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On The Frontlines Of Protest,
Generation Z Has Perspectives Worth Understanding:
A Letter From One Willing To Take Risks

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 9, 2020

Among the blessings in the Pundit’s life is that a career in the global produce industry has provided us with friends around the world. Few among them are valued more than Nic Jooste from the Netherlands. Nowadays, he often writes for sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS. You can see many of the pieces he has written right here:

PLUS Retail Sets Global Standard For Sustainability

Keep It Simple, For Goodness’ Sake

In Rugby And Business, Defeat Is An Opportunity

On The Side Of The Angels

Passion Vs. Efficiency

Does Size Really Matter?

Produce And Agriculture Are Just Part Of Dutch DNA

Killer Salad

A ‘Red Flag’ Vision Of The Future

Future Success May Not Fall On Industry ‘Old-Timers’

The Times They Are A-Changing

Doing Good For Tomorrow’ Becomes Commonplace

Produce Opportunities In A Circular Economy

Exploring The Moral, Social, And Legal Limits Of Trade

Generation Z Habits

Nic sent us a column and decided to quote one of his sons. We thought it desirable to run it here on the Pundit:

A WAKE-UP CALL FROM MY GENERATION Z SON

‘True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute.’ 

—Desmond Mpilo Tutu


Some weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to write a column on how (or whether) Generation Z’s view on the world has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. I started discussing it with my 23-year-old son Milan, who was temporarily staying with us. When The Netherlands went into a so-called ‘intelligent lockdown’, he was the first to move to our family home in solidarity with the government’s guidelines. His reason for going into self-isolation at home? ‘I am not doing it for myself, I am doing it to protect others’.

At first, our discussions around Generation Z and COVID-19 were fairly superficial. Milan bought a Nintendo Switch to curb his restlessness with having nothing to do. We laughed as we reminisced about his famous Pokemon battles with his brothers when they were small. We had a fight because Milan felt that my wife and I eat too much red meat. We spoke about him not being able to hug his 92-year-old Grandma.  All sort of ‘normal’ stuff for a father-son discussion.

And then George Floyd died... The videos of his death went viral. I saw my 23-year-old son, Nintendo Switch in hand, becoming more and more agitated. Instead of having to deal with questions to which I had no answers, I asked him to write up his thoughts. This is Milan’s letter to me…

‘Dad, yesterday I realised that no matter how much you argue against it, for me it is more than clear that the world is at a turning point. People everywhere are watching as the situation in the United States unfolds. As a Generation Z citizen, I believe that we are sure to see a mass revolution of the mind very soon.

Yesterday I was standing on the famous Dam Square in Amsterdam along with 5,000 others. People from all backgrounds and all walks of life were there with one common goal: to amplify the voices of the black people that were present.

This protest was to show solidarity with the victims of police violence, but it was also there to show that people are fed up living in a system that puts our fellow men at a disadvantage. This letter is not about foreign politics; it is aimed to give you a look into my mind.

Looking around yesterday, I could see people from four generations who were present. From grandmothers, who were standing there in solidarity despite being part of a risk group for COVID-19, to toddlers, unaware of the change that they are witnessing. Some of these children may become tomorrow's civil rights leaders.

Observing and trying to comprehend what was happening in the world, I understood that somehow the solution lies in education. In the words of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ 

People of my generation have all the information in the world available at their fingertips. With this growing awareness of, and exposure to, global issues, we are also starting to care more and more about things that don't directly affect us. What is the direct result of what we spend our money on? Can the money I spend today not only provide me with sustenance, but can it also provide someone else with safe housing? Healthcare? Education?

I personally believe that the discontent Gen Z is feeling comes from what we have inherited. We didn't start the Industrial Revolution, yet we are reaping what was once sowed. We didn't ask for the earth's oldest forests to be cut down to make way for animal agriculture, yet we are left with the damage. The realisation that the actions of the ones who came before us have a direct result on the ones who are yet to be born weighs heavy on us all. 

This is why the rise of veganism and vegetarianism is many times higher in my generation than in other generations. We know that what we eat and how we eat it directly influences the state of the world and the ones working to grow that food.

The power of Generation Z — and others like us — is that one day we will be your only clientele. We will be the ones who will need to be marketed to. We will have to be provided with reasons why we should buy your products. I urge you to listen to the younger generations; we are on the frontlines of the social and environmental revolutions.

When I told you about my plans to join the protest in Amsterdam, you asked me what about the risk of COVID-19. I did not answer. Today I can honestly tell you that my generation is prepared to put ourselves at risk to fight for social and environmental justice. Would you do the same?

Love you lots,

Milan

                 ******

We love the passion that Milan expresses — the earnest yearning for a better world. And we hope he will play a part in achieving a better world. We even think it is likely that he will do so.

Still, there is a famous saying — it plays out in a lot of ways, but we think the quote, often attributed to Disraeli, poses the conundrum of the day:

A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head.
— Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

It is an overstatement, of course. People of all ages have their own reasons for political alignment. In fact, in America, at least, most people vote in a very similar manner to their parents. Milton Himmelfarb, a thoughtful analyst of American politics, wrote an article in Commentary magazine reviewing the 1968 election. He became somewhat famous as he gave a pithy characterization that Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. In other words, even dramatic changes in the incomes of Jews had not changed their voting patterns. Even today, it is not income, as much as religiosity, that explains the voting patterns of American Jews, with the Orthodox community far more Republican than Conservative and Reform Jews.

The great challenge in politics is that our representatives have to vote for actual policies. Will allowing a deduction for mortgage interest rates help blacks who want to buy homes? Or is the real benefit to rich people who will buy more expensive homes? Assessing the impact of various policies is difficult. In fact, to this moment, it is not actually clear what policies the Black Lives Matters protesters would like to see implemented. Or what would actually help black people.

Responding to individual acts is much easier. To anyone who has watched the video, the death of George Floyd seems obviously and absolutely unjustified and horrible. We hope there will be a full trial so we will understand more about the situation. There are some sources indicating that the police officer and the victim knew each other and to what degree that influenced behavior we don’t know.

The situation is still very confusing with one of the co-workers at a nightclub where both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin, the police officer now charged with his murder, worked, first alleging they knew each other well and then recanting.

One thing that is very clear is that many people took advantage of the protests to destroy property and steal things. And that burning out job sources in one’s own community leads businesses to leave and thus hurts the future of the community.

In early June, Heather McDonald wrote an Op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal explaining The Myth of Systemic Police Racism:

In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects.

In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.

The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. The Post defines “unarmed” broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase. In 2018 there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019. By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.

On Memorial Day weekend in Chicago alone, 10 African-Americans were killed in drive-by shootings. Such routine violence has continued — a 72-year-old Chicago man shot in the face on May 29 by a gunman who fired about a dozen shots into a residence; two 19-year-old women on the South Side shot to death as they sat in a parked car a few hours earlier; a 16-year-old boy fatally stabbed with his own knife that same day. This past weekend, 80 Chicagoans were shot in drive-by shootings, 21 fatally, the victims overwhelmingly black. Police shootings are not the reason that blacks die of homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined; criminal violence is.

The latest in a series of studies undercutting the claim of systemic police bias was published in August 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers found that the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that a member of that group will be fatally shot by a police officer. There is “no significant evidence of anti-black disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by police,” they concluded.

A 2015 Justice Department analysis of the Philadelphia Police Department found that white police officers were less likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot unarmed black suspects. Research by Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. also found no evidence of racial discrimination in shootings. Any evidence to the contrary fails to take into account crime rates and civilian behavior before and during interactions with police.

The false narrative of systemic police bias resulted in targeted killings of officers during the Obama presidency. The pattern may be repeating itself. Officers are being assaulted and shot at while they try to arrest gun suspects or respond to the growing riots. Police precincts and courthouses have been destroyed with impunity, which will encourage more civilization-destroying violence. If the Ferguson effect of officers backing off law enforcement in minority neighborhoods is reborn as the Minneapolis effect, the thousands of law-abiding African-Americans who depend on the police for basic safety will once again be the victims.

Milan is right that people of his generation have “all the information in the world available at their fingertips.” Yes, we have ALL the information, whether it is true, false, incomplete or uncertain information. He is also correct in saying that his generation “didn’t start the industrial revolution, yet we are reaping what was once sowed.” However, it is true that all generations have to deal with the legacy of what came before them.

One challenge for today, and for the future, is how to deal with some horrible truths. The “Defund the Police” movement is a natural, emotional reaction to knowledge of police abuses. The truth, fully recognized, is that there are police officers who abuse their authority.

This has always been true and, we suspect, will always be true. The difference now is that since everyone walks the earth with a movie camera in their pocket, we will be exposed to many, many more specific abuses than we ever knew about in the past.

Literally defunding the police will make the situation worse, especially for the poor, not better. Wealthy people can have private security forces. Even the City Council of Minneapolis, as voting to defund the police, hired a private security force for their own protection. There are over 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the US. If just one percent are abusive, that is 8,000 officers. If they each committed an action such as we saw in the George Floyd video once every 20 years, that would mean 400 people die every year, a little over one per day.

This is, of course, terrible. But “defunding the police” would likely lead to hundreds or thousands of times more innocent people dying. It is easy to object to the present situation; it is much harder to actually come up with a better process and better people.

And many “facts” require deep study. For example, there is clearly a lot more discussion about vegetarianism and veganism than there once was. But in the United States, the evidence is that the actual behavioral change is not there.  Here is The Washington Post: You Might Think There are More Vegetarians Than Ever. You’d be Wrong.:

The number of Americans who self-identify as vegetarian or vegan has remained steady over the past 20 years — and it’s still a pretty small group, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Five percent of Americans identify as vegetarian, a rate that has remained unchanged since the previous survey in 2012. In 1999, when the survey was first taken, as well as in 2001, 6 percent of Americans identified as vegetarian. Rates of veganism have followed a similar trajectory. This year, 3 percent of respondents identified as vegan — a slight increase from 2 percent in 2012.

What’s remarkable is how little has changed, even as our food culture and habits have evolved over the past 20 years. In 1999, there were no “Meatless Mondays,” no Pinterest, no “Food, Inc.,” no fast-casual salad places, no Goop. Information about a vegetarian diet — at least for middle- and upper-class people who have more dietary choices — has seemingly never been more abundant. But it’s not resulting in any noticeable increase in the rate at which people adopt the diet — a fact that may prove either galvanizing or discouraging for plant-based advocacy groups.

This, is, of course, in line with consumption statistics:

In raising the issue of social and environmental justice, one can only feel admiration for Milan’s spirit.

There are issues, though. One is that as people get older they have other priorities. They have children, who they need to feed and clothe. Another is that even though we can all agree that we should always be looking to improve our situation by improving the world — say, training police better so that behavior such as we saw in the George Floyd video doesn’t happen — it is also true that we can fool ourselves by thinking that protest and legal changes will solve all the problems. There will always be errant people and abusers of power.

The truth is that problems such as this are always complex. That this generation is willing to put itself at risk to “fight for social and environmental justice” can only be seen as admirable. But if they do this through public protest, the same people are going home or to work or shopping with older people, more vulnerable to COVID-19 than they are, so they are putting them at risk — often without their consent. This is problematic.

There is a bigger question as to what the root of the problem is. In America, with a legacy of slavery, all decent people want to see the African-American population become more successful. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard Professor who ultimately became a US Senator from New York, wrote a famous report in 1965 on the enormous problem facing the black family in America. At that time, 25% of black children were being born out of wedlock. By 2011, 72% of black babies in America were born to unmarried mothers.

Malbehavior by police officers must be condemned. Every effort should be made to stop it. Efforts to increase the number of black officers should be redoubled, but, if you want to help lift black babies out of poverty, help them to gain an education and find success — here are the hard numbers:

Moynihan’s report focused on black families, but the percentage of children living with a single parent has jumped across racial and ethnic groups. Between 1960 and 2013, the proportion of black children living in a single-parent home more than doubled, from 22 percent to 55 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For white children, the percentage tripled, from 7 percent to 22 percent.

The authors’ analysis of educational attainment is based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) from children born between 1954 and 1986. The data includes information about family structure and family income of 6,072 individuals when they were between the ages of 14 and 16, as well as the years of schooling they’d completed by the age of 24.

Those who were 24 years old in 2009 — the youngest group in the data — and lived in a two-parent family had completed 14.07 years of school. Those who lived in a single-parent home for at least 1 of 3 years between ages 14 and 16 had finished 12.75 years of school.

Twelve percent of that group of teens from single-parent families had earned a college degree by the time they were 24, compared with 38 percent of those from two-parent families.

Note that things aren’t going so great for white families either.

These are deep and important issues, but it is not just a question of justice. All the laws changed in the world will not solve this problem.

One wonders if the pick-up for the protests would have been as great if the decision was made to offer an online teach-in to push everyone’s math grade up a level. One doubts it, though it clearly would be more likely to help the black population in the USA.

Milan carries with him an earnest longing for a better future. So many of his generation share in this longing. We wish him, and all who carry these initiatives, great success.

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