In an article for Suite101, D.C.-area consultant Khadijah Ali-Coleman proposes that “We can begin to stop adultism by listening and actually hearing. Stop belittling. Speak respectfully.” However, that’s just not enough.
Too often practitioners in the fields of youth development, community youth organizing and service learning rely on simplistic mantras to help themselves feel better about perpetuating the very injustices they claim to be addressing. However, this kind of gross oversimplification does no justice to the intricacies in the lives of young people face, or the complexities of oppression in American society. The first step in stopping adultism may be actually acknowledging that adultism isn’t the only force at work in the lives of youth. Adultism is an insidious and pervasive weapon in the toolbelt of oppression.
However, other forces, or tools, are at work, too. Racism affects young people in ways that transcend their age: As a force of oppression throughout society racism affects youth before their lives begin, after they are born, and throughout all of their years. Gender bias is another tool that pervades the lives of young people. Whether a person identifies as a male or a female, the forces and effects of gender discrimination supersede all behaviors in all components throughout all of life. Other weapons in the toolbelt include classism, homophobia, and misogyny.
Now, adultism is bad, and it is huge. The descriptions I use above can be applied equally to adultism, too. However, we cannot simply call out adultism as the sole force affecting the lives of young people. Let’s not ignore or deny the realities that affect youth throughout their lives by overemphasizing one above all others.
When youth workers, educators, counselors and parents learn to identify the range of oppressions affecting their lives and the lives of the young people they work with, we can begin an honest dialog about the causes, effects and outcomes of adultism. Until that point I have to ask: Are we just thinking in vain?