Voices of a Generation

With the raging pandemic, protests over policing in American cities and the presidential election, 2020 has been a year that has polarized the country. While clued to social media, I’ve seen many “reminders” that we shouldn’t unfriend someone because of their political views. But friendship means connecting with people who accept me and all of the identities I carry: Black, woman, middle-class, college student, etc. Therefore, I won’t be cultivating friendships with people who have views that invalidate my life experience.

There’s too much at stake to be friends with someone who thinks my life doesn’t matter.

Start with policing and uprisings that have occurred as a result of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville as two examples. According to research collaborative mappingpoliceviolence.org, 897 people have been killed by the police this year, and Black people are three times as likely to be killed by police.

Given the details of innocent Black citizens who are now gone because of police overreach, befriending someone who can’t acknowledge that Black lives matter is not something I’m interested in.

Underrepresented people should not have to pretend to be friendly with someone politically aligned with white supremacist ideals. Yes, I mean President Donald J. Trump. It’s not like opposites are making friends anyway, according to a Pew Research study finds that 3% of Trump/Biden supporters have few friends who supported the opposite candidate.

How can you truly be friends with someone if you can’t empathize with them?

As an African American woman, I’m acutely aware of how generations of discrimination and the current polarization has a tremendous impact on people.

Many citizens have experienced racial trauma caused by encounters linked to racism. The publicized killings of many Black people this year took a toll on people’s mental health, even if they didn’t directly experience it. If a “friend” invalidates that trauma or refuses to believe in the effects of systemic racism, they are actively harming friends who are affected by systemic racism or oppression.

Jordyn Blakey hard at work at online classes during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Friendship should be about compromise, but it seems like in the current environment, compromise is being placed on underrepresented people. It’s not the responsibility of a Black friend to compromise their existence for the comfort of their friend who is not Black. As it stands, when acts of racism occur, there’s often pressure on Black people to forgive the perpetrator.

Remember the 2015 Charleston Massacre when nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were gunned down by Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, while attending Bible study?

“The desire to see Black Americans show forgiveness is a desire to avoid fully reckoning with Black pain or the lingering effects of trauma that do not serve the public performance as cleanly,” said Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet writing at Pacific Standard in 2018.

If people always wait for their friends of color to forgive them when they are racist or to compromise when discussing their feelings, that can erode the relationship.

It might sound like I’m creating a bubble around myself, but when it’s my psychic and physical safety at risk, I will not budge. You can have friends or acquaintances with opposing views but not to the extreme of saying my life doesn’t matter, or I shouldn’t have human rights.

Friendships take effort, and I don't want to put effort into someone who doesn’t care about my well-being in the world. I’m not someone makes friends easily, so when I do, I know they are the right people for me.

Moving from Chicago, the Windy City to Greencastle, Indiana, – population 10,530 – was a journey in itself. But navigating DePauw University as a first-generation college student meant being the first in my family to step into an environment that others have been exposed to their entire lives. While I was overwhelmed by the small-town college campus, I reminded myself of the privilege of an education, something that college educated, upper-class and urban liberals tend to forget in their criticism of rural America.

The results of the 2020 presidential election undoubtedly demonstrated a red and blue divide between rural and urban America, but what is not captured by these results are the vast similarities as well as inequities that exist among working-class Americans regardless of geographic region.

Donald J. Trump’s presidency has fueled political polarization, using white supremacy, ignorance and lies to pit Americans against one another, infringing upon the well-being of the nation. His blatant racism has become a political tool to convince white rural Americans that contemporary Republican values are in their best interest.

On the contrary, the president’s four-year tenure has done more harm than good for rural Americans, which includes cutting the U.S. Postal Service and siding with large agricultural corporations over independent farmers.

Despite Trump’s betrayal, the Democratic Party continues to struggle for the support of rural Americans. The party relied on the slim chance of swing-states turning blue in the November presidential election. President-elect Joe Biden is the first Democrat since 1992 to win Georgia, which would not have been possible without the organizing done by Stacey Abrams and mobilizing the voting power of people of color, specifically African Americans, in larger urban areas.

This strategy may have been effective for the Democratic party this election, but it has not resolved the polarization across America.

The two-party system has made American politics a competition between Democrats and Republicans, which has worsened the government’s ability to serve the country as a whole. Aside from party politics, progressives are seeking to implement policies that will support the majority of Americans, rather than the 1%.

While millionaires make up 1% of the United States’ population, they account for 50% of Congress, demonstrating greater representation of the elite upper-class rather than the overwhelming majority of working-class citizens.

Cori Bush of Missouri’s 1st District and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York’s 14th are women from working-class backgrounds who have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. They are working to address economic inequality and enact other progressive policies for their districts and nationwide.

Through progressivism, there is a chance to unite working-class people of all races and ethnicities all over America, who struggle with access to healthcare, education and economic stability.

Biden should be held accountable for resolving this country’s polarization, yet it is also our responsibility to understand the consequences behind demeaning rhetoric that reveal classism rather than progressive values that lift us all.

Gen Z is driving this bus and if you don’t like it, you can get off. This year has been nothing short of revolutionary and has left millions of people to grapple with a new world and a new reality. Consider global social movements, the coronavirus pandemic and a record-setting election for U.S. president.

In the midst of these life-changing events, it is important to consider: Have you started your revolution, or are you watching the one passing by?

As a member of Generation Z, my own personal revolution in ideas and actions was crystalized by the continuous bombardment of historic events that mark my generation, born in 1997 and later years. These are some of the events and people that punctuate our lives:

The Columbine Shooting; the 2000 election of President George W. Bush; September 11, 2000; Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the Iraq War, the Somali War; the 2008 financial crisis; the rise of the iPhone; the election of our first Black president, Barack Obama; the Sandy Hook massacre; Boston Marathon bombing; marriage equality; the Affordable Care Act; the Paris Climate Accord (entering and leaving); Ferguson Uprising; Pulse Nightclub shooting; election of President Donald J. Trump; Hurricane Sandy; Parkland shooting; Virginia Tech shooting; Las Vegas shooting; #MeToo reckoning; the Supreme Court appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh; climate strike; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; the coronavirus pandemic; California wildfires; Black Lives Matter Movement; and $1.4 trillion student debt.

These events shaped Gen Z and will inform how our generation governs in the years to come. Here’s why we matter and what to expect from us: Our voting power is growing, according to a Pew Research study that showed how Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z was poised to eclipsed Boomers and older generations for the first time.

In 2016, Gen Z accounted for roughly 2.4 million votes in 2016, or 2% of the overall vote because only the oldest Gen Zers were eligible to vote at the time, according to Pew.  However, four years later, things looked vastly different. Instead of two year’s worth of eligible Gen Z voters, the 2020 election saw six year’s worth of eligible Gen Z voters.

Union Square, San Francisco , United States
Union Square, San Francisco. Photo by Li-An Lim.

Votes coming from Gen Z don’t look like your parents' votes because Gen Z doesn’t look like your parents' generation.

The combination of diversity, education and lived experiences within Gen Z led a staggering 61% of eligible Gen Z voters indicating they favored President-elect Joe Biden over the incumbent, which is a larger margin than any other generation. Post election, it turns out 65% of this generation voted for the Biden-Harris ticket, 11% more than other generational groups, according to NBC.

Reasons for the generational landslide can be attributed in part because of the events that occurred during the past two decades. There is nuance within Gen Z as to how major problems should be addressed, however, it appears, for the first time, there is desire for legitimately progressive policies to be implemented.

Gen Z is too smart, too educated, too diverse and too connected to ignore what’s wrong in our society. Although older generations may be OK living with systems that only work for the few, Gen Z doesn’t appear to share the same sentiment.

A word of advice from someone who is likely younger than you: Whether you’ve decided to take a stand or not, it’s never too late and certainly never too early to make a change.

We’re driving this bus and we’re going to a better place.

One day as I was going to get ice cream with friends— our new pandemic ritual — I realized I forgot my mask. You’d think by now, going into our seventh month of needing a mask just as much as needing air to breathe, grabbing one before leaving the house would be instinctual. A little ashamed at the oversight, I walked back up to my room and as I grabbed my mask wondering: What else did I forget this year? And more broadly, what have we forgotten?

Much like me, I saw a mom toting two young children on each hip who did not realize until seeing the “NO MASK NO ENTRY” sign on the door that she was mask-less. I didn’t say anything to her that day, but I’ll never forget the look she gave me — her face seemed to ask me if I’d snitch on her if she went inside the store anyway?

While I have been quick to give a side-eye to people in public without their masks and write them off as the “anti-maskers” I publicly demean on Instagram, I realize I had forgotten to allow room for human imperfection.

Someone not wearing a mask could look like the masses who protested against mask mandates in downtown Calgary, Alberta, despite the rise in new cases in the area. But it could also look like the single mother who already had so much on her plate, she forgot to make room for a mask.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her famous Ted Talk.

Many of us have forgotten there are real people outside of the single stories we’ve created on social media.

In remembering what we forgot, my mind goes to months of uproar on social media about racial injustice: For the first time in a while it didn’t feel like Blacks vs. whites, rather “everyone vs. racists.” However, this didn’t come without a great suffering for Black teens. Every time we opened Instagram or Twitter there seemed to be a photo or video of young, Black “protestors being pepper sprayed and attacked.” White Black Lives Matter Activists in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were even killed by a teenage vigilante from Illinois.

White allies and Black activists have been calling out police brutality by reposting images and videos of Blacks being beaten or killed by police. According to Vox, this was so detrimental to the Black teenage psyche that Dr. Brittani James said she ends patient visits by asking them "how they’re coping with being Black in America," Vox reported. What if, instead of giving hateful energy to police, we gave loving energy to Black men and women?

We forgot the power of love.

Although it was everywhere, and everyone was talking about it— I think the greatest thing we forgot in 2020 is we were all going through this pandemic together. We are all living through the crisis, the protests, the pain— all of it, together. And that should’ve been enough to unify us.

But just like my mask, I remembered this just in the nick of time.