Yesterday I was walking out of the subway station in NYC behind two young men young enough to be my kid (if I’d had kids very young, but still). Their conversation caught my attention, because as is often the case, they were talking about fighting. One was telling the other that a guy he knows had called him and left him a message saying that they were on the outs and that he wanted to fight him. When we got to the top of the stairs, I asked them, “why do you think that teenagers are always fighting?”
When I was in high school in NYC, it was relatively rare to see a physical fight at school. In fact, it was so rare that when the word went around that there would be one, the staff were all bonkers about it. That was back when teachers thought it was out of the ordinary for kids to fight. That was the 1980’s.
Troy and Giovanni are the names of the young men who stopped to talk to me. And this is what they said. They said that young men fight because teenage girls pressure them to. The girls send the message that they want to see men fight. They may says things to start conflicts between two men. The young men, to get the girl, do so. Troy said most guys inside don’t really want to fight each other. Wow, imagine how men would act if women pressured them to act kind instead.
We talked about how there is violence all around them, and I suggested they are violent because of this, but they believed that it is less about what they see in the news and in the world, and more about pressure to fight and prove themselves in the community, with their peers. They also said that the music industry DOES have a lot of fault (disbelievers take note): musicians influence their young audiences by making videos that glorify rape, robbery, drugs, guns, and lawbreaking they say. The young men who watch believe that the musicians are rich not for the music, but because of the crimes they commit while acting in their videos. And the young men who watch want the money and power the musicians have.
Troy also said that young black and hispanic men get misjudged very quickly. Troy said, “I’m studying to be a bricklayer. He’s studying to be a nurse. But if there were cops in this station right now, they’d be looking at us talking to you, a white woman, and you can bet they’d never believe a) that you approached US, and b) that we were not harassing you or getting ready to bother you.” He also said that it never ever happens that someone female, Anglo and older than they are ever stops to ask them what they think about anything–especially not on the street or in a subway.
It’s good to talk to people half your age every so often, because just like talking to people much older, they walk in different shoes and have something to teach.
So consider this a special invitation to teenagers to post here about what matters to them, and what they would say to us if we took the time to listen.