Youth Ed is an op-ed series by the student-run digital space, Yellowhammer Youth, that seeks to highlight what Alabama public schools are not teaching.
In my sophomore year I took a course titled, “AP United States History” detailing the progression of our country from its humble beginnings to now. Within our studies, we paid special attention to traditionally marginalized groups, always seeing their predictable rise to equality after prolonged periods of intense oppression. As students in 2019, we were also able to synthesize the long-time benefits of such equality by identifying strides in most all of those communities in our current time. The further and further into our comparisons we dove, the more we observed that our state of residency -Alabama- did not reflect the trends of growth that most other areas in our country did. So, as children do, we started to ask why.
There is a concept in American history that outlines the belief that women are treated as moral keepers for men yet are expected to be subservient to them in all cases. The terms “cult of domesticity” and “republican motherhood” were both coined in the late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century to describe such an ancient phenomena. Ultimately, both terms succeed in defining a woman’s sphere of influence as separate from the outside world, that they are somehow responsible for the moral upkeep of a man despite being deprived of simple, expressive freedoms.
Currently, it is 2019, over 200 years since those dynamics were first observed; so why are we still promoting them? Not only that, why are we still enabling institutions to define our state in such a way? Maybe you first noticed that we aren’t equal just as I did, in grade school, when “freedom of expression” became “attire maturity” and “getting an education” dissolved into “preserving modesty.” Yes, I’m talking about dress code: the overbearing statute that women -despite being so young- are yet again responsible for a man’s faulty. Or maybe it was realizing that with 15.7%, Alabama has the lowest amount of female legislators of any state, barring our neighboring Mississippi. Possibly it was realizing that a rapist could still pursue custodial rights? Perhaps it may have been the classic abortion ban signed by Kay Ivey, making the medical procedure punishable up to a century in prison and prohibited under even rape and incest occurences? But women are equal, right? We can vote? And we can own property? Things must be fine then, right?
For people of color, when did you realize it? Maybe it was that African American women are twice as likely to die of cervical cancer in our state than any other? How about when Human Rights Watch outright identified that those statistics are caused by racism and poverty? Or could it have been when Sureshbhai Patel, an elderly indian man, was brutally attacked in my home of Madison, Alabama for “suspicious activity”? How about when a federal judge acquitted the officer at fault? Or was it the hundreds of others with experiences like him in our state? But racism isn’t an issue, right? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says so, right? These stories, these lives, these voices don’t scream for help, right? LGBT+ individuals, did your view of equality change as you found out that no legislation exists protecting you? Or was it that your youth will face more bulying and discrimination than nearly every other state by participating in school systems which claim they are “safe for all”? What about when an Alabama mayor, an elected official advocated for the murder of LGBT+ individuals? I mean, you can marry now, right? So that means you are equal? Isn’t that right, Alabama?
See that’s the thing about equality that nobody really gets: things may look fair on the surface but underneath, the chains of prejudice still keep us prisoners in our own lives and our place of privilege will always suffocate our perspective. As a state, when will we realize this? When will we start asking the hard questions such as: if we are supposedly burgeoning onto the scene of modernity, when will our ends justify our means? When will we teach our future generations that remaining stagnant in times of progress is not “keeping our values” but destroying the possibility for growth, for acceptance, and for greater achievement?
So shame on you, Alabama. Shame on you for thinking that my generation is as complacent as the rest, for believing that we will watch our lives fall to your fear of progress. Shame on you for thinking that we wouldn’t look beyond your lies. Shame on you for thinking that we will be defined by our past. And to be very clear, Alabama, this is a direct call-to-action for all residents and law-makers to rise up, and rise up quickly. Because we are getting older and we are going to school and we are coming for you. We are coming for your laws, your elected offices, your traditions and your stigma. Alabama, we’re coming for you. And Alabama? I promise we’ll never stop asking why again.
This column is directed towards every individual who thought they didn’t need to read this. It is dedicated to the people who knew they should.
Written by: Olivia Blanton / @o.blanton
Edited by: Isabel Hope / @isabama / @isabamahope