BY STEPHANIE YOUNGER •
I’d like to start this article thanking Art 180 for giving me 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.
When Black youth, especially Black 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 racism plays a factor in this injustice, we’re accused of being “angry,” accused of “clashing/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 the voices and lives of Black youth. My Black experience was invalidated 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less racism nowadays, that it only exists in the South and that the racism I experienced earlier in my childhood is no longer valid because “it was in the past.”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 on Instagram.
One particular white male created another Instagram account, in addition to his main account that I blocked, to harass me. He told me how “disrespectful, rude, inconsiderate and close-minded” I was for addressing the racial disparities. I was also told by him that the fight to end gun violence “is an issue that affects all lives, American lives and not Black lives,” in addition to being told that I should highlight the most affected communities “in a way that people are open to.” 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 almost everyone.
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 youth are depicted as less innocent than our white counterparts and are almost 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.
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old student activist and writer who advocates for womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention.