Opinion: To young folks, bigotry is for the old and obsolete
Free Press Opinion Columnist
I never much cared for other people’s kids until I had my own. Now, after nearly two decades of volunteering in schools, attending band concerts and award ceremonies, and chatting with students while chauffeuring them all over the place, I’ve come to appreciate them all.
Some are more challenged than others in finding their niches, and they get into more trouble along the way. All children, however, begin with a special spark. They are inspired to learn and to create, and they want to make positive contributions to their schools and communities.
Despite differences in our ages and experiences, too many adults treat our young people with contempt and hold them to impossible standards. Instead of nurturing our youth, many adults seem almost threatened by them.
At a time when newspapers should be filled with stories of student accomplishments, including high school and college commencement festivities, incidents of adults behaving absurdly are dominating the spotlight.
In Florida, a newly elected 17-year-old National Honor Society officer presented her acceptance speech while wearing a dress with straps that revealed her bare shoulders. Arguing that she had offended the student body, school officials booted the class president, captain of the girls’ basketball team and straight A student from her elected position less than an hour later.
Nationally, the Scripps Spelling Bee had adults all over the country in a tizzy. Winners of 11 of the last 15 spelling bees have been non-white American children descended from Indian immigrants. The number of people arguing that those kids should leave the United States to let “real Americans” compete has been astounding.
At Columbia University’s graduation ceremony in New York, the president of the school turned his back on Emma Sulkowicz after acknowledging every other student who passed by him to receive their diplomas. Best known as “Mattress Girl,” Sulkowicz had just fulfilled her promise of carrying the mattress, which came from the dorm where she was reportedly raped, everywhere she went on campus for as long as her accused rapist was allowed to remain at the school.
In Colorado, the No. 1 student in a Longmont high school was denied the opportunity to give his Valedictory speech. He had just announced he was gay and planned to mention the importance of tolerance in his presentation.
Girls have always been body-shamed for wearing pants, skirts, tank tops or whatever else has been taboo at certain times. They’ve been blamed for the sexual thoughts of men and boys, and for the violence committed by some of them.
School dress codes have received a lot of attention this spring as girls all over the country have been suspended for exposing their thighs or torsos. Many schools have even banned prom dresses that reveal shoulders or cleavage.
Students everywhere are responding with protests and messages like “Men who sexualize girls are the problem, not my bare shoulders.” Some boys are participating by shortening their shirts and shorts, too.
Regarding the racism and homophobia adults try to instill in our youth, most kids are just too busy with their racially diverse and LGBT friends to pay attention to any of that.
Today’s young people are growing up unashamed of their bodies and their sexual orientation. They embrace differences much more readily than their adult counterparts and wonder why we worry so much about what other people are doing.
As adults, we wonder why young people won’t get involved with our service groups, why they don’t vote, and why they might not even like us.
It’s nothing new for the youngest generations to think they have everything figured out and are smarter than the rest of us. This time, though, they might just be right.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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