Generation Z and The Gentrification of Activism
The negative nature of teenage activism perpetrated across the media.
With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement due to the untimely murder of George Floyd, online activism has soared in participation and a flood of so-called “progressives” have appeared on the scene. Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have been dominated by talks of social justice and the ways individuals can participate in changing bigoted societies and institutions. The majority of these “activists” are members of Generation Z, people who were born during the 1990s to 2010s. Generation Z has established itself as the socially progressive generation — boasting a supposedly higher tolerance to different sexualities, ethnicities, genders, and races than previous generations. But this “tolerance” is nothing more than a performative sham rooted in white savior complexes and white teens’ desire to fulfill a sort of “main character” role in the raging protests and issues occurring throughout the globe.
Throughout the events in the summer of 2020 and continuing until now, the Generation Z narrative of using their platforms, while not bad in the resolution of contributing to society, lacks any material impact or drive to be considered activism. Anyone can use their platform, but using it to post trivializing infographics and refusing to do any actual research on the issues they claim to care about causes much irreparable damage to the objective of those movements. Using your platform is vastly different when you don’t educate yourself on social capital and fully understand the depths of infrastructural racism in America.
Lack of education on the objectives of the movement leads to white teens and liberals consistently appropriating social justice terms and changing their meanings to palliate white audiences. Black Lives Matter has specifically been the target of this. Phrases like “abolish the police” have been diluted into “defund the police,” and white teens adopted the All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB) movement as some sort of edgy lingo to put in their Instagram bios and picture captions to appear woke or trendy. Not only does this disregard the serious intent behind the original meaning of these statements, but it also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the cause. You cannot support the existence of an institution founded upon the oppression of Black people and their communities as you pretend to support them — “defunding” something that never should have existed in the first place is the bare minimum for acquiring reparations for all the damage done to Black life. Even if someone joins the police force with good intentions, the very systematic oppression structured into the nature of the police departments eclipses any individual goodwill. This is what ACAB was supposed to represent, that all cops regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, or intention — including the ones you are related to or might admire — are bastards. But teenage activists would rather their politics sound less complicated or harsh, so they’d focus on the more frivolous aspects of these movements or spout platitudes about racial discrimination in general in America. It’s disgusting that they co-opt these movements for cultural capital, as it shifts the focus from Black liberation onto white consumption of politics.
Consequently, Generation Z’s rashness to use their platform for good before actually doing any research into political theory or movements reflects in literal propaganda being spread through the masses. Misinformation circulates social media as posts made with questionable objectives go from one individual to the next, with little effort being put into the verification of the facts presented. This can be seen in the situations with China and the Hong Kong protests that raged on across media boards as they reported what was China’s infringement on basic human rights. Except little truth was told about the protests in Hong Kong by American news outlets, and most were fabrications aiming to instill Sinophobic rage which routinely targets China by the U.S. It’s ironic of Americans to criticize China over apparent “police brutality,” despite U.S police forces infamously brutalizing protesters during the Ferguson riots which occurred five years before Hong Kong’s. And fictitious police brutality isn’t the only propaganda spread against froegin countries by U.S citizens. The United States has a long history of utilizing atrocity propaganda against foreign nations, one of the most classic examples of this being the Nayirah testimony. During the Gulf War and the country of Kuwait’s backing in it, false testimony was given by a 15-year-old Kuwait girl in front of the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus, claiming Iraq invaders had stormed Kuwait hospitals and stolen babies from their incubators. George W. Bush used the girl’s testimony to incite reason for invading her home nation of Kuwait, seeking to gain resources from the opportunity. Almost eerily identical propaganda is now being pointed at China, America’s objective being quite clear in hoping to overthrow the communist-ran country.
Generation Z’s failure to get a proper grasp of the world’s climate guides the American government into using them as a means for spreading atrocity propaganda to elicit outrage against enemies; specifically targeting countries who are either victims of their imperialism and exploitation, or countries that are leftist in the global south. Case in point: As of early 2019, American media outlets reported apparent concentration camps having been constructed in China’s capital and are slaughtering the Uyghur Muslim population within them. Teenage activists raged against China for their suspected acts, but not only is there no real evidence to ascertain the truth of these supposed events, but American citizens failed to remember that actual children are being locked up in cages at their southern borders and immigrant women being forcefully sterilized by ICE. Right-wing sources used the opportunity to bash the country, hurling Sinophobic myths at both Chinese people and the Chinese government. Democratic sites weren’t innocent of this either — liberal publications like Vox made articles spreading the same propaganda on the camps, asserting that the Chinese government had been locking up leaders of the Uyghur Muslim community without substantial evidence to back their claims.
Where teenage activists fail to substantially criticize the U.S’s shortcomings, they always rush to hold foreign countries “accountable” for the same acts. Hundreds of petitions circulated through the web arguing for U.S involvement within events transpiring in other countries, perpetuating that imperialism is somehow justifiable under Americans’ scrutiny and judgment. And even if these events were occurring, America doesn’t get to dispense punishment on whoever they deem fit. Counterrevolutions heavily differ from actual protests and responses that outline the Chinese government's character. Brilliantly, the U.S government weaponized the online activism of Generation Z to spread the propaganda through the country, letting ignorant teenage boys and girls do their dirty work. Although there were some serious faults on the Chinese government’s part, Americans had no right to interject themselves into their affairs, as if the U.S was somehow the moral epicenter of the world when it came to handling social issues.
Black and Indigenous activists have tried to educate the masses where white liberal Generation Z has failed, but instead, they are met with tokenization or berated for not being “polite enough” when trying to debate people who didn’t believe they deserved basic human rights. Across social media sites, white Generation Z gathers and talks about social justice and their apparent aid for marginalized groups, but Black and Indigenous activists have faced harassment for condemning their politics or stances. I have dealt with countless situations where non-black Gen-Z’s have attacked me for not agreeing with their political notions or getting angry at their negligence for Black oppression. I even have had someone who claimed to always be open to criticism on their behavior towards Black people turn into the vilest human beings in the world once I confronted them on their anti-Blackness. White Generation Z and those in proximity to that whiteness only focus on Black and Indigenous voices when they can use it to soothe their egos, to satisfy their self-importance and need for admiration as if they’re some sort of savior for caring about basic human dignities. Or even co-opting movements to get themselves into positions of power using them as a way to earn admiration for their “awareness.” Indigenous people’s issues especially are tokenized by the Democratic Party: with so-called progressives like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was hailed as a feminist icon during her lifetime, repeatedly attacking Indigenous sovereignty in both her policy and jurisdiction. Thus, Black and Indigenous activists are forced to either remain silent or risk contempt for standing up for themselves and are painted as the villains while their non-Black/Indigenous counterparts can gleefully play the victims. If we complain about their exploitation of social movements, then we’re “ungrateful.” Generation Z will applaud themselves for their social progression but revert to white supremacist talking points when a Black person does something they don’t like. Constantly shifting the focus of movements regarding social justice onto them and the ways they contribute, acting like their the main characters of a television show. Their behavior would be hilariously shallow if it wasn’t so terrifyingly inhumane.
And to make it even worse, they don’t even care about these movements, this is quite evident with Generation Z’s overwhelming support for presidential-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. Both have an extensive history of targeting Black people with prosecution and crime bills, being largely responsible for mass incarceration which has destroyed Black communities across the country. Furthering that damage, Kamala Harris advocated for keeping the incarcerated locked up for even longer periods to supply jail labor and supported police no longer need to keep their body cams online at all times of active duty. Joe and Kamala both are antithetical to the BLM movement, Biden even stating in his presidential campaign that he neither is going to abolish nor defund the police. But yet, Generation Z backtracked their stances on racial equality to support the president and vice presidential-elects, under the guise of “choosing the lesser of two evils.” They claim they are only “settling” for Biden and Kamala, but after the election, all they whined about was how they couldn’t even celebrate Trump leaving the office without being lectured about cheering for Biden. Disregarding their immoral support of him — Biden, in many ways, is just as bad or even worse than Trump, who didn’t even manage to do a sliver of the damage done to Black communities within his four years as president as Biden and Harris have done in their entire political careers. Implying that despite their repeated attacks on African-American sovereignty they are still somehow a “better option,” is vehemently anti-Black.
Liberals and Generation Z’s white feminists worry less about achieving liberation for marginalized groups and more towards having “representation” in federal offices. Movements made by these white feminists like #GIRLBOSS or the deification of female political figures like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are counter-intuitive to feminism, they represent the same status quo that oppress women throughout the globe. They did not hesitate to begin praising Kamala Harris for becoming the first female Vice President of the United States, but Kamala’s election is anything but inspiring. Her years as a prosecutor destroyed the lives of countless Black families, ruining the livelihood of countless Back women. During those years, she also repeatedly attacked the rights of sex workers and the LGBTQA+ community, refusing to decriminalize sex work and forcing transgender inmates into the wrong prisons, as well as stripping them of their healthcare. One such notable case is Michelle Norsworthy, a transgender woman who was forced into an all-male prison and was refused reassignment surgery for her medically diagnosed gender dysphoria, despite her rising suicidal tensions and emotional torment.
Kamala also seeks to reinforce America’s imperialism in foreign countries. Her support of the nation of Israel and their genocide of the Palestinians adds to the very long list of U.S terrorist actions in foreign countries. Her recent statements saying she will increase federal funding to the illegitimate nation will add to the deaths of the already innumerable amounts of fallen Palestinian people and the continuous theft of their land. Whatever milestone was supposed to be achieved with Kamala’s election is rendered valueless, as the whole point of representation in the first place pertained to how institutions placed barriers to keep marginalized groups out of positions of power and influence. Kamala has done nothing but assist those institutions and put further barriers to inhibit these groups from achieving liberation in the name of advancing the U.S government’s capitalist nature. There is nothing to idolize about her.
Meanwhile, radical feminists, who are predominantly black and indigenous women, actually address all the systematic issues within those institutions — without idolizing the politicians who contribute to the persecution of marginalized groups. But they’re undermined by the combined efforts of white liberalism and white feminism’s desire to simply satiate paltry agenda’s and supply hollow victories and act as if they’re revolutionary. They’ll continue to praise women who serve as the bourgeoisie’s symbols of imperialist feminism.
Generation Z’s infatuation with glorifying political figures for reaching meaningless milestones quells any actual progress that could be made. While they “Settle for Biden” and claim that they will hold him accountable when elected, they don’t recognize how exactly they’re supposed to hold the President accountable, when they can barely hold their friends and family members responsible for being anti-Black. It’s hypocritical to claim to be an advocate for change yet consistently support a system that forces you to choose between two white supremacist war criminals every four years, and it’s even more hypocritical to shame Black people for not participating or getting angry at their oppressors being painted as the good against the evil. Yet this didn’t stop Generation Z from spending months leading up to the election chastening anyone who didn’t want to participate in the mockery that this country calls democracy. Not to mention, voter suppression wasn’t even discussed between supposed activists regarding how hard it was for people of color to vote when they could barely make it to the polls without police interference.
Nevertheless, Generation Z’s overwhelming support for the Biden-Harris duo unmasked the true intentions behind what was supposed to be activism for marginalized groups and social justice. They cared more about meaningless victories and harm reduction instead of the abolishment of oppressive systems and structured racism. Biden and Kamala’s future in the executive branch is dark and will most likely have disastrous effects on the world and the environment. Generation Z will either play dumb in the outcome of the events or extend some useless olive branch to Biden as if they could somehow push him to their “leftist” agenda and as if he is not pushing them to the right.
These issues aren’t unique to Gen Z, — but this criticism is necessary because our generation is often highlighted as radical and “different” from other generations when in reality we are no different. I understand wanting to make a change in your country. News outlets and social media expose young, unimpressionable teens to the grimy world of politics, and you can’t help but want to be a hero in that sense. But true change begins with community aid, spreading access to works done by radical thinkers who seek true progression in societal plights and centering anti-Blackness and Indigenous sovereignty. Because without focusing on the voices of the silenced and silencing them yourself, how do you expect to ally yourself with them?