I am well aware that “Youth Voice” is a misnomer. About a million years ago I started complaining to my work allies and friends that the phrase means absolutely nothing, because its so grossly homogenized, bland and common. After more than 5 years sitting in that frame of mind I decided to adopt the phrase, mostly because of it’s commonality among programs. Youth-led media programs, meaningful student involvement programs, participatory action research programs and youth activism programs all talk about Youth Voice, and who am I to go against their hard work? The research literature that surrounds this work also concentrates on Youth Voice, and the good efforts of my allies who do that work matters to me, too. I respect all of this work.
That said, I want to talk about minority Youth Voice today. The reason why I begin with an explanation of my opinion about the phrase is that I believe that refering to “the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people” as a collective body inherently disenfranchises the minority opinion among those young people who are being refered to. And I wrote this definition of the term, so my work inherently disenfranchises young people.
The reason why I say that is that in this sense Youth Voice serves as a form of representative democracy, actively engaging those who care and deliberately neglecting those who do not care. That’s a tough pill to swallow for some folks, but it doesn’t take much to see how this plays out in the United States. And I believe the consequence of this neglect is a type of imposed apathy. This is true with Youth Voice.
Now, the danger of this line of thought is that it may appear to relegate minorities to being apathetic, and that is simply not true: sometimes it is the smallest sectors of a population that are most engaged in the decision-making that affects them. I may also risk seeming like I’m equating democracy and Youth Voice to a popularity contest or a shouting contest, and that, well, that may be true. I just don’t want to sound too cynical, because its important to me that readers understand I believe in democracy – its just that I believe in a much more radical form that what we’re currently acquainted with, which perfectly segues into the next point.
“Minority” isn’t simply about race, although that is a part of the equation. Instead, the phrase “minority Youth Voice” refers to any instance when difference and dissent go against the grain of popular culture. Young people themselves are a minority in the United States. While African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and American Indians are a minority, there are minorities within those populations as well. Even within a racially homogeneous school there may be gender, cultural, religious and educational minorities. There are oppressive relationships between majority and minority populations everywhere, and the active engagement of Youth Voice should be a tool in the toolbelt of every responsible adult who is committed to defeating oppression of all forms.
Engaging Youth Voice encourages young people to come to the forefront so that their “distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions” can challenge and be challenged in the open forums of democracy, whether in classrooms, homes, governments, nonprofit agencies, or other cultural transmission sites throughout our society. This may be the most important thing I’ve written in a long time, because that is why Youth Voice matters. By actively challenging and being challenged in those forums, young people become acknowledge as the civic actors they are – particularly when they represent any form of minority Youth Voice. On a base level this demonstrates to adults that the passion, excitement, commitment and energy of children and youth can serve the collective good; in a more sophisticated way, this action transmits to adults the core relevance of actively engaging minorities throughout the democracy which we all occupy.
I can expand on this further, and perhaps you can too, seeing how adultism and ephebiphobia play central to the defeat of democracy. Maybe later. In the meantime I hope we can all further expand on why and how minority Youth Voice matters in our own life. That’s how we can make this real.
can be challenged.