Dec 5, 2013
The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth
Posted on Apr 11, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
As is evident in the recent killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, poor minority youth are not just excluded from “the American dream,” but have become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that no longer considers them of any value. Such youth, already facing forms of racial and class-based exclusion, now experience a kind of social death as they are pushed out of schools, denied job-training opportunities, subjected to rigorous modes of surveillance and criminal sanctions and viewed less as chronically disadvantaged than as flawed consumers and civic felons. Some such as Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd experience something more ominous - death by homicide.
No longer tracked into either high- or low-achievement classes, many of these youth are now pushed right out of school into the juvenile criminal justice system.(18) Under such circumstances, matters of survival and disposability become central to how we think about and imagine not just politics, but the everyday existence of poor white, immigrant and minority youth. Too many young people are not completing high school, but are, instead, bearing the brunt of a system that leaves them uneducated and jobless and, ultimately, offers them one of the few options available for people who no longer have available roles to play as producers or consumers - either poverty or prison. When the material foundations of agency and security disappear, hope becomes hopeless and young people are reduced to the status of waste products to be tossed out or hidden away in the global human waste industry.
Not only have social safety nets and protections unraveled in the last thirty years, but the suffering and hardships many children face have been greatly amplified by both the economic crisis and the austerity policies that are being currently implemented, with little justification in the current historical moment. Young people now find themselves in a world in which sociality has been reduced to an economic battle ground over materialistic needs waged by an army of nomadic, fiercely competitive individuals, just as more and more people find their behavior pathologized, criminalized and subject to state violence.(19) Youth now inhabit a social order in which bonds of trust have been replaced by bonds of fear. As Zygmunt Bauman puts it, “Trust is replaced by universal suspicion. All bonds are assumed to be untrustworthy, unreliable, trap-and-ambush-like - until proven otherwise.”(20)
All forms of social solidarity are now abandoned to a free-market fundamentalism logic that has individualized responsibility and reduced civic values to the obligations of consumer-driven self-interest advanced against all other larger social considerations and social costs. How else to explain the fate of generations of young people, especially poor white, brown and black youth, who find themselves in a country which is the world’s leader in incarceration, one in which such youth are considered the nexus of crime.
Current statistics paint a bleak picture for young people in the United States: 1.5 million are unemployed, which marks a 17-year high; 12.5 million are without food; and in what amounts to a national disgrace, one out of every five American children lives in poverty. Nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.(22) Increasingly, kids are forced to inhabit a rough world where childhood is nonexistent, crushed under the heavy material and existential burdens they are forced to bear.
The deteriorating state of youth may be the most serious challenge facing educators, social workers, youth workers, and others in the 21st century. It is a struggle that demands a new understanding of politics, one that demands that we think beyond the given, imagine the unimaginable and combine the lofty ideals of democracy with a willingness to fight for its realization. But this is not a fight that can be won through individual struggles or fragmented political movements. It demands new modes of solidarity, new political organizations and a powerful social movement capable of uniting diverse political interests and groups. It is a struggle that is as educational as it is political. It is also a struggle that is as necessary as it is urgent. It is also a struggle that cannot be ignored.
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