I have been incredibly inspired by the Parkland youth activist’s show of solidarity with all victims of gun violence and school-based violence and their efforts to prioritize the voices of students of color in the national debate around gun violence and school safety. Just as Parkland youth activists have used their experience of unimaginable tragedy to create a platform for social change, they are now using that platform to lift historically marginalized voices of black and brown youth into the current national spotlight. In recent weeks, youth activists from Parkland have visited schools and youth advocacy groups in communities of color in cities like DC and Chicago to call for solidarity and redirect some of the media attention they have been receiving to underprivileged communities. At a meeting at Thurgood Marshall Academy in DC, a school primarily made up of students of color that has lost two young people to gun violence this school year, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior David Hogg said, “We have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the people that have died as a result of [gun violence] and haven’t been covered the same can now be heard.” This spirit of solidarity with all victims of gun violence and school-based violence shows us that a better future for our country is possible.
Despite the noble efforts of youth activists, the fact is that young people of color have been speaking out about gun violence in their communities and demanding change for decades. Yet they have never received anywhere close to the public support, legislative response, or consistent media coverage that we are now seeing in the political aftermath of the Parkland shooting. Charlene Carruthers, national director for Black Youth Project 100, expressed this frustration when she tweeted, “I have to be honest and say that I'm a bit taken aback (and a bit hurt) that those of us who were in the streets in the past five years for Black lives didn't receive this type of reception or public support.” Even now, it is only as a sideline to the main story that national media outlets are covering these issues sympathetically at all. It is clear that the central focus of mainstream media is still the youth from predominantly-white communities, and that the coverage of youth in predominantly-black communities is predicated on the fact that the white students in the spotlight are demanding that coverage as a part of their own platform.
Historically, mass school shootings have not taken place in communities of color, yet these same communities are systematically victimized by gun violence in many forms. Young people of color across the country continue to organize against gun violence in our communities in the ways we’ve always had to, often without philanthropic handouts or positive news coverage (if we are covered at all). In fact, the mainstream narrative around gun violence in black and brown communities tends to vilify, trivialize, criticize, or simply ignore victims and activists when we do speak out and defend our own humanity. On March 18, Sacramento police shot and killed Stephen Clark, an unarmed black man, in cold blood. Since then, black and brown activists across the county have been rallying hard against this blatant injustice while receiving little positive media attention, public support, or funding assistance. Headlines of these organizing efforts mostly depicts black and brown protesters getting arrested or throwing bottles at cops, reinforcing a racist narrative that grossly misrepresents the Movement for Black Lives. Our truth is not covered.
So we have to keep organizing. We have to stay inclusive and open to the support of white allies, but we cannot afford to rely on them. We must not fall into a sense of false complacency or forget what our history has taught us. We must continue to be the leaders of our own liberation.