i remember the first time i heard this term. i came into being in the bay area, where we have a propensity for adding “-ism” to the end of nouns. yes, here we love to dissect all that divides. when i heard ageism, i thought oh, here we go.
it couldn’t have been real to me in the way racism or sexism is. i have been given so much vocabulary, so many frameworks through which i can analyze my experience on this planet as a black woman: one identity constructed with two immovable parts. age, however, is constantly changing. how can one be oppressed by an ever changing category?
now i feel how real and invisible this “-ism” is. the obstacle to much critical thought is the absence of why. each time we take common sense for granted we miss an opportunity to access a new type of freedom. i am used to talking about how many black people filter through prisons, which leads to drastic disenfranchisement in the black community. and, common sense says denying a vote is denying citizenship. which we understand to be wrong. why can’t youth vote?
well, that’s easy. youth are:
immature, irrational, “they don’t know anything,” how can they? they’re not ready developmentally. it’s scientific.
the same science that said the same thing about black people. lead governments to pursue policies informed by eugenics in the early decades of the 20th century. that continues to scientifically relegate women to biological inferiority and attachment to men. okay.
but when i look around me, i can’t help but notice that the world’s ailments are caused almost exclusively by mature, rational, know-it-all adults. besides petty crimes and car accidents, youth lay pretty low as they are often confined to schools (which Rick and Bill Ayers argue are beginning to look more and more like prisons) and home (… sometimes about the same as school).
but i also see the most revolutionary, liberating, active change coming from youth. radicals in the late 60s and early 70s, the student non-violent coordinating committee, anarchist hacking communities, george jackson, fred hampton, students for a democratic society. and it’s fairly accepted that the most progressive spaces tend to be college campuses. the home of young people. so, i’m inclined to question the common sense notion that explains away control, dismal, and disenfranchisement of youth as scientific and natural.
that is not to dismiss the idea that there is no weight to time and experience. that there is no difference between youth and adulthood. of course. there is a difference between male and female. between black and white. there are realities that come with identities, some of them harsh.
but to what extent is our control of young people oppressive? is there no wisdom that can only be grasped by lack of time? is there world changing potential in our youth that isn’t being harvested? most of what we know about youth, has been constructed by adults, which history should tell us is bound to end in misinformation. but i suppose if anyone listened to history it wouldn’t have to repeat itself.