COMMENTARY: The Black Millennial “Freedom”

For young Black Americans, history seems to be rearing its ugly head once again. Although African American millennials are not in the physical chains their ancestors once were, certain bonds remain and keep them constricted. There are a number of hindrances set up to stifle black youth from achieving and growing to their fullest potential. I think young people realize that and recognize that as a jab to their personal and communal freedom and conclude that, even with all of the progress that has been made, freedom is still something of just a concept.

Freedom represents an ability to be or do ‘x’. And that ‘x’ could be anything under the sun, so long as it is not harmful to other people. In America, many people are allowed to be and do many things. Minorities however, especially Black people, have either an inability to be/do ‘x’ or can only be/do ‘x’ under certain circumstances.

For example, African American people, specifically children, are not allowed to have a bad day or be rowdy in school. They’re not allowed to be grouchy or not in the mood to talk. They can’t be overly excited or excitable. They don’t have the ability to not smile or to not respond to their often white superiors, in a way they deem appropriate. Acts like these, that for a white person may be labeled “going through a phase” or “they’re just having a bad day” are a sentence for a Black person. The reprimands are almost always excessive and unnecessary.

Studies are done on this type of situation annually. Most recently in 2016, USA Today declared that African American students are “nearly four times as likely as their white classmates to be suspended from school.” Kids, students especially, go through a lot of emotions; they’re happy, they’re excited, they’re rambunctious, they have tantrums. It’s simply a part of growing up. But the system we currently live in fails to provide Black youth with the ability to belong on a human spectrum.

Millennials are right in the middle of technology’s expansion in terms of phones, computers, cameras, etc. They’re all very useful items, but can be a double-edged sword for the Black millennial. A lot of the violence inflicted upon by Black people by the police goes under the radar. However, a lot of it also shows up, well, everywhere. It seems as if every day, young Black people repeatedly come into contact with a video of a fate they know could be theirs, or their mom or dad or brother or sister or anyone Black they love.

There’s an argument that can be made that Black millennials have become desensitized to seeing those same graphic videos over and over, seeing murderers or violent police officers being let off the hook, seeing those celebrity tweets and Instagram posts expressing their discontent with our world, encouraging everyone to hashtag ‘spread love,’ but eventually going back to their regularly scheduled programming along with the rest of the world, regularly scheduling public black death as we do.

Black youth are not desensitized; we are internalizing, becoming victim to what is known as “racial trauma,” making us victims of or more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD. We’re taking in these videos, taking in these unfair court sentences, taking in this reality of being Black and in America and we are telling ourselves, unconsciously, what we cannot be. We tell ourselves we cannot do ‘x’ while being Black or we cannot be ‘y’ while being Black. An inability to be or do a certain thing, that the dominant race is able to do with little to no consequences, is an infringement upon our freedom.

All people are on a bit of a leash. That is, everyone has to answer to somebody, supremely the law. For Black people, the rope of freedom in this country is taut. So, what is there to do when the systems only lets you look, behave, and respond a certain way? When your freedom and their freedom look completely different? It’s hard to have the weight of this world on your shoulders, to be worried for your parents, your friends, for the children you may or may not have. But we continue to push forward, to break stigmas and stereotypes and pave our own way. Black millennials have many choices and freedoms in this land, but only slices; but one of those is the freedom to push onward and persevere. So that is what we do, which is a miracle in itself.

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