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How Collective Trauma Has Made Gen Z 'Radical'

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In America, the country whose PR campaign is all its benefits, young people grow up with many questions. If a few people can have trillions of dollars, why can’t everyone in our country have healthcare, education, food or housing? Gen Z is a generation that is the product of civil rights movements — the product of freedom but not full inclusion.

Our generation is the bridge. I will use myself as a disabled woman as an example. I was born in 1998. Disabled people in the United States got their rights in 1990 when the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, meaning my generation is the first to mingle with our non-disabled peers with equal rights but not equal inclusion. As a result, I have stumbled through a lot of personal confusion. I think many in our generation have — with privilege or without. More specifically, I think the younger generation has stumbled with saying the same hurtful microaggressions or inherent bias or even just prejudiced things as children. However, many of us chose to educate ourselves for our peers and friends through effort and love.

Gen Z refuses to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. For many, this makes us “radical.” In reality, it is a product of living in a world where everyone has the right and duty to speak up about what is hurtful. Gen Z is the generation where we choose to heal the pain our ancestors and family may have caused or been a victim of.

We are tired of being taught a whitewashed history. We are tired of leadership, company boards, and governments not reflecting the people they represent. Especially when there is pushback if you point it out and suggest new people are brought in to speak to the unique roadblocks of systemic oppression.

We are tired of silent generations who close their eyes to the pain of fellow human beings due to social constructs such as race or ability, just to name a few. We are tired of allowing people to close their eyes and cover their ears.

We are tired of privilege existing. We should only have privilege to use it to dismantle privilege. Superiority is an ancient construct that we allow to delude us into spreading medical myths as facts, criminalizing each other, and continue teaching history that is more akin to propaganda. We have seen through firsthand accounts and the eyes of those brave enough to trust us the pain our systems have caused.

We are saying no more. No more separatist hate.

Gen Z is the internet generation. We have friends from all over the world. We can access news sources that are not just from our nation but world news. We live in a nation, but we also live in a world. Why be divided in a nation rather than united by kindness? We live in a world. Being divisive in separate nations doesn’t serve us. Even being divisive as nations is becoming arbitrary.

As astronauts look to space to find planets with life, what happens if they find it? If we can’t be kind to people in our world, if we can’t be diplomatic and united as human beings, what hope do have of ever truly reaching out? Especially when billionaires speak of doing to other planets the same things that didn’t work and harmed our planet when done here. What right do we have to kill other planets when we have not been responsible or honorable with ours?

Gen-Z is looking to our future. We are “radical” as we choose to build a better future rather than clutching with reddened fingers to a failed past.

Gen-Z believes life on planet earth life as humans and life in general is more important than property or wealth. Gen-Z has lived through two recessions and many of us do not have wealth. (Some of us still have more wealth than others due to wealth privilege.) That is also why many in our generation support reparations. We need to pay back those whose families had been and are subjected to cruelty by our systems and our complicity, and still suffer at the hands of privatized prisons and implicit bias. The weight of privilege, the weight of microaggressions, the weight of silent eyes, the weight of exclusion, the weight of voter suppression, the weight of housing and job discrimination — these gaps in wealth and opportunity should not exist in a nation in which a man can own a trillion dollars. Gen-Z sees the hurt we have caused and our systems have caused as our responsibility to clean up.

We need to acknowledge the sins of ourselves, our nation, our religious organizations, our companies and our kin, as that is the first step in an apology. Most complete step 1. However, they never go on to step 2. Which is asking what we can do to make things better and listening to each other. Listening to the hurt we’ve caused. Many of us do this on a small scale interpersonally. It is time we do this in regard to systems of government, religious organizations, and our communities. The last step is taking the appropriate action to restore justice. Hence proposals such as reparations, the Green New Deal, revisiting and honoring treaties, providing ample accommodations, teaching honest history etc.

Three out of four youth feel our history education is biased and inadequate. Most people have to seek out the history of themselves and their ancestors’ relationships with American government on their own. As an autistic woman, I never learned about disabled people not being allowed in public due to “Ugly Laws.” Nor did I learn Buck vs. Bell was never overturned, so I could still be forcibly sterilized. American history is the history of anyone who lives in America, not just European settlers. For the truth to be told, many perspectives have to be shared, not just one. People from multiple cultures all need to be able to add what they feel is important and be compensated fairly for doing so.

I believe in America not what it is but what it could be. I believe patriotism is the duty of a person to both country and world to seek out how to improve. To improve America to improve the world. George Takei has a quote that best sums this up:

“I am dedicated to making my country an even better America, to making our government an even truer democracy.” –George Takei

Gen-Z is “radical” because we believe we can be better. Of course, this isn’t all of Gen-Z — there are still the hateful who resist change. However, it is the hope of the young to be examples. We call out hate where we see it so that one day the hateful can choose to educate themselves on the struggles of those next to them. So that they too may be willing to embrace inclusion, love and anti-bias work.

We act as examples of our own self-reflection and learning. We hope those who fear guilt or think we are “angry” may realize we only want to wipe up the blood spilled by previous generations’ acts of colonialism, racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, audism, ableism, faithism and genocide. We are choosing to read and study the harmful impacts of the old and current society, to promote better mental health and health outcomes, so that conflict can be resolved with empathy first and violence last. So war is a last resort. And so we fertilize the dying earth with a garden to build a future, rather than with bodies to bury our past.

Originally published: February 12, 2021
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