Summary: Scholars working within the interdisciplinary field of Youth Studies often highlight the limited ways in which youth and their unique lived experiences are portrayed in popular discourse and academic literature. For example, discourses around adolescent sex and sexuality—and specifically adolescent female sexuality—frequently rely on ideologies of fear, shame, and restraint (Fields 2008; Fine and McClelland 2006; Fine 1988). Andreana Clay (2012) points to the ways sociologists tend to focus on "deviant" behavior within youth culture: "By focusing on gangs or the consumption of fashion, music, and the media, scholars have pointed to a crisis among youth, particularly youth of color and working class youth. Recent attacks on affirmative action, increases in police brutality and racial profiling, and new anti-youth legislation have exacerbated this sense of crisis, urgency, and hopelessness among critics, community activists, scholars, and the youth themselves" (Clay 2012:3). Often missing from popular portrayals of youth and youth culture is a perspective that comes directly from youth themselves. • Filmed prior to his experience with stardom, in this 1988 interview, rapper Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) articulates his perspective on society, told from the standpoint of being a teenager, Black, and poor. Only 17-years-old at the time, the interview is full of wisdom and insight, as Tupac talks about various aspects of society from this unique intersectional vantage point. Prominent themes include his reflections on what it feels like to be a teenager growing up in the late 1980s, youth stereotypes, and the deep desire youth have for being respected. He provides context and nuance for why his generation seems angry, rebellious, and scared, pointing in part to the ways in which prior generations of adults have left behind a world in crisis that the younger generation must fix. He also critiques America's antiquated education institution, and how school curriculums fail to prepare his generation for today's world. Advocating for a more socially and intellectually relevant adolescent education, Tupac suggests classes on drugs, “real” sex education, scams, religious cults, police brutality, apartheid, American racism, poverty, and food insecurity. Using the example of foreign language education, Tupac underscores the irrelevancy of learning something like German (“When am I going to Germany?! I can hardly pay my rent in America!”) and the need for young people to learn the basics of English, as well as “politicians’ double talk.” Citing rising homicide, suicide, and drug abuse rates, Tupac provides a glimpse of his gift for poetry and incisive social commentary when he argues, “More kids are being handed crack than being handed diplomas.” He further advocates for his own unique perspective of society and its significance when he proposes that adults and youth, and rich and poor, temporarily switch roles, so that each group can understand and experience the others' realities. • Tupac concludes the interview talking about social change, and the role of youth within movements for change. Throughout the interview, Tupac reflects frequently on his mother, Afeni Shakur, who was an active member of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 70s. The influence of this political legacy is evident in Tupac's own political consciousness. Asked what he can do when he grows up, Tupac talks about the challenges of social change, and how the structures of society make change difficult. Using the metaphor of a maze of blocks in which mice roam, Tupac says, “Society is like that. They’ll let you go as far as you want, but as soon as you start asking too many questions and you’re ready to change, boom, that block will come." Tupac expresses his disillusionment with our political leaders and democratic process, but he also alludes to his own sense of hope, as he is actively engaged in political organizing around issues of safe sex and teen violence. At the time of the interview, he and his high school friends are trying to reinvigorate the Black Panthers' political efforts, particularly their vision around education and Black pride.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp