I have been thinking a lot about Farson and Birthrights in particular these days as I have recently begun work on my own book on the topic of youth rights and liberation. Birthrights was published during an era in American social and cultural history in which fairly radical notions in reference to the rights of young people were taken far more seriously than they were today by intellectuals and activists and yet, the more I reflect upon the conditions of American society at this present moment, the more I feel that the time is ripe for a second wave of radical youth liberationist writing, theorizing, and activism. There is no better encapsulation of the first wave of youth liberationist theory than Birthrights and as such, it provides those of us charged with ushering in a second wave of youth liberationist activism and theorizing with a wonderful legacy upon which to build. We are trailblazers, yes, but we are also part of a transgenerational lineage of radical youth liberationist thinkers, writers, and doers. It is important not to forget that.
A good deal of what makes Birthrights so powerful and convincing is that Farson saw youth oppression both in its specificity and in its totality. He was able to see how youth subordination within the family, compulsory education, legal age restrictions, the juvenile justice system, and oppressive, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes towards young people, to name just a few major areas of concern in reference to youth subjugation about which he wrote in Birthrights, were both serious and unique problems in their own right and also how they worked together as part of an interlocking system of force and coercion designed to keep young people, in Farson's own words, "incapacitated, oppressed, and abused." Farson's eye for both specificity as well as the panoramic view of youth oppression (and what might be done to remedy the situation) has been highly influential for me in reference to my own writing on youth liberation and has guided me in terms of how I approach the structure of the book that I am currently at work on regarding youth rights issues.
Another important element of Farson's analysis was his focus on intersectionality long before the critical race theorist and legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw formally coined the term in the 1990s. Throughout Birthrights, Farson makes reference to the struggles of various groups within American society - women, men, prisoners, racial and ethnic minorities, disabled people, sexual minorities, poor people, elders. He sees how young people belonging to more than one marginalized group are impacted by multiple axes of oppression. He also sees how the struggles of groups other than young people may intersect with young peoples' own struggles.
Finally, Richard Farson brilliantly understood that youth oppression is not just a product of laws and customs, although it is indeed a product of those forces. He also had a special sensitivity to and gift for describing the ways in which ageist attitudes impacted how adults saw young people and ultimately how young people came to conceptualize themselves. This is evident when Farson discusses the way that so-called "child prodigies" are in a certain important sense pathologized in contemporary American society, how youth sexuality is always only understood against the backdrop of deviance, how ageist attitudes towards young people infiltrate and impact the ostensibly scientific work done to study youth, and how adult preferences for children who are cute, obedient, quiet, docile, and apolitical reflect deep antipathy towards young people as individuals and their political interests as a class.
As a second wave youth liberationist, I am so grateful for the gifts that Richard Farson provided to us via his work as a first wave youth liberationist. I pray that he rests in both peace and power and that his memory is forever for a blessing. Perhaps most importantly for those of us interested in continuing his youth liberationist work, I pray that we take his passing as a sign of a charge to keep in reference to continuing the work for youth rights and liberation that that first wave of youth liberationists began back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It's time for a second wave. I think we're up to it and I think that we're incredibly fortunate to have Richard Farson's brilliant work to guide us along the way.
|Richard Farson: 1926-2017.|