Our problem [when we were young people ourselves] was not based on low self-esteem or any of the other psychologically defined problems. Rather, we had no real power over our lives. Without power to protect ourselves, we were constantly restricted, disrespected, and abused by adults. Everywhere we went, adults had the authority to decide how we should dress, where we could be, and who we could be with. They decided our future through daily decisions including discipline, records, diagnoses, arrests, report cards, evaluations, and allowences, or just by ignoring, interrupting, or neglecting us.(60-61)The imbalance, of course, is not just one of age but also intersects with many other inequalities from which adults also suffer: poverty, sexism, racism, religious bigotry, discrimination based on disability and sexual orientation or gender identity ... the list is a long and familiar one. Creighton and Kivel call on adult allies to work with youth in identifying these power imbalances and combat them. Those who benefit from inequality seek to divide the attention and alliances of those who are struggling to get by under oppressive systems. By forging networks of support among ourselves at the bottom of the inequality pyramid, the authors suggest, we can more effectively enact lasting social change as well as survive in present day far-less-than-optimal conditions.
Since the book is designed primarily as a workbook for group trainings, those who are reading Helping Teens Stop Violence outside of that context may find themselves skimming a bit and taking note of various exercises for later usefulness, rather than reading in a straightforward manner. I found myself skipping around quite a bit, once I'd read the introduction and gathered the gist of the authors' perspective and approach. Some general impressions:
- The authors have made an effort throughout to discuss the ways in which different types of injustice overlap and interact, so that even though (for example) a given chapter may be about "class" the exercises continually push us to think about how things like race, sexual orientation, immigrant status, etc., shape our class identities and economic opportunities.
- As someone who is continually frustrated with the invisibility of ageism in our culture -- even among groups of people willing to discuss and dismantle other "isms" such as sexism and racism, or address homophobia and access issues for folks with disabilities -- I was really excited to see the first few chapters devoted to age-based discrimination, and exercises designed to get adults remembering their own teenage years and the lack of agency they had as young people in a world controlled by adults.
- The authors emphasize the fluidity of what they call "target" and "non-target" categories (i.e. various types of social privilege), reminding us that our social status and agency is highly dependent on context and can change as the context changes -- so that each of us have experienced both being part of a target group and being part of a non-target (privileged) group at various points in our lives.
- Even without using this book as a workbook with a group, as it was intended, the various exercises often contain useful suggestions for how to intervene in situations where you see oppression happening in order to name it and (hopefully) stop the cycle of violence from continuing.
- They also offer some good guidelines for having constructive and saf(er) discussions about difficult topics, recognizing that "we have all been hurt in various ways and have had lots of experience of not being listened to well, so we have developed a billion ways to protect ourselves from getting close to each other and becoming vulnerable to further hurt" (170). By structuring discussions in ways that may seem a bit stilted at first, groups can build enough trust by which they can have productive conversations about prejudice, violence, and institutionalized inequality.