For most young millennials of marginalized communities, the late summer of 2014 was unforgettable. The state sanctioned murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked a national outcry for justice and an end to police brutality against Black Americans. That summer sparked a change in many young Americans, especially Black and Brown Americans. It is one thing to be aware of how racism is seamlessly woven into the fabric of America but it is another thing to watch it unravel at the seams. As a result, a great deal of young millennials and older teens of Generation Z have come into our own understanding of how the world really works. We have begun to truly understand that the system was actually working fine. It just wasn’t meant to work for us.
Young adults are more interested in social justice. More women are identifying as feminists–specifically “intersectional” feminists. More black youth are calling themselves pro-black and protesting against police brutality. The LGBT+ community continues their fight against homophobia and transphobia more visibly given access to social media. We have gained access to decades-old academic language that help us illustrate our experiences and analyze the marginalization we are subjected to. As we peel back the layers of America’s history of deep seated bigotry, we began to call for accountability.
One thing we have as a generation, previous generations didn’t have is social media.
Social media has served as an integrable part of spreading new age social conscious beliefs across the world. Social media has given a voice to people who are normally ignored. Social media has afforded marginalized communities an alternative way to hold oppressive, privileged people accountable. If someone says something bigoted, marginalized communities can use social media to force the person in question to receive consequences offline. A great example is people reporting racist tweets from white students to their school which usually ends up with the student being suspended or expelled.
People of privileged communities claim they can not speak their minds anymore without fear of facing consequences. They miss the days where people did not have handy, sociological buzzwords to throw around in casual conversation. They miss the days where they could post the most desensitized remarks they could think of without someone taking it to heart. As more young adults become more vocal about privileged people offending them with their hurtful actions and words, those same privileged people began to label this generation “more sensitive” than generations before.
Sensitive, as defined by the dictionary means: “(of a person or a person’s behavior) having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.” Pretty simple. Someone who is “sensitive” is someone who is considerate of other people’s feelings… but why do people treat it as if it’s a bad word? Why is it used as an insult if, at its stripped definition, means to be a decent person?
One thing I will always find odd about this generation, is our need to feign like we are heartless and desensitized to our own and other people’s feelings. Being a victim is vilified and pulling one up by the bootstraps is glorified. We fault people for being vulnerable and finding themselves in circumstances they didn’t put themselves in.
Truth is, we are no different from generations before.
Instead, we are continuing a cycle and this cycle is intergenerational. During the Jim Crow era, Black Americans did not sit on their hands. They fought back mainly through non-violence and boycotts. During the Vietnam war, young Americans did not sit on their hands as young men were drafted to fight in a war they did not ask for. They took to the streets of D.C. and demanded world peace. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a result of the LGBT community fighting against state violence, homophobia, and transphobia. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are relentless and omnipresent… but so is the marginalized’s fight for freedom from these oppressive systems.
Marginalized communities pushing back against privileged oppressors is nothing new. It is a tireless fight that has been happening for centuries. Marginalized communities, rather, are continuing the fight towards true liberation and with each generation we are further finding more ways to make our voices heard. With each generation we are broadening our language. We are sharpening our analysis. We are revolutionizing our organizing and protests. The objective–to be free–has never changed–simply our methods.
It is not that this generation is “more sensitive” than previous generations. It is that, just like generations before, change makes people uncomfortable and we can make that call for change more visible with the help of social media. Marginalized communities changing and taking control of the narrative makes people uncomfortable. You have to think, at one point, calling Black people “negroes” and “colored” instead of “niggers” was considered politically correct and now none of those terms are acceptable. We as a society are constantly evolving.
Bigotry runs so deep that it becomes insidious. We perpetuate it subconsciously half the time so when we realize how problematic something considered “normal” is, when we point it out, it makes people uncomfortable. Going against the grain will always get a rise out of the people favored by oppressive systems.
Privileged people say “it’s not that deep” in response to marginalized communities telling them something they do is hurting them but privileged people make it even deeper than what it has to be when they simply don’t listen, apologize, and adhere. We are all sensitive. We are just sensitive to different things. There is nothing inherently wrong with being sensitive–just depends on what you’re sensitive about. Marginalized communities are sensitive to things that affect their life and human rights. Privileged people are sensitive to things that challenge the status quo, their privilege and power.
It is interesting seeing the same men who crack “jokes” about sexual assault and call women “sensitive” for being offended by it become bothered by a woman posting a picture of herself naked on social media. The irony of men trivializing women being robbed of their bodily autonomy then being upset by a woman owning and taking charge of her body should not be lost on you. Women are bothered by rape jokes because sexual assault is something that terrorizes and traumatizes many women. Naked women on the internet affect men’s human rights how?
Is it really that this generation is more sensitive or is it that privileged groups remain insensitive and apathetic? Change in social consciousness would only make one upset or uncomfortable if they did not see anything wrong with the current world order. Marginalized communities pushing the fight against bigotry should not bother you unless you do not care about the betterment of that community and find no issue with the oppression they are subjected to.
It’s not that this generation is becoming more sensitive. We are becoming more sensible.