This past Sunday on Melissa Harris-Perry, I was asked about my reaction to President Obama’s remarks last week on the George Zimmerman verdict and its aftermath–specifically if I shared my president’s conviction that today’s youth, my generation, is “better” than his. I didn’t necessarily think so.
This is not to say that I doubt my generation can often be impossibly, beautifully idealistic in our ceaseless calls for change. Indeed, we have an undeniably keen ability to pinpoint everything we deem flawed. But even my insubstantial study of history and limited life experience inform me that this characteristic we exhibit is nothing new. We believe in equality, and so did the young revolutionaries who created this country.
My generation isn’t better than President Obama’s. We’re just younger.
In one significant way, however, we are different: we were born in the age of computers; we came into consciousness as the Internet came into being. And to our credit, we capitalized on the serendipity. Young men and women scarcely older than me created a radical new means for communicating and connecting with each other. (Yes, I’m referring to Facebook and Tumblr–among others. It really is all we teenagers talk about.)
It is radical for two reasons. First, it’s democratic to communicate this way. It creates a platform whose most pertinent, articulate and charismatic voices are heard and discussed, not just those belonging to the richest or most powerful people. And its high accessibility makes it a tool of the masses.
Second, it’s universal. It knocks down geographical barriers while providing the option of putting up a veil of anonymity, making it easier and safer than ever for anybody to reach out and educate themselves on any issue. This helps leaders more powerfully marshal public support and solidarity from all kinds of people.
Of all the thoughts he shared last Friday, Obama’s suggestion to engage in an honest discussion about how we as communities and individuals judge others resonated with me the most. Now that our electronic infrastructure is out there, the onus is on me and my peers to spearhead a national conversation about discrimination on any ground.
The most amazing part about joining Melissa Harris-Perry on msnbc last Sunday was the opportunity I had to meet my co-panelists before and after taping. Fresh with adrenaline and just off the air, Black Youth Project youth leader Aja Holston and I decided to stay in the studio after our segment and get to know each other a little. What began as whispered small talk quickly turned to an exciting discussion on the intersecting queer and black activist communities. Aja told me she was a straight ally, and when I asked her how I could represent my solidarity for the black community in a similar fashion, she told me I could say I’m “down for the cause.” We exchanged emails. Now I follow her on Twitter.
My generation might not be any better than my president’s. But we certainly are equipped with the tools to be better organized and better connected. To what extent we take advantage of these resources and end a culture of discrimination in America remains to be seen.
Michael Gellman is an incoming freshman at Harvard University, and was a guest on last Sunday’s “Melissa Harris-Perry.” Find him on Twitter at @MichaelSGellman.
See the discussions he participated in above and below.