Sorry, Soho Karen: Being Young And Unaware Isn't An Excuse For Racism

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Sorry, Soho Karen: Being Young And Unaware Isn't An Excuse For Racism

Young people are powerful, creative, innovative, experienced and smart.

I just needed to say that, since "Soho Karen" is giving a bad name to young people. 

In case you're not familiar, Soho Karen refers to a woman named Miya Ponsetto, who was caught on camera assaulting the 14-year-old Black son of jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold at the Arlo Hotel in Manhattan, after she claimed he stole her phone. 

In an interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, Ponsetto was questioned for her reason for assaulting the 14-year-old.  

At one point during the interview, she asked, “I’m 22 years old, how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime?”

Gayle then responded saying, “You’re saying ‘I’m 22 years old’ but you are old enough to know better”. 

Using age as an excuse for her actions completely invalidates all the hard work, intelligence and experience that young people have.

It also undermines the contributions young people have made in social justice movements, such as March For Our Lives, where young people bravely spoke out against gun violence. Young people are experts in their own lived experiences and their knowledge should be given just as much respect as any other expert. 

Age is not an excuse for not knowing better  it’s the person that doesn’t know better.

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As an experienced youth worker and sex educator, I can tell you that young people are very smart and aware of what’s going on in the world. As an adult, I’m constantly learning new things from young people or being challenged to look at situations in a perspective that I never thought of before. 

While being older does bring experience and wisdom, being young also brings its own set of unique experiences and obstacles to overcome. 

Let’s remember that ageism not only affects seniors (65+), but young people ages 18 and below, too.

The challenge is that young people are always looked at as inexperienced or unintelligent because they “don’t have enough experience”. 

They're never taken seriously because of this bias. Therefore, their opinions, their experiences and even the value of their labor are constantly undermined. Youth are constantly taken for granted. 

Taking youth’s opinions and experiences for granted often looks like adults invalidating their struggles, saying things like “it’s just a phase” or “you’re young; you’ll get over it”.

Taking youth’s labor for granted looks like unpaid internships (because they need “experience” before they can get actual paid work) or lack of funding for afterschool professional development programs (because it’s not a priority). 

We tend to not take young people seriously, which hurts us as a society as a whole because we lose out on the great ideas and great solutions our youth may have for the most pressing issues of our time. 

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So the narrative that ‘SoHo Karen’ here is using is a dangerous narrative that perpetuates ageism. It’s very ageist to assume that young people don’t know better — because young people are actually very smart and powerful.

Being young is also not an excuse for racism.

Using this narrative only further perpetuates ageist ideologies and makes it harder for other young people to be taken seriously.

"SoHo Karen" is unaware not because she is young — her age has nothing to do with her being unaware — it seems she's just living a privileged life and needs help and resources to get out of her own little bubble. Perhaps learning from other young activists would benefit her. 

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Angelique Beluso is a sex educator and writer who covers feminism, pop culture and relationship topics.