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The CW

My Thoughts on the State of the African American Youth

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kenyon chapter.

For the longest time, blackness has been associated with crime and violence. Black, bad! Black, less likely to succeed! These are typical ideologies and narratives that have been embedded into our society through outlets that play an integral role in shaping our thoughts, such as social media and cinema. Not only does slavery still exist, but it has also evolved. In our culture today, there are different forms of slavery that are not physical but have been cunningly instilled into our societies. The type of slavery we face now is more psychological than it is physical, and has been achieved through conditioning. Various systems in our societies like criminal justice, the educational system, and employment have been set in place to facilitate the oppression of the black community.

Black hair is naturally kinky. In recent times, kinky hair has been seen as unprofessional and “too ghetto” in workplaces. Most black women succumb to the use of relaxers to straighten their hair or hair extensions and wigs to alter their look so they appear “acceptable.” Also, because seriousness is mostly associated with straightened or relaxed hair. The funny thing is, intelligence and creativity have nothing to do with an individual’s physical appearance; especially not something as trivial as hair. There are many people who look “presentable’’ to society, but lack common sense (quote me on that!). To help correct this mentality, Law Professor Wendy Greene from Drexel University helped to create the CROWN Act. This law bans discrimination against hair textures and styles linked to racial identity.

Sadly, many African American youth have fallen prey to the idea of social Darwinism unconsciously. These youth have been conditioned to feel less than their fellow white counterparts. Some believe they are not capable enough of being brilliant, and to those who actually believe in themselves, the system works hard to remove their layers of confidence and strip them bare. It takes a resilient African American to outrun the system and an even more resilient one to try to correct the wrongs within the system. The legacy of slavery continues to harm us and still has a psychological effect on us as a country. Some African American youth feel suffocated even by their school curriculum. How many Kanias or Demitris do you see in standardized tests? Zero to none, right? It’s always Bobby, Jim or Kate having a barbecue or building a fence. The curriculum fails to represent African Americans as a people.

Additionally, mass incarceration remains a problem within the African American community. “We live in a society where wealth and not culpability determines outcome in our courts,” said Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He continued to say, “You’re better off being rich and guilty than poor and innocent.” This should never have to be the case, but it is unfortunate that it is. Majority of the people placed on death row without parole, or a well-equipped attorney, are the minority groups within the United States like the black community. According to the Statistic Research Department, As of May 2021, the United States had the highest prison rate, with 639 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population.”

I agree with Bryan Stevenson’s statement that “if you lie, you’re not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you’re not just a thief. Even if you’ve killed somebody, you’re not just a killer.” One mistake should not be the precedent for someone’s whole existence. We live in times where kids, mostly African American and people of color, are sentenced to life in prison without parole. How is this considered fair? The policies we adopted have facilitated racial profiling and inequality. Prisons were supposed to be a place of reformation and preparation to re-enter society, but now they are money-making avenues for most higher-ups. They want to reap as much profits as they can. This embodies the quote, “Where a cow is tied is where it grazes.” The prison system is a grazing field for most of these officials, and they are taking this opportunity to extort people as much as they can.

Corruption fuels injustice and injustice festers where there is no hope. To correct the issue of mass incarceration, being proximate is a necessity. The closer you get, the better you can understand the problem. You can’t be taking constant vacations, flying in the first class section, and expect to understand issues in broken or struggling communities. To enact change we must come down off of our high horses and be humble enough to get proximate and help these communities. Find the source and fix the problem.

Slavery, racism and discrimination are not the only side to black people. It would be wrong to acknowledge only the negatives and leave out the positives. In recent years, the African American community has produced brilliant and outstanding young ladies like Marsai Martin, Skai Jackson, Amanda Gorman, and Yara Shahidi, to name a few. These young girls continue to show America just how excellent blacks can be when given the opportunity. Both Marsai Martin and Yara Shahidi have won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Marsai Martin is only 16-years-old and has already accomplished great things in the film industry. She became an executive producer of the comedy film “Little” at the age of 13. She is so far the youngest African American producer. At age 21, Yara Shahidi is a social activist who openly promotes diversity, especially in Hollywood. She is also a strong advocate for the education for girls, and has even worked with Michelle Obama on the Let Girls Learn education initiative. Fun fact about Yara: Michelle Obama wrote her a letter of recommendation for Harvard University.

Amanda Gorman was the first African American young lady to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. In the year 2021, she was the youngest poet to recite at a president’s inauguration. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” has become one of the most inspiring and awakening works of literature in the history of the United States. Skai Jackson is a 19-year-old African American actress who rose to fame playing Zuri in the Disney channel show Jessie.  She started her acting career at age five. In the year 2016, Skai was named on Times list as one of the Most Influential Teens. Their intelligence and resilience have and will continue to inspire many young black girls who barely get to see themselves represented on the big screens. Also, the African American community has produced many sports legends. A few mentions Michael B Jordan, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, the late Kobe Bryant, etc. African Americans are survivors and continue to remain physically and mentally strong in the face of racism and discrimination. Black, better. Black, brilliant. Black, brave.

Samantha is a freshman at Kenyon College. Reading is never a chore and writing is one of the many things that keep her sane. She is the author of the blog named, " Tales from Sammy". She hopes to be a published writer one day with a New York Times Bestseller’s Title. She also enjoys drinking tea and eating chocolate chip cookies!