Historically, Black and Latinx youth have transformed their communities and shaped national policy through anti-gun violence organizing. Organizing spaces can be sites of healing and community, but they may also be places where youth experience discrimination from peers in ways that reflect structural racism, sexism, and classism. Our qualitative study explores young Black and Latinx organizers’ experiences of discrimination within anti-gun violence organizing spaces.
Semi-structured virtual interviews were conducted with 17 young people from September to April 2022. Youth identified as Black (60%), Latinx (35%), or Afro-Latinx (5%), were based in the U.S., between the ages of 18-25, and were engaged in anti-gun violence organizing. The sample was 60% female. Half engaged in community organizing with majority Black and Latinx peers, and half engaged with national organizations with majority white peers.
Youth were recruited through Twitter and Instagram based on their affiliation with anti-gun violence organizations. The interviews, which were recorded and transcribed, explored youth’s motivations in their organizing work, experiences of discrimination within organizing spaces, and their healing process. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to code the transcripts for core concepts, followed by memoing and discussion with the team to identify overarching themes.
We identified three themes of racial discrimination that played out at the organizational level: silencing of racially conscious organizing, tokenism, and expectations to educate white peers on racism.
Youth reported feeling silenced in their efforts to make organizing spaces more racially conscious, even when they had lived experience with gun violence. Madeline (she/her, Black) said: “I've had experiences with other organizations that I've worked with in the past where it's like definitely as a Black woman in the room, like no one listens to me.”
Many youth felt tokenized based on their race. Josh (he/him, Black) explained: “we were being tokenized for sure. Like we were being used as like, we're diverse, Black face, like, here's this person right here. And then, like I had no actual say in anything in the organization.” Despite youths’ expertise and lived experience, many felt like Josh that they were just a “face” in the organization with no real authority or power.
Finally, youth reported that they felt a burden to educate others in organizing spaces, particularly white and more socioeconomically privileged peers. Eliana (she/her, Latina), explained that she often educated more privileged peers on issues her community faced: “It was so frustrating sometimes, because I did the work of a state director, but I was also educating people at the same time. And that wasn't in my job description.”
Conclusions and Implications
Results highlight young Black and Latinx organizers’ experiences of discrimination from peers within organizing spaces, and the impact of these experiences on their wellbeing. Future analyses will explore how youth’s experiences of discrimination shape their future organizing work. Insights from this study can help organizing spaces, educators, and policymakers create safer environments for young Black and Latinx organizers to advance their community’s safety and wellbeing.