Two notably enlightened teens captured the world’s interest this week, one through the barely tolerable medium of spoken word and the other through a weird Paper Magazine apology.
Royce Mann is a 14-year-old from Atlanta who recited a poem called “White Boy Privilege” that won him first place in his school’s poetry competition in May. He’s a teen whose empathetic perspective on race relations, privilege and Black Lives Matter got him crowned the wokest of them all—almost overshadowing the fact that these ideas merely make him a decent young human with logical world views who probably has minority friends.
And yet we must acknowledge that at the age of 14, Mann has managed to grasp the basic concept of white privilege and racial constructs in ways that befuddle people twice his age. He’s a likable teen Macklemore of sorts.
Soon after Mann’s mom posted his poem on Facebook, it went extremely viral. In the video, the teen starts off:
“Dear women, I’m sorry. Dear black people, I’m sorry. Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who came here seeking a better life, I’m sorry. Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper-class white boy, I’m sorry. I have started life on the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung. I say now that I would change places with you in an instant, but if given the opportunity, would I? Probably not. Because to be privileged is awesome. I’m not saying that you and me on different rungs of the ladder is how I want it to stay.”
There’s more. Minds were already blown by the time he got to the second half:
“Dear white boys: I’m not sorry. I don’t care if you think the feminists are taking over the world, that the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten a little too strong, because that’s bullshit. I get that change can be scary, but equality shouldn’t be. Hey white boys: It’s time to act like a woman. To be strong and make a difference. It’s time to let go of that fear. It’s time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.”
(To this kid’s credit, “Dear white boys, I’m not sorry” should be a nationwide slogan.)
This extremely viral teen earned tons of coverage, including a profound Huffington Post story with the lede: “Privilege. Some don’t get what it means, but 14-year-old Royce Mann sure does.”
Mann says he learned the racist, sexist ways of the world while taking a Race, Class and Gender course at his new school, The Paideia School.
“There are definitely are people who do deny that white privilege and male privilege exists and I think that’s because they choose to not see it in our world,” he told CNN. “They choose to see the progress that we have made. And a lot of kids, they learn these days, when they’re learning about the Civil Rights Movement, for example, it’s sort of put into their heads that now we’re all equal. So much progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go.”
His message has naturally attracted racist trolls, but mostly he’s been praised for its refreshing level of enlightenment. He really made us think.
Segue: Teens are so prevalent that Mann wasn’t the only one who impacted social media this week. Alexis Isabel Moncada is the 17-year-old founder of Feminist Culture who Paper profiled in its tragically titled “Yass Teen” series. After publishing the interview and celebrating Moncada for her leadership, however, the mag issued an apology and a Note From the Editors that cited questionable behavior from when Moncada was 14.
In its update, Paper mentioned that their series was “intended to highlight teens and young people who are using the Internet for good.” And that they weren’t aware of the “series of racist and deeply upsetting statements” tweeted from one of Moncada’s previous Twitter accounts when she was 14. The editors note continues:
“These tweets were circulated on July 6th. Moncada then posted a statement apologizing for her words and her past attitudes, saying she has since matured and realized her attitudes were unforgivable, offensive and hurtful. PAPER interviewed Moncada for this piece the day before this all came to light and were unaware of her prior behavior until we published the piece. We regret that we were late to discover this, and we apologize to all affected. We in no way condone Moncada’s sentiments and have reached out to her for further comment.”
A formal apology that brings more attention to a teen screw-up wasn’t needed. Their oversight could’ve been addressed through a follow-up interview or by simply adding Moncada’s statement as an update to let her speak for herself. It really makes you think, though, how much this is a testament to the social era of living in which young, dumb, irreversible mistakes become fodder for rote mass disciplining. Teens are inspiring in that way.
Images via Twitter, CNN screenshot