International Youth Day 2021: A Reflection

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Asanda Ngoasheng is a senior media and communications manager at Oxfam South Africa. She is also a gender and racial justice scholar and activist.

Dreaming of an equal future for all

Young people globally are facing an uncertain future with predictions for when “normal life” will resume changing daily. Initial predictions were that countries would just have to close for a month or two and then things could get back to normal as had happened with previous SARS outbreaks before. However, soon after the first three months of rolling global lockdowns, it became clear that Covid-19 was here to stay and would change life as we know it forever.

The pandemic is especially hard for young people

A glimmer of hope was offered by the promise of vaccines which seemed to hold the key to the possibility of going “back to normal” but this hope was soon dashed when news of fast, new mutating streams splashed across TV screens. This roller coaster ride has wreaked havoc on the minds of all surviving the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has been especially difficult for young people trying to figure out their future. Fears and anxieties about where one will go to school or university are now amplified by an even bigger fear — will there even be a workplace or an economy to join, once one is done studying?

Surviving through the day has become an extreme sport

Young people across the world are also struggling with mental health issues as they face anxiety from possible infection and possible death, or the infection or death of a loved one. The digital divide is also widening as countries and communities who struggle with internet connection are left behind and those who are digitally illiterate are left out of the loop of information needed to survive in a Covid pandemic with regular lockdowns. Inequality in relation to access to education has skyrocketed with many young girls and women quitting school as they struggle with internet connectivity and expectations to do the unpaid care work of looking after sick relatives, while also juggling school responsibilities. Poor countries and poor communities in rich countries are struggling to afford pandemic basics like masks and are struggling with vaccine access issues. Surviving through the day has become an extreme sport that many are simply not able to participate in with ease anymore.

Gender and racial inequality have shaped the face of the pandemic.

The pandemic feeds off and increases existing inequalities. Gender and racial inequality have shaped the face of the pandemic. Covid-19 has had a bigger impact on and killed more Black, Afro-descendants, Indigenous, and historically marginalised and oppressed people than privileged groups because access to health is dependent on the same inequality and socio-economic conditions built by the three main systems of oppression of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. In Latin America, Afro-descendants and Indigenous Peoples, already marginalised, have been hit harder than the rest of society — they are more likely to die, and more likely to become destitute. Women, and to a higher extent racialized woman, were more at risk of losing their jobs because of the coronavirus than men. [CB1]

Now more than ever, the work of Kimberly Crenshaw [CB2] is critical for helping us understand this world and the lottery of privilege or disadvantage it dishes out to people. Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality and argued that people are disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression and it’s important to understand their social and political identities to understand the ways in which they experience different types of oppression and its impact on their lives.

Although Covid has exposed inequalities in many ways, there seems to be a sense of surprise about the negative impact of race and gender-based discrimination on all aspects of black women’s lives. At the height of the global #BlackLivesMatter moment of June 2020 there were many think pieces about the need for awareness and empathy for the allostatic load that black people were carrying being black in the world and under siege from white supremacy, while also trying to survive a pandemic.

Despite these think pieces, many still don’t seem to understand that racism and sexism are the cause of long term, continuous trauma. Although black women still wake up and continue to face the day, in some ways we are the walking wounded because of the impact of racism and sexism. Experiences of racism or sexism alone cause psychological stress, anxiety, confusion, anger, helplessness, frustration, paranoia and more. Combined they are an even more violent poison that can even cripple the body into inaction and lead to chronic depression. Covid and its daily anxieties and stresses has turned a bad situation into a crisis for black women.

Imagine the relief of never having to deal with another racist or sexist incident

We need to act with empathy towards black people because every single black person experiences racial trauma daily even though it manifests itself in different ways depending on the individual. We also need to act with empathy towards women because every woman experiences some form of trauma from daily micro aggressions and sexual violence of varying degrees even though it manifests itself in different ways. A just and equitable Covid response that centers racial and gender justice can only come about if we build special dispensation programmes and plans to support black women, especially youth who deal with the curse of being discriminated against twice, as a black person and as a woman. A racial and gender just post Covid world will only happen when everyone is willing to work against their race, class, gender privilege and participate in plans and actions that work to dismantle the systems that keep us ALL oppressed, racialised, marginalised and excluded. Imagine the relief of never having to deal with another racist or sexist incident and never having to worry about the ever-present threat of homelessness due to job losses, retrenchments, or death of a bread winner under the capitalist system. Imagine the power of the collective action of 7.8 billion humans working to fight for equality and an end to white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

[CB1]https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621149/bp-the-inequality-virus-250121-en.pdf

[CB2]

https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/books/255/

Crenshaw, Kimberlé W., “On Intersectionality: Essential Writings” (2017). Books. 255.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.