Art by Stephanie Younger

I’d like to debut this article by showing my appreciation to Art 180 for giving a platform to share my story with racism and online harassment through this painting at their gallery “Everything is Connected.” My painting embodies both the fact that Black youth have been rallying against gun violence for generations and my experiences with racism in the gun violence prevention community. This piece has allowed me to express my frustration for being a marginalized voice in this movement.

When Black women and girls speak out about issues that disproportionately affect us, such as gun violence, we’re often expected to show up for people who marginalize our voices. We’re placed at the back of movements for gun violence prevention, and when we bring up how misogynoir plays a factor in this injustice, we’re accused of being “angry,” we’re accused of “clashing with,” “attacking other people” and “not exchanging our opinions peacefully.” When I say that, I speak from personal experiences.

After speaking at a March for Our Lives demonstration, I was invited to organize with a group of white high school students, who had a very strange way of showing their support for Black voices and lives. My Black experience was devalued when I was told that there’s less racism nowadays, that it only exists in the South and that the racism I experienced earlier in my childhood is no longer valid because “it was in the past.” When I asked them how they uplift Black voices through their actions, I was accused of “questioning their activism.” When I said that racism, police brutality and gun violence against Black youth should be addressed by this movement, I faced racist harassment by the white student organizers. One particular white man created multiple Instagram accounts to harass me, telling me how “disrespectful, rude, inconsiderate and close-minded” I am for addressing the racial disparities. I was also told that the fight to end gun violence “is an issue that affects all lives, American lives and not Black lives.” Not only was I told that I shouldn’t be working with them if I’m “going to be attacking and fighting with other people,” but I was also told that I should leave this country if I don’t like it. These messages and comments left me devastated and inconsolable. I had no other choice than to block their accounts. In addition to being told that I should highlight the most affected communities “in a way that people are open to,” I was asked to unblock the people who harassed me by white youth and one non-Black youth of color on several occasions.

The fact the organizers omitted me from addressing the racial disparity at the Virginia National School Walkout Protest, instead holding this white male who is older than I am accountable, is a good example of how a white man gets to be “just a kid,” how Black girls are depicted as less innocent than our white counterparts and are never viewed as children. One day, I hope to live in a  where Black girls aren’t harassed on the internet and robbed of our innocence at an alarmingly young age when we speak out about issues such as police brutality and other forms of gun violence as a whole.

Written by Stephanie Younger, a 16-year-old student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for Womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention

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