Older people sometimes write off the rising generation. They’re too soft, too coddled, too controlled, too timid, they avoid commitment like the plague, and they’re deathly afraid of any work that doesn’t involve computers.
I admit that I have occasionally viewed our modern young people with the same vague disrespect. Not anymore. After a conversation last week with a 12-year old, I am officially optimistic about the future.
True, the 12-year old is my granddaughter. So no matter what she says I’m going to be impressed, right?
Hear me out.
The two of us are driving around town listening to the soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman,” an enormously popular movie that stars both Hugh Jackman and Zak Efron, which pretty much guarantees every woman in America has seen it, my granddaughter among them.
In the movie, Efron falls for a trapeze artist played by the first-name only actress Zendaya. Efron is white, and Zendaya, who is bi-racial, portrays a woman who is black. They share a song about how much they love each other, etc. Efron wants to go-go-go, but she says it wouldn’t work out. In pre-Civil War America, she’s probably right.
So we’re listening to the song, and I decide my granddaughter is old enough to discuss the moral and social issues keeping them apart. I ask her why Zendaya is so down on the relationship even though she loves Zak.
She ponders. After nearly a full minute she says it’s because Zak’s parents don’t like her because she’s not rich like them.
I suggest that maybe—just maybe—it’s because Ms. Zendaya’s character is black and Mr. Efron is white.
I wish you could have seen her face. Pure disappointment to discover that her grandfather, whom she loves and respects, could be so cosmically stupid.
Then came the explosion.
“How could you say something like that, Grandpa! That’s just—just stupid! That’s just dumb. It’s because he’s rich and she’s not. It has NOTHING to do with…that!”
I stuck to my guns. And I was amazed to find that she stuck to hers. She wanted none of what I had to say. She stood up to her own grandfather to inform him in no uncertain terms that anyone who thinks like that is just…just…WRONG!
A few minutes later her mom calls and wants to know when we’re coming home. I couldn’t get a word out before—
“Can I talk to my Mom?”
I hand her the phone.
“Mom! In “The Greatest Showman” why didn’t the trapeze girl think she couldn’t go with Zac Efron?”
“That’s wrong! That’s sooo wrong! It’s because his parents were rich. That’s the only reason. What you just said, that’s just…UGH!”
We listened to the rest of the soundtrack. I didn’t force the issue. By the time we got home she seemed to have moved on. “The Greatest Showman” didn’t come up again that day.
Nevertheless, I’m impressed. Here’s a young lady willing to stand up to two of the most important people in her life to defend a principle she doesn’t just believe to be true, but knows to be true. In my experience, such people are rare. Most just remain silent when confronted with ignorance, but not her. She called us both out and made sure we knew our illogical and stupid ideas had no place in the real world.
As it turns out, she’s had more experience with this than most. In our family of eleven, a few were adopted, and are not Anglo. Our family reunions are colorful.
This is how she’s grown up.
I’m sure that by the time she leaves adolescence she’ll understand more about the world, and how the ugly and stupid realities of racism impact us all.
But if the children of today are growing up like my granddaughter, for whom the idea of racism isn’t just bad, it’s laughably ridiculous, then it seems to me the future is in good hands.
By the way, when her mom (our daughter) talked with us later that afternoon, do you know what she said about the conversation?
“I love our family!”