The act of preferential treatment historically ends up bad for marginalized communities. We are the ones with little social capital, not a lot of presubscribed privilege, and even less access to upward mobility. Yet, this doesn’t mean preferential treatment will ever go away, thus, it seems to me that it is pertinent for black youth to be given skills that help them extend their network beyond family and friends, as early as possible.
When I was fourteen a teacher of mine would take us to community events and give us two missions. The first was to learn whatever we could about the content of the program and the second was to get as many business cards as we could. This emphasis on networking when I was in 9th grade unveiled to me a world that is often more focused on “who” you know first, and only then concerned with “what” you know. Social capital is the collective and economic privileges you get from preferential treatment received due to the people or groups you’re in relationship with. Social capital is crucial when we are thinking about how to get black youth out of poverty, and more specifically, my own story of how I started on a road to upward mobility.
The social capital and networking skills that my teacher trained me in throughout high school came into full fruition a month before I graduate with my master’s degree.
During spring break last month I participated in something called Washington Week. The city of Washington is privilege mixed with whom you know, mixed with a whole lot of steroids. So if I hope to break into the social policy world (where people make decisions about the lives of poor and black people, without taking their experience into consideration) it is important to know someone. This is the reason that I participated in 15 informational interviews in the span of four days. The results: I now have a post-grad fellowship in DC, starting in June.
The dynamic of social networking usually ends up bad for black youth. We are often kept isolated in our own communities and told that we are not allowed to enter into certain spaces. These are spaces where even the black middle class chooses to escape from and places where we as black youth are silenced and forgotten.
But this is a siren.
This is a siren for black teenagers and young adults to break out of the socially constrained deserts that someone deceived us into thinking we were beholden to. This is a siren to move into those spaces where the entire world will see and experience the beauty, zeal, and intelligence that we all encompass. This is a siren to ignore those who tell us how to conduct our cloths, our hair, and our speech. And this is a siren that says we will meet people different from ourselves and show the world what equality looks like.
We might not have social capital yet, be we damn sure will go find some.