issues that Black students from Generation Z share they would like to see immediately addressed by the Democratic Party across the nation. Can we get Senator Cory Booker’s and Congresswoman Watson Coleman’s national CROWN Act passed and sent to President Joe Biden’s desk? That seems easy if you are asking Black Gen Z members.
Although David Hogg raises legitimate concerns about what the Democratic Party majorities in the U.S. House and Senate in Washington, D.C. are doing, he also fundamentally misses the need to understand that, unlike past generations of Americans, Generation Z will not be driven by a perspective of one demographic group. The newest Census data reveals that Americans under the age 18 are a majority minority makeup. A quick review of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Diversity Index shows how quickly the demographic changes are happening in states like California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Washington, and Illinois. The days of one demographic group defining what is important and whose perspective matters is quickly coming to an end.
David’s views expressed in his thread misses this trend and ignores the powerful action Black voters, young and old, played in securing election victories for Democrats across the nation. We spent 2020 rightfully hearing how important it was to trust Black women and that Black voters matter. During the 2020 election, Black, Latinx, and Asian youth overwhelmingly voted for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. In fact, 87% of Black youth voters voted for President Biden. Fifty-one percent of white youth voters voted for former president Donald Trump. It’s why Republicans are trying to change voting laws across the nation, to keep us from voting.
In Georgia, Black voters did what few thought was even imaginable, especially by many Democrats. They helped secure the two crucial seats in the United States Senate necessary to give Democrats their current working majority. In the 2020 presidential election, Black youth in Georgia voted 90% for President Biden and Vice President Harris. This trend is so powerful in the emerging new American South, that you see Republicans rushing to move candidates like Herschel Walker from places like Texas to Georgia to try and find a Black candidate that can win a seat back in 2022.
David should take a moment to think how in the future he will ensure he is expressing his views as his own and not the views of an entire generation of diverse Americans. But Black Generation Z also has the responsibility to speak out and continue to be engaged. We must understand how important our voices and votes are in the shaping of our future. We shouldn’t be shocked that one of the few Generation Z members the mainstream media has already selected as a generational leader for us, may not have the same personal and community experiences that we have to bring to the table. David sharing his opinion of what he believes matters to young voters is fine, what isn’t fine is us seeing his statement and not speaking up and reminding him, policy makers, the media, and elected officials what we care about.
We must remember and follow the words of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm when she said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Black Generation Z, it’s time to get your chairs.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is in her third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she became Texas Woman’s University youngest graduate in history when she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the host of the online show Zooming In w/Gen Z.
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