Teen Voices for Racial Justice: Why I March for Equal Justice
When I look around the city I love so dearly, I see high-rises, bridges, and nifty little shops. Then I squint, and I see original houses with peeling green paint, next to modern town homes all edges and gray. When I close my eyes so I can’t see anything, the city stills. In this city I know to be so great, I’m aware of its past. How skinheads in Dr. Martens turned into Proud Boys; how invisible red lines barred my people off, like cattle. This is why as I look around now, I am filled with such sorrow. The same shouts cried in the Sixties are repeated over and over, echoing like a bad dream.
In 2016, I attended my first protest, in the pouring rain. As ice-cold water seeped through my jacket, I felt a warmth from the crowd around me, from the fight we shared. It was then I knew protest, this hardship and struggle, and yet this wondrous, beautiful thing, was for me. Ever since then, I have stood as a voice of change, attending march after march, rally after protest, until it became routine. I am loud and undeniable in a way you can’t ignore, but it doesn’t always register well. In middle school I learned a valuable lesson about my voice. When the boys in my class made racist jokes and comments, I got mad. I acted upon those feelings, which resulted in a fight that went nowhere. I understood then that one of the compromises I would have to make would be my emotional expression for productive dialogue. That was a sacrifice I was willing to make, but it’s a loss that shouldn’t be necessary.
As a biracial woman, I have a lot of experiences regarding race. From when I was a little girl to today, I’ve been perceived as exotic, too emotional, a petting zoo animal, and others. Looking around and seeing this great divide between races and political parties left me to wonder where I fit in the middle. If I am not Black enough nor white enough, am I just being praised for light skin and silence? I think that so much of the time we get caught up in the gore and violence that we forget the more widespread issues. Identity and self-worth are such prevalent issues among POC, especially Black women. It is unfair that I am left to lie in bed at night wishing my parents hadn’t made me, wishing I was anything but my ambiguous, unbelonging self. What does it mean to be a Black girl who talks white, whose math class was too advanced for white peers to be comfortable with? My fight is long and unyielding, but I won’t stop until that pain I feel is transformed into love felt by all Black women.
With an accepting and open family, we are able to hold dialogue about difficult topics and share ideas. It isn’t always fun or pleasant, but that is when we get somewhere. Trips to Portland have brought about discussion of gentrification and homelessness. What if the rich tenants paid higher rent so poorer neighbors wouldn't have to? What if we demand minimum-wage businesses hire certain amounts of POC? These might be early ideas swirling in busy minds, but they can and must come to fruition. Currently, I am working on a clothes closet that will provide attire for job interviews for the homeless in Portland. If we can help people who are struggling get jobs, we can begin the cycle of generational success rather than suffering to end the disparity in racial economic circumstances.
It is often overwhelming and depressing to be a teen living in this time. While I see an advanced, accepting society, I’m haunted by its ghosts bound for regression. In the midst of chaos, it’s hard to find a place to simply exist as a kid. That is what I fight for! Jobs and housing are crucial, but what I want most of all is to know that children can play in their yards without a care in the world. Teenagers should be able to sneak out with their friends and not be scared because their hoodie makes them “suspicious,” but because their mom called them three times. It’s not a complex idea, simply an uncomfortable one. To admit that we need equality is to admit that we don’t already have it, and for many that’s an ugly fact. But once we confront the truths so many live with, we can reconcile and grow as people to become better. We are all just humans trying to succeed. I pray that one day we will live as such, and I pledge to never stop marching towards that goal.