A-Z of Black Radicalism

Y is for Youth

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Young people are often at the forefront of making political demands. It was the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that injected the term “Black Power” into the civil rights movement. The South African Students Organisation was vital in developing Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. The 1976 Soweto Uprising, where 20,000 school students walked out in protest was a key moment in the anti-Apartheid struggle. Fred Hampton, one of the most promising Black Panther leaders was only 21 when he was assassinated by the police and FBI in Chicago. It is young people driving the movement across the world protesting the killings of Black people by the state. South African students sparked the Rhodes Must Fall protests that challenged their Eurocentric education.  It is tempting to see the youth as the fresh air the movement needs. The next generation with little stake in the system and therefore no need to compromise with the status quo.

There can certainly be a tension between the older generations and the youth. We’ve seen this play out in the movements against police brutality in the US. Some of the old guard have been cautious and warned the youth about being too confrontational in their actions. The respectability politics and patriarchy of the old movements has also rightly been called out. Not in doubt is that newer (and younger) movements have embraced Black feminism, intersectionality and queer politics in a way that is alien to previous organisations. This intergenerational tension is to be expected but it does not necessarily indicate that the youth are any more radical.

If we look at the demands of movements like Black Lives Matter or the wider Movement for Black Lives they are largely about reforming the system. Even the ideas of leaderful, grassroots movements were in fact how the civil rights struggle was successful. We remember the men who gave speeches but the organising of women on the ground was just as (if not more) important. Young people leading a movement does not make it radical, the splits between those seeking revolution and those confident in reform are not age based.

We neglect our duties if we seek solace in the idea that the youth will come up behind us with the radical ideas. Young people get older. Students get jobs. Youth is no guarantee of radicalism. We cannot simply pass on the torch to the next generation because we have done our bit for the struggle. Intergenerational tension is a vital part of the movement, passing on knowledge and also learning from the experiences of the next generation. Revolution is a lifelong process that needs us all to be successful.


BYP 100

Ella Baker at SNCC

Soweto Uprising

Steve Biko I Write What I Like

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