I am a tad bit granola, so I often take public transit to get around town, particularly getting to and from work. This isn’t typical of folk that can actually afford not to do so in a city like Dallas so I am often aware of the fact that I stick out, especially on days that I teach because I almost always teach in dresses and heels. We can talk about the various gender and class politics involved in this bit of background information another time.
On the days that I don’t teach I’m quite nondescript. Slacks or trouser jeans and a button down shirt, or as the weather cools a sweater. I rarely wear make-up and on most any day I’m usually mistaken for anywhere from 8-10 years younger than I actually am (thank genetics and healthy habits). So on a Tuesday last week when I left campus in the late afternoon to find a more productive place to do my writing for the day, I easily fell into a seat at the back of the crowded bus without the young people (read: adolescents, “kids”) really taking note. Unlike when other adults sit in the back, they didn’t even look at me, let alone stop or temper the topic or tone of their conversation.
They were discussing a recent occurrence in the city of Dallas that had been on the news: A woman had been violently murdered, by her lover. As the story went (as shared by the youth), the local news channels reported that she had called him up to inform him that she was HIV positive. Her lover, her was married with children became enraged and went looking for her, later found her and killed. The young folks, a group of about nine young men and women, then went on to discuss whether the woman killed deserved it, how essentially both the accused killer and the woman killed are now “dead,” what they would have done in the situation, how they would have retaliated, how the children of both the woman killed and her accused killer would be effected, and so on and so forth.
Their language was vile, their responses at time uncomfortably violent and sadistic toward females as a group (and without a flinch from either the girls or the boys no matter who was espousing such ideas). I felt some of their ideas were misguided, yet others weren’t. They were taking the news stories as if they were a holy grail, as if the news wouldn’t lie. They were accurately informed about the differences between HIV and AIDS and the socioeconomic issues that influence treatment and survival. They were also easily rationalizing violence and violent retaliation. They understood the ethics of infidelity and informed consent (i.e. the legalities of knowingly infecting folks with a disease whether, HIV or otherwise, and not sharing this information).
I joined their conversation. I didn’t preach to them. I didn’t even ask them to watch their language. I slid into their conversation. I dropped some hints about my age, but I didn’t chastise them for their profanity. I did however push them to consider that maybe the news doesn’t always tell the full story, or even have it, yet that doesn’t stop them from reporting. I also pushed them to question how the situation was being portrayed. Most importantly, I began to push them on the idea that violence wasn’t the best answer, albeit a “natural” initial response.
The bus ride was short. As we reached the train station, and they continued to press back with logic begetting violence I simply said,
“I understand what y’all sayin’, but I need y’all to come up with another way to deal with betrayal that isn’t violent. That ain’t right.”
They laughed as we exited and a few said, “You right.”
As we all went our separate ways I told them goodbye and to be safe. Some waved or nodded as they went to wait at their respective bus stops and I boarded the light rail headed home.
I share this story with you because I was “schooled” by several elders when I began riding the train to stay away from the “kids.” They’re disrespectful. They’re rude. They’re loud. They misbehave. They may rob you.
These are some of the same types of adult characters in our society, who bemoan the fact that youth are misguided and don’t care about anything of worth. Yet how are folks supposed to not be misguided when you have ample opportunity, yet because of fear and an idea of how someone should be treating you, you refuse to step in and guide.
Although I was uncomfortable with many aspects of the way the conversation was being had. The fact that our youth are paying attention and have nuanced and systematic ideas about their social worlds work is something I’ve always firmly believed. It’s the reason why I do much of the research work I do. It was affirmed on that bus that our young people do care: even the ones that cuss; even the ones that don’t offer an elder a seat; even the ones that are attached at the earbud with their teenage boo-thang of the week.
Young folks are paying attention. They’re brains are working just fine. We are ignoring them.