Race, Childhood, and Inequality in the Political Realm | Vision & Justice || Radcliffe Institute


– Black girls need less
nurturing, less protection, less support, less comfort. The research shows that
these beliefs are widely held by adults in the United States. A recent report from the
Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality finds
that adults view black girls as less innocent and more adult
like than their white peers. And black girls aren’t alone. We also know from the research
that adults view black boys as older, more troublesome,
and more likely to be guilty than
white boys starting from as young as age 10. When reports first surfaced of
the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot by
police while playing in the park with a toy
gun, he was repeatedly described in the media not as
a child, but as a young man. This phenomenon of viewing black
children as miniature adults means they’re
disciplined more often, suspended more frequently,
and punished more harshly, including being more likely
to be referred to police and arrested. Adults projecting
suspicion and risk onto very young black bodies
is a particularly pernicious manifestation of racial
inequality in America. Normal childhood behaviors,
tantrums and disobedience, become a criminal threat
when black kids do them. And this age
compression increasingly denies black children
their childhood and robs them of the
freedom of just being kids. So this next discussion on
race childhood and inequality could not be more
timely, and I’m tremendously honored to be
here to introduce three really extraordinary guests. We have an opportunity
this morning to hear from a multi
generational group of leaders who are considering the
crucial function of the arts and culture in
shifting race based narratives that impact the
life outcomes of children. We’ll also have a chance to
hear how their work highlights the role that students
and educators are playing in constructing new
stories and imagining new modes of visualizing
black children. So it’s my pleasure to
introduce our panelists now. Robin Bernstein is the Dylan
Professor of American History and Professor of African
and African-American Studies and Studies of Women, Gender,
and Sexuality at Harvard. She’s a preeminent cultural
historian, prolific scholar, and distinguished educator
whose work focuses on theater performance
in childhood, with the goal of producing
new knowledge about US cultural history, particularly
American formations of race from the 19th century
to the present. Her most recent book,
Racial Innocence, Performing American Childhood
from Slavery to Civil Rights, won five awards for its
groundbreaking study of the racialized and gendered
ideologies that shape, inform, and continue to haunt notions
of American childhood. And I should say that Robin’s
not only a brilliant scholar. She also holds a Harvard
College Professorship in recognition of her
distinguished contributions to undergraduate
teaching and mentorship. Our second panelist
is Naomi Wadler. She’s a sixth grade
student activist attending George
Mason Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. On March 14th 2018, one month
after the Parkland shooting, she organized a
walkout at her school. And she added an extra
minute to Cortland Arrington, a 17-year-old black girl who
was shot to death at her Alabama high school just three
weeks after Parkland, but whose death received
very little national media attention. Because of her efforts,
Naomi was an invited speaker at the March for Our
Lives in Washington DC just a few days later. And her speech highlighted
the disproportionate impact of gun violence on girls of
color and the lack of media coverage and public
outrage about the stories of gun violence involving
people who look like her. Naomi has made it
her mission to share the stories of black
and brown girls that we don’t see
on the front page and is using her platform
to give a voice to those who don’t have one. She’s received many
honors and awards, including the Disruptive
Innovation Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and was recognized
by Teen Vogue 21 Under 21. And she said that
one day she plans to run the New York
Times, but for now she’s teaching herself the ukulele. And you’ll notice
that we actually have three chairs up here,
because we have a surprise addition to today’s panel. Yara Shahidi is a humanitarian,
feminist, social activist, actor, and producer. She recently founded 18 by 18,
a voter registration platform that encourages newly eligible
voters to register, vote, and give voice to the
policy issues that are most important to them. Last September, 18 by 18
hosted the We Vote Next summit in Los Angeles,
bringing together 120 delegates from every state
and the District of Columbia along with other accomplished
student leaders, activists, and artists from
around the country to amplify the voices, stories,
and concerns of first time voters. Yara is also an
outspoken advocate for the importance of
education for girls including founding Yara’s
Club in partnership with the Young Women’s
Leadership Network of New York to bring high school
students together to discuss social issues and
empower youth to defeat poverty through education. So Yara began her acting
career at the age of six and is perhaps best
known for her role as Zoe on ABC’s Blackish
and its spin off Grownish. She also recently made
her directorial debut with X, a short film that
follows a black child on his walk to school
in the morning, showing him physically
shifting and evolving to match the expectations
and the stereotypes that are projected onto him
by the world around him. So please join me in welcoming
our distinguished panelists. [APPLAUSE] – Thank you so much. Thank you DEAN Gaye for the
extraordinary introduction. Thank you Sarah Lewis for
convening us here today. Thank you to everyone who
has made this possible, this extraordinary
extended conversation that I am so honored
to be a part of. And thank you to my beautiful,
wonderful co-panelists who I’m so excited to
be speaking with today. – Thank you. I’m excited to be here. – Me too. – So I was thinking
that we could start by talking a little bit
about how you became activists, how you decided that
that was something that you wanted to
do with your life, how you became people who
are thinking very deeply about justice and visuality. How did that happen
for each of you? Naomi, we could start with you. – So I’ve always
had parents who had very open, honest conversations
with me about race. And I knew that when all
these tragedies happened such as the riot
in Charlottesville, I really wanted to do
something about it, but I didn’t really know how. And so when the Parkland
shooting happened and I saw all of these teenagers
and kids really speaking out and speaking up about
what they believed in, I kind of just
followed along in line. And when I spoke at the
March for Our Lives, everybody was talking about
Parkland and gun violence, but that wasn’t really my story. Because while I’ve
had some experiences, I’m not an inner city kid
and that’s not my story. And I wanted to talk about
something that I knew about and something
that I have lived, and so I wanted to talk about
how gun violence affects black women. [APPLAUSE] – And for me, I similarly
come from a family that has always had that
conversation in our household. Being half black and half
Iranian, what I appreciate is that I had a very
global perspective from a very young age and
the expectation that we would understand and appreciate
our cultural heritage, as well as extend
the same empathies and sympathies that we have
for our own communities to other communities. And it is very helpful as
well to have grandparents on either side who have
always been socially engaged from my papa, who has
always been in academics but has been the head
of school boards, has been the person making
space for black students, and so he is the person
where I actually take notes when we have conversations. And so that conversation
happened from the moment I was born. And similarly, when I started
making money from this industry that we’re in, my family
kind of sat me down and they were
saying, OK, so you’re going to have three pots. You’re going to determine
what you spend, what you save, and what you donate. But within that meant that
even our basic infrastructures of how I view and intake
money had everything to do with how I decide to
give back and be involved with the greater
world around me. And so I think a matter
of being able to be on a show like Blackish
which inherently had a political leaning
to it and talked about what it meant
to be a black family, it meant that at the age of
14, I was given opportunities to talk about the
state of America on national platforms,
in which I don’t know if that opportunity would have
been extended to me otherwise if it wasn’t for the
nature of that show. And so it was a matter of
really just understanding how passionate I was
about the world around me, and then using that
platform to then extend it to topics that weren’t
necessarily being discussed or directly
related to the show. – How did you get
interested specifically in voter registration? – So I’m a nerd,
but happily one, and the one thing about
voting that I realized is that it’s set up like an
upper middle class hobby. In that you have to have the
time to physically go vote. If you have an hourly job, that
is not always your reality. And then there’s
always, I mean, we’ve heard about voter
disenfranchisement. But then even earlier
than that when you look at voter
education, there is a political jargon that’s
used that intentionally creates a community of people
who actually understand our political system. And for those who are
outside of that, then voting in the government is
something that happens to you rather than something
that happens with you. And so understanding that
midterms were coming up and that’s again an election
that has not been emphasized especially amongst my
generation– we usually focus on presidential
elections– and realizing how integral midterms
were in setting us up for success in the
presidential election and setting us up for success
is really important to me to have a campaign
that really focused on young voters such as myself
to understand what we’re voting on, because even as somebody
who I’ve had the time, space, and privilege of being
extremely informed and the environments
to be surrounded by mentors who
constantly pour into me, I was still confused
by the process. And so it is really
a matter of being able to share the
privileges that I had of these great
speakers who broke down what it means to be a voter,
what it means to be active, and it was really just
a special opportunity to be in relationship
with people to prove that civic
engagement is something that happens on a daily basis. – I’d actually love to
take this opportunity to share an extraordinary
insight that was shared with me a couple of years ago. I got into a
conversation with a woman from the League of
Women Voters who had been sitting outside my
public library for months registering people
of all ages to vote. And she told me that from
her months of conversations with new voters, she had gained
this extraordinary insight which is that for
a lot of voters, voting feels like taking a test. And because it feels
like taking a test, it first of all feels
scary and unpleasant. But also, it short
circuits certain kinds of common sense such
as the fact that you are allowed to bring somebody
with you into the voting booth. That you are allowed
to write down who you intend to vote for,
because those things would not be permitted with a test. And when she said
that, I thought, this has such implications
for the educational system. When we have an educational
system that is increasingly emphasizing high
stakes tests, tests which are extremely
racialized and that are experienced very
differently by people of different races and classes. So I just wanted
to take this moment to share that insight that
was given to me by this woman from the League of Women Voters. So now I want to come
back to the two of you. We had a pre-conversation
a couple of days ago. The three of us
spoke on the phone to come up with some of what
we might like to talk about during this session. And one of the themes that
came out really strongly was the theme of adultification. Naomi, you were the
one who brought up this idea of adultification,
and Dean Gaye spoke about it a little bit as well. So I’m wondering if
you could tell people what that term means,
because some people might not have encountered the term
adultification before, and if you could speak a little
bit about how adultification has affected your activism,
and how it has affected you. – So adultification
of black girls is– well, first of all, studies
show that black girls are seen as adults at the age of five. And so they’re
disciplined more harshly, and they’re seen
as less innocent, and they’re expected to act
as adults even though they’re children. And I don’t think that it’s
really affected my platform, but I am aware that it
is a very real thing, and I like to talk about it
and raise awareness about it, because it’s just not OK. Because you can be
a five-year-old girl and be so confused as to why
when you’re white classmate starts crying, they get
comforted, but then when you start crying, you
are told to be quiet. – Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Have you felt the
effects of adultification at all in the way that
the media has treated you? – I’m actually not sure. I don’t really pay a lot
of attention to that. – That’s probably a good choice. – How about you? Have you felt that this has
been a factor in your activism? – Most definitely. I think partially because a
factor of adultifying somebody, the problem that I
find with it– there are many problems, but the
problem that I find with it is that there’s a temporary-ness
to being an adult. And so you are placed in
the category of adulthood when it’s convenient and
then quickly taken out of it when you are then put in a
position to defend yourself. And so it is no longer
a conversation happening amongst peers, but it’s a
conversation in which somebody is given the power to reinstate
the hierarchy when necessary. And you see this when you look
at as we’ve discussed before, at the killing of black
boys and black girls. And when it turns to our ability
to then stand up for ourselves, we’re not given the same rights. And then on a much
smaller scale of being from the liberal bubble
of California, of LA, it’s been interesting as of late
to even see how I’m perceived, and I think we had talked
about this previously in that, a lot of the articles
that have come out as of late have made the point of
asking whether how I speak is premeditated,
preplanned, politician-like. And it’s been
interesting, because these are things that range from
Time Magazine to Cosmo. And I didn’t realize
how concerned they were with whether or
not I was being authentic, because I didn’t match whatever
their preconceived notion was of childhood. And at the same time, they’re
not viewing me as an adult either, and so I think
the paradox of where I stand in their
eyes was something that I’ve paid
extra attention to, and I’m grateful to be
able to have parents on this journey who have been
there every step of the way with me, because they have
intentionally maintained my childhood especially
in an industry which has systematically said
that by the age of 16, you should be able to
represent yourself on set. You should be able
to, and you’ve not been given the
equipment to do that. And as much as this
is something that happens within the
industry of entertainment, it’s something that
happens on a regular basis. Something that
happens in schools when you look at the
criminalization of our hair and how those
conversations go, when you look at strip searches
performed on students, how does that happen? It is because you
have adultified them, and then when it comes time to
actually be in conversation, you’ve no longer given them
the freedom or the rights to stand up for themselves. – Yara reminded me of something. You talked about being put
in a place of adulthood when it’s convenient for people. And I can relate to that
because, when I’m on stage, often people will
treat me as an adult and they won’t
treat me as a child. But then the second
that we walk off stage, they won’t include me
in the conversations about the next steps. – So they don’t include you in
conversations about next steps. What is a time when you
had ideas about next steps that then got cut off? This is a good moment to share
some ideas about next steps. Specifically about gun violence,
or about something else? – I was at an event,
and I was offstage. I had just given a speech,
and they were talking about– I don’t even know, because
they were in a circle, and they weren’t letting me in. But when I was onstage,
they were praising me, and they were telling
me how smart I was, and they were treating me
like I was older than I am. And then as soon as
we walked offstage, it’s like I wasn’t even there. – Wow. Did you want to follow
up on that at all? – I remember having an
interesting experience in which we were at a photo
shoot, and they were talking about
inclusion in television, gender inclusion in television. And it’s fascinating the
positioning of gender to erase all other
categories of identity. And so we were at
this shoot talking about women in
television, and I had made a point of
reaching out beforehand to ask who they were including. We were in a particular
place in which we’re really fortunate to have many
people on television that reflect many other people. And they’re like, oh,
no it’ll be great. It will be diverse. And I get there, and somehow– and mind you, these are
all incredible actresses. Somehow, they found
three actresses that looked like triplets. So I’m there. I think they put me in
the back of the photo, because my hair was big. Small things. But then, they wanted to
have a roundtable in which we discussed inclusion. And I being sick of being
the representative of, because inherently I think
it’s unfair to people that I’m representing for
me to be the face of, when I know I’m doing an inadequate
job of representing all struggles. And the intention of me
saying why aren’t there more people in the room
of different backgrounds? Is because, me
explaining– as much as I deeply try
to educate myself to be as inclusive
as possible, it would be reductive if I was the
face of every other identity you could think of. Me being the face of GenZ,
of the global conversation and the black conversation and
the female conversation all in one. And so I had asked politely
to just not participate. And the editor of the
magazine came up to me and was like, well, tell me why. I said, well, I told you why. And they were like,
well, then don’t you think it’d be a
great opportunity to explain what your
problem is on screen? Like, no. And not to go play by play,
but what was fascinating was, in this moment,
we are in a circle. And this grown woman, you see
my publicist, you see my mother, they’ve made
themselves apparent, they’ve been involved
in the conversation. She’s addressing me, but
she’s not hearing me. And she keeps doing
the same thing. She keeps addressing
me, asking me why I do not want to participate
and how unfair it is. And she says, well, I
understand inclusion. I worked at the Washington Post. I said, great for you,
but she’s again not hearing the conversation. She’s not giving me the
privilege of then saying, here my no. And part of this
conversation around inclusion is hearing my voice, including
my voice in your process. And so that was
just a minor example and given it has
very little symptoms or any problem in
the world, but it was fascinating in that
moment to really see how that’s highlighted
within liberal structures, and we have an
ongoing conversation about how neoliberalism is a
perpetuator of these problems. [APPLAUSE] – Naomi, how do you think
the voices of black girls could be amplified better? – People could recognize
their struggles. And I think that a big
part of the problem is that you have a lot of
older white people saying that they understand, and
they don’t understand. And they need to take the
time to learn and acknowledge that they will never
fully understand but that they can try
and help, and that even without the full knowledge, they
can listen, and they can hear, and they can recognize
that they could do better. [APPLAUSE] – So I want to bring
the conversation to the theme of the arts
and vision and justice. Earlier today, Theaster Gates
said something extraordinary. He said many
extraordinary things, but one of the things that stuck
out for me the most, he said, have we created spaces where
young people can be just? And I’d like to expand that idea
from physical spaces to arts more generally. So you are both people
who are living lives in search of justice. You are both justice seekers. And my question is, what arts– it could be what
physical spaces, what architectural spaces, but what
arts more broadly have enabled you to be just, to seek justice? – Well, I’d have to start by
saying the art of education, if that counts, in
that my parents really created a supplementary
curricula for me when I was growing up. I didn’t watch TV or movies
except for like an hour on the weekends. And so the TV was off
Monday through Friday, and instead we were given
audio books and books, and they told me I was– there was one moment in which
I was doing a distance learning program, and I was so
interested in history that I’d finished all the
courses a month early. And so they gave me
the next set of courses in which they were talking about
African history, in which they were talking about
Iranian history. My folklore books, not only did
I have the real Grimm’s Fairy Tale in second
grade, which I think much to the dismay
of my classmates when I told them how the
fairy tales actually ended, but when I look at
even Cinderella, something as iconic as that
figure of what a princess is, the Cinderellas that I had
were the Egyptian Cinderella, the Korean Cinderella,
the Persian Cinderella. They found these stories, the
global narrative, basically. And the other aspect
of it was the fact that I had the privilege of
having family in the arts. I have an uncle who is a
jazz musician, a cousin who is a rapper. And he is the one who
not only through his art but through
extending to me, he’s the one who introduced
me to James Baldwin. And he’s the person that
put me in environments in which I could see and
hear about other artists. And so even in school is where
I learned about much of the art that I think has
really impacted me. I went to an all
girls Catholic school, but the first essay
that we had to write on was on August Wilson
the Piano Lessons, and then the next was Their
Eyes Were Watching God. And then we went
through Sandra Cisneros, and it was interesting to be
in an environment in which our stories were centered,
in which this was not a class on African-American
or ethnic voices in, but this was our English class. And the idea of being
central to my own narrative, I think is what made arts
really expansive for me. And the fact that I was
able to really select what I was viewing had
given me the opportunity to understand the quote
unquote American dream through a context that
made more sense to me. And I think to quote
James Baldwin as I always do, the one thing he said
in a conversation directly discussing the American
dream is he says, by the age of five
or six or seven– I’m loosely paraphrasing–
but by the age of five or six or seven, every stick and
stone you’ve seen is white, and so you assume you are too. And it comes as a
great shock when you realize that Gary
Cooper killing off the Indians while you were
rooting for Gary Cooper, you are the Indians. It comes as a great shock
when the flag that you pledged allegiance to along
with everybody else did not pledge
allegiance to you. And the reason I
bring that up is because I think arts have
been a form of reclaiming my allegiance to a
community that considers me, to a community that is
constantly in consideration of others, rather than to
an idea of nationalism. And media has everything
to do with how we understand nationalism. And as of right now,
we think nationalism is the Seinfeld show and Friends. And as much as I assume that
those are fantastic shows, that is not something
that includes me. [APPLAUSE] – I went to the
African-American history museum, and there are six
floors of black history. And it was just so cool. I was pretty young. Not that young. I’m still 12, though. And it was just such a
liberating experience, because there were
floors on scientists, on black scientists. And there were floors
on black entertainers, and there was just such a
variety of black figures. And it wasn’t just
overwhelmingly well-known black figures. It was black figures that
people didn’t really know about. And there were red box
parts of the museum where it was graphic, but it
still told those stories. And I thought that
was really amazing. – What about in your school? What kinds of arts were you
exposed to in your school or in your home, in
your family that helped enable you to seek justice? – My history teacher,
he’s here with me today. The first week of
school, he showed us a painting of the signing
of the Constitution, the signing of the Constitution. And he said, what do you see? And what do you not see? And we said, well,
we see a bunch of old white, straight,
men, but we don’t see a whole lot of diversity. And that was just so helpful,
because I went to an old school where we learned a little
bit about Martin Luther King. But we didn’t learn about
any black scientists, and we didn’t learn
about slavery. We learned about Thomas
Edison or something. And so going to a new,
pretty diverse school where my history teacher
is just so aware, and where he can ask us what
we see and what we don’t see, that really inspired me. [APPLAUSE] – You look like you want to
follow up on what Naomi said. Do you want to? – No, you put it
really perfectly. But I similarly had the same
experience at the museum, and I remember coming out
of the Emmett Till memorial and being so moved,
but I think what I loved most was that it
was a communal experience. And I’ve always
experienced, I’ve been really grateful to
have a curricula in which it is a globalist perspective,
but usually that’s something that I individually received. And so to be in a
space in which we are in community experiencing
that was really special, and it speaks to just
the power of again forms and infrastructures as the
panel before discussed, because I remember this
was something we had even discussed, one of my pet
peeves is the separation of Egypt from Africa,
particularly in museum spaces. [APPLAUSE] In that I remember going
to the British Museum, and it was quite hilarious,
actually, because you go in and they have the Rosetta
Stone, which is pretty epic. And you move into the
Egypt exhibit in which they have all of these artifacts,
and one of the artifacts said, this is an Egyptian
talking to an African. And then you have to go through
the Americas, down the stairs, around the corner,
open the door, and there’s the Africa exhibit. And everything they had in
there was post-colonial. And so what was fascinating
was, one, there’s no acknowledgment of that. So the only reason
I was aware of that is because I was aware of
when Africa was colonized and by whom. And so you’re in these
spaces, and there was such a dearth of artifacts
to pull from that they even had to reach out and
pay for some artists to contribute artifacts. But it meant that there
was no explanation as to why you’re not
seeing the beauty or celebration of
Africa, because at this point the
rubber’s in Belgium, and there’s been a genocide. At this point, the bronze
from Benin is elsewhere. You can look in
the Greece exhibit, you can look in France, or
look in the England exhibit, and that’s where
you’re going to see all of these African resources. But there’s no
acknowledgment of that. And so when you look at how our
basic visual structures play into this idea of inequality
by exactly the point you were making by what
they’re not telling us and what we’re not
seeing, in that moment, you realize that we are
OK, separating Egypt and celebrating it, but there’s
been a systematic separation from its blackness. And so these
accomplishments have not been viewed as something
that has been contributory or contributed by black
people in any way. And they’ve been
almost race-less. And so then when you look
at Africa as a whole, there is no conversation
around how integral it’s been to the rest
of the world dialogue. [APPLAUSE] – One theme that’s
coming out for me really strongly in
this conversation is the importance of education
and how education happens in so many different places. It happens in museums, it
happens in families, it happens in schools, primary,
secondary, and one place that education of course
happens is also in the media. And you are both people who have
been educators through media. So I’m just very curious
about what it is like for you to know that you have been role
models for other black girls. You have been for
many other children, you have been people
who they have looked to and have been inspired by. So I’m curious about
what that experience has been like for you. Naomi. – It’s been pretty amazing. But part of my own
platform is not just taking all of the
credit for myself. I really want to tell the
stories of black girls, but I also want to
hand them the mic and let them tell
their own stories. Because yes, I can
represent them, but I don’t know what
it’s like to be them. I mean, I am a black
girl, but I don’t know every one of their stories. [APPLAUSE] – Yeah. Honestly, perfectly put. And just building
off of that, I’m extremely grateful
for the support that I’ve gotten
just in what I do on television and outside of
it, and I’m aware of the role that characters play,
that Blackish plays, that Growinish plays in
telling a narrative that is inclusionary or
inclusive of us. But the one thing that it’s
really emphasized to me is again, what we don’t
see and understanding the importance of
infrastructure. Being on a show like
Blackish and being on a show like Grownish, I
think what I’ve been most grateful for is
the fact that we’ve been able to introduce
new directors into network television, introduce
new writers into network television, because it’s
breaking that cycle of not being given an opportunity
because you don’t have the resume but not being
given the opportunity to ever build the resume. And the one thing that the
creator of both shows, Kenya Barris has done, is
said that it’s not a risk to believe in people. And so he has been
able to push people into the system of
being able to have a black female director
on set is something that I’m grateful to
have that experience. To be able to have
different identities, help form these shows, has
been so integral and goes to your point of
passing over the mic, because the goal of a show
like Blackish or Grownish or even having started
our own production company and what we’re doing is
this idea of allowing people to tell their own stories and
allowing people the platform and the background and the
resources and support to go tell their own stories. And so it is more so
this idea of everything you’re doing with the
intention of opening the door for other people. Because if it stops
where you are, then that’s where the
progress stops as well. – Thank you. [APPLAUSE] So one thing we talked about
in our pre-conversation was giving you the opportunity
to ask each other questions. So Yara, I was wondering
if you could ask Naomi what you would like to ask her. – My question is really
simple, but I would love to know what gives you hope? You have been in
environments in which you’ve been an advocate talking
about so many atrocities in the world, and so I was
wondering what really inspires you or makes you happy. – It really inspires
me when I see people caring about what’s
going on in the world and educating themselves on
what’s going on in the world. Because a big part
of the problem is it’s not that
people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know,
and it’s just ignorance. And so when I see people
who are taking the time to learn more about the terrible
things that are happening but also still being
optimistic for what they can do and for what others can do
and what the world could do and recognizing
that they can’t just hand the mic over
to somebody else, it’s everybody’s responsibility
to make the world a better place. – So the question I was going
to ask you was already asked, so I’m going to have to
think of a new one now. – We can come back to it. – We can come back to it. We’ve been talking a
lot about black girls, because that’s
your subjectivity. And I have been curious as
to whether you have thoughts about representations, visual
representations of black boys. What are your observations
about visual representations of black boys, and what are
your thoughts about that? – I don’t think you
can’t not think about it. And I know, oftentimes
people justify their thought by saying, well, as somebody
who has a brother, as somebody who has a father. But I think even if
you had no connection, it should be important
to think about. And with that being said,
I have two brothers. And it’s interesting,
again, growing up in an environment in which
my parents very intentionally placed us in inclusive spaces. And at the same time,
it’s been a balance of understanding that we live
in a much more inclusive space in the rest of the world while
not ignoring the fact that this is not our reality, and that
this is not everyone’s reality. And so when you’re thinking
about portrayals of black boys, it again goes back to this
dehumanization that occurs ON such an integral level. I remember even one time
my brothers were at school, and my one brother was
picking up the other brother. They’re 16 and 11. And at the time, this
was about a year ago, THEY went to hug each
other, and the teacher told them not to hug. And I get that different
schools have different policies, but there’s a moment in which
that occurs in which you’re not viewing these as two humans
with a connection to each other. You’re not viewing them
as two children who are happy to see each other,
and it’s a denial of joy. And so it’s been about how do
you reinstate the narrative around joy, whether it’s– I think everyone has seen
the hashtag black boy joy. How do you reinstate
narratives surrounding just the everydayness of us
rather than these moments that we see in the media? And again, how do we turn
that narrative around, because when we talk about Tamir
Rice, which is something that makes me really emotional
every time we talk about it, but I see that, and like,
how dare you kill my brother? You see the murder
of Nipsy Husstle, and it’s like, how dare
you kill my profits? And it has everything
to do with how we feel placed in this world. And to see other people’s lack
of care is world shifting, but it’s also very
inspirational, because it reminds me
of why we do this work and why you have to advocate for
something more than yourself. And when we talk
about black womanhood, and we were actually
recently having a conversation about black
feminism, but so many times we think that it is
just a conversation on black womanhood in specific. But it is really a conversation
around centering black women. But in inclusion
of black women, you have to understand that
we automatically care and have considered
the intersections of other identities, and we’re
considering the intersection of immigration, we’re
considering the intersection of what it means to be first
generation, what it means to be LGBTQ plus, what it means
to be in these other spaces, because we automatically
hit those intersections and have people that we care
about in those intersections as well. And so to focus or
center on black womanhood and black boyhood is not
a selfish act, but rather this idea of expansively
caring about everybody. [APPLAUSE] – Somebody asked
me at school if I thought it was worse to be a
black woman than a black man. And I said that both
of them have issues, and it’s not about
which one is worse, because comparing
gets us nowhere. It’s about how black
women and black men can work together and
lift each other up. [APPLAUSE] – Have you thought of
a question that you might like to ask Yara? You can pass. – So you are a role model
for a lot of young girls, and I wanted to know how
you balance your public life with your personal life. – That’s a good question. I’m still figuring it
out on a daily basis. But again going back to
why I’m so grateful to have my parents with me
every step of the way, they really have been
there to help me just figure out what brings me joy. And I realized that
oftentimes, it’s not about finding the
separate work life balance but figuring out
where they meet, and as long as whatever I’m
doing is purpose driven, I’m extremely happy. And so it’s really been about
investing in and pouring into 18 by 18 to figure out what
the next iteration of that is, it’s been reading
a lot of books. I love reading, love
listening to podcasts. I think I singlehandedly support
NPR, because that’s all I do. But it’s been about finding
those personal moments of growth and finding spaces,
whether it’s this one which I’m so grateful to be in, or
whether it’s the Underground Museum in Los Angeles, which
if you haven’t been there I highly recommend you go. But just finding
spaces in which I am investing in myself
and my own education and expanding, because I
think it’s automatically what really motivates me to
then go back out into the world and do whatever work
needs to be done. [APPLAUSE] – I’d like to know
if you have advice for other young activists
or people who are perhaps not activists who would
like to become activists or advice for adults
who would like to support young activists
as they work towards justice. – I often like to say that
success looks like you. Many people when
they’re starting out, they want to speak out. They want to do almost anything. They just look at other people,
and they compare themselves to other people, and
they say, that is what success looks
like, so I need to do blank to be successful. And so I think that it’s really
about knowing that whatever you do makes you successful. If you want to be
an activist and you want to put up posters
around your school, that’s being successful. And if you want
to make speeches, that’s being successful. If you want to post a video
on YouTube of you singing, that’s successful. Because whatever you
want to do, however far you get, that successful. [APPLAUSE] – Yeah, and I think
to your point, we’re in a day and
age in which you can quantify almost anything. Because of social
media, you can quantify, I can physically
look at my analytics and see how many
people I’ve reached. And that can be really dangerous
in that we try and quantify our impact or find something
that is as tangible as possible in which that’s counter
intuitive to how inspiration and how inspiring
others actually works. And so I’d have to agree with
everything that you’ve said, and then also just add
finding a support network. I’m extremely grateful
to be in a position to have so many mentors,
so many of which are in this room, so many people
that I pull inspiration from, so many people that
I leave feeling inspired and full, and so
many people that I can even process with. And it’s been about finding
intergenerational support and realizing that it’s
not about recreating the wheel either. You contribute how you
can, but the one tattoo I have on my body is the
apostrophe 63 for 1963, and it’s a reminder of the work
that was done in that year. It’s a reminder of
what’s occurred. And even though it’s only one
year and one of many that’s contributed to the freedoms
that I experience now, it has everything to do
with the work that I do. It’s the year that the
Fire Next Time came out. It was the bombing of
the Birmingham Church. It was the death
of Medgar Evers, and it was the
March on Washington. And so being in conversations
with generations before and after you I think
is extremely crucial, because I think, again, it goes so many
times as this generation, we think that we are
doing this by ourselves, when there have been
so many people who have invested in humans
that they don’t even know. And that’s a really
powerful act. And I think recognizing
that really is comforting. [APPLAUSE] – I’d like to know about
something that you’ve never seen, this is something
we talked about before. Something that
you’ve never seen, either in representation
or in reality that you really want to see. This is really a
question about, what are you visually hungry for? What do you literally
want to see? – I looked at the editorial
board of the New York Times, and it was very white and male. And I want to see a black
woman, preferably myself, running the New York Times. [APPLAUSE] – I’m going to preface this
by saying when I was 13, my favorite book was Catcher
in the Rye, much to my dismay now when I look back. But what it really struck
in me is just my familiarity with mainstream culture
in which there’s been no familiarness with myself. And so the one
thing that I always say is when you see a
person of color and somebody in many intersections
in a role like Holden Caulfield in which we are
watching them for two hours do nothing in particular,
and we’re OK with that and we’re invested, I
think that will demonstrate another level of investment. I mean, if you think about
a movie like Boyhood, I think it marks our general
investment in that type of being and the fact that I can
watch you do nothing but just exist, and so many
times narratives– and we’ve talked about the
confines of being an artist of color, but so many times
it has to be about something– and I don’t think
we’ll ever escape it having to be about
something, because that’s just a side effect of us
existing in these bodies. But I think if you can have a
narrative on which you’re just allowed to exist on
screen and people are invested in that,
that’s going to mean a lot. [APPLAUSE] – So my very last
question for you. We have an extraordinary
audience here, both the people in this
room and also everybody who is watching online. This is a particular
audience that has never existed before today,
this particular convening. And so what I would like
to know is, what do you want this audience to know
about black girls and vision and justice? – I want everybody
in this room to view black girls with the same
potential as anybody else. [APPLAUSE] – I want to just say thank
you to everybody in this room, because you all do
such amazing work that contributes to the space that
we get to reside in and play in. And so I’m really
grateful for you all. But the other thing I
guess I’d have to say is, we rise together. And when you look at
anybody’s narrative expanding any intersection, any ethnicity,
any sexuality, any gender, that when you look
at that person, you just remind yourself of
who are we if not each other? And to carry that with you as
you interact with everybody. – All right. Thank you so much. – Thank you. – Thank you. [applause]

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