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Gen Z and the Unsung Story of Passive Racism

Young people today, specifically Gen Z, love to take on the title of being the “woke” generation and pride themselves on the fact that they call out and stand up against bigotry, but how accurate is that? On Instagram, people share countless posts praising a woman for calling out misogyny in the workplace or encouraging people to accept one another no matter their creed, color, or religion and call it activism. But calling someone out on Twitter and taking action when one is confronted with the issues in their own lives are two very different things. 

person using laptop at a desk
Photo by Christin Hume from Unsplash

A lot of the bigotry in today’s society isn’t blatantly cruel like it once was— it’s benevolent and manifests itself in seemingly innocuous ways. While young people have become skilled at picking up on the subtle remarks and innuendos on the internet, such is not necessarily the case in real life. Confronting someone in a social setting can be difficult because often times when comments are made they seem harmless in the moment. Maybe it’s a Holocaust joke here and a gay joke there, and while it may feel uncomfortable, it’s easier to just laugh it off and move on. There is also a fear that by standing up to the person making the comment, they will be socially ostracized or garner a label of being “too sensitive” or “easily offended,” but the longer the remarks go unchallenged, the more targeted and flagrant they become. Often times in the midst of all this, people fail to remember that there is a person on the receiving end of all of the hatred and bigotry. It is easy for a person not in the marginalized group to remove themselves from the situation and adopt the perspective of “they aren’t talking about me, so it’s not my problem,” but if someone considers themself to be “woke,” isn’t the true testament to that quality to speak out about the issues they claim to be so passionate about? There is privilege in being able to choose whether to speak up or not— for most, there is no choice, for the remark is about them. 

Women protesting in the Women\'s March on Washington
Vlad Tchompalov, via Unsplash

It is no secret that white people have a level of privilege in society: privilege in terms of opportunities, support, and how they are treated by other people and the law. While people may not be able to control who has that type of privilege, they can control how they choose to wield it. People who have been born into some form of innate privilege, whether it be because they’re white, male, or heterosexual, can exercise their power to create positive change in the way minorities are perceived and treated in society. Young people’s role is especially important in that sense because they’ve already garnered a reputation of being the most progressive generation and by taking action and standing against injustice, it gives greater hope for the future. Despite the “woke” label associated with Gen Z and Millennials, only 13% of voters in the 2016 presidential election were under 30 years of age, according to Pew Research Center, which begs the question if things will change in this upcoming election cycle.

As many progressive young people have become eligible to vote in the last four years, it seems logical that the voter demographics would shift significantly, but considering how fickle people have proven to be in terms of taking real action, only time will tell if the motivation is truly there or if being “woke” is just a facade saved for social media. 

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Abby is a freshman at BU studying journalism.
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