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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Youth Rights 101: Why I Focus on Youth (Hint: They're Our Society's Most Oppressed Subject Class)

   Some people may wonder why I focus so disproportionately on youth issues. After all, young people are not the only people oppressed, either collectively or individually, in our society. Structural forces and individual prejudices often conspire to keep women and people of color from being as successful as many white males. Heterosexism is still inscribed into our nation's law codes and animates the belief systems of many people. The situation of disabled and elderly Americans bears many similarities to that of youth (albeit with some key differences). People of size are increasingly scapegoated under the guise of a "war on obesity" that conveniently doubles as a war on them. Rural people are oppressed both by the condescending attitudes of non-rural people and the very geographic realities of rurality. The poor economy is an increasingly oppressive force in the lives of more and more Americans, including those who would have once been known as middle class or even wealthy. And individuals of all demographic groups are oppressed by the military, medical, and prison industrial complexes as well as social mores which prize conformity over critical thinking and individuality. So why focus on youth?

   I focus on youth because minors are the only group of individuals in our society that almost everyone - left or right, religious or secular, educated or ignorant, authoritarian or libertarian - is openly comfortable treating as a subject class. Youth are the only group of people in the United States for whom there is widespread consensus that segregating them from the rest of society, denying them legal rights, keeping them economically dependent, and turning arbitrary authority for them over to other people is not a necessary evil but the best possible way we individually and collectively can hope to relate to them. I focus on youth because the ills of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, sizeism, rural oppression, poverty, and the military, medical, and prison industrial complexes are complicated and exacerbated by the status of minority. I focus on youth oppression because it is taken for granted and therefore invisible despite its ubiquity.

   I focus on youth because the critical theoretical eye that has problematized the idea of biologically essentialist gender roles and racial identities has not problematized much of the ageist pseudoscience surrounding discourses about child development. I focus on youth because those who decry the warehousing of our elders and people with disabilities in nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not draw parallels with the warehousing of our youth in schools and other institutions. I focus on youth because most libertarians see no contradiction in talking about arbitrary and oppressive state power on the one hand and using the phrase "parents' rights" on the other. I talk about youth because a commitment to human liberty and social justice demands youth liberation and those who claim to support human liberty and social justice rarely acknowledge this. I focus on youth because there is a more organized effort in our society to extend liberty and dignity to animals than to human children. I focus on youth because ageism is one of the greatest unexamined black marks on American society in the early twenty-first century. I focus on youth because if I don't few people will. And as long as all of these things are true I am a radical youth liberation supporter first, last, and always.

2 comments:

  1. Youth are the only group that a paper such as the New York Times would advocate enslaving -- forcefully pressing into unpaid labor in order to save the government money -- on their op-ed page.

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    1. Thanks for bringing that up. On Sunday I plan to run a link to the op ed with a little commentary on it being horrible. Even for youth that have survived minority, the unfortunate idea persists that their minds and bodies belong to others.

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