In a recent op-ed for The Detroit News, Al Young grapples with racial consciousness, contrasting the products of his racially segmented upbringing in 1970s East Harlem with his sons’ more fluid worlds in Ann Arbor today.
“I long for them to understand why race matters. After all, they have never had to divide their life experiences in the same way as I did. My boys understand the civil rights movement not as a time in which the adults in their lives fought for social justice (as I recall thinking in the 70s and 80s), but as an historic moment of some time ago,” Young said.
He points out that today’s wider access to social media means that black youth can listen in on conversations about race without directly engaging with their peers. Young observes that his children use the internet to learn about their rights, but lack a full understanding of how racial injustice plays out in cities.
“Those streets demand that a young black male know not just the law, but how easily he can be seen as unlawful in the eyes of others,” Young said. “At any point in time, in any place, race may make all the difference for what happens to them and why.”
Alford A. Young is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Sociology, chair of the Department of Sociology, and a courtesy professor at the Ford School. His work explores the connections between the social location of individuals and the content of their worldviews and beliefs about social mobility, work, and other social issues and conditions.