Every generation is both privy to a number of general criticisms (millennials more than the rest) and praise for their collective habits and life choices. Baby boomers have been dubbed a cautious, capitalist, politically toxic generation that ruined the planet. On the other hand, millennials bear the brunt of weekly think pieces detailing how we are a lazy, broke, entitled, avo toast-eating generation that works from their rented apartments. But there’s a lesser spoken of generation we co-exist with – Gen Z or Generation Next, if you prefer. And perhaps no one is writing think pieces about them because they’re still just seen as… kids. However, we should probably be paying attention to this creative, opinionated generation.
Remember when people born during the ‘born-free’ years were considered the youngins of our time? Well, Gen Z says hi, as this group is made up of anyone born in/after the year 2000. Yes, we’re talking about teens, and everyone knows any conversation with a teenager will leave you pondering; from what you were doing at that age to what the future looks like with these young minds in it. And if you think you always have to play the role of that ‘well, back in my day’ aunt when speaking with Gen Z-ers, hold that thought because sometimes the kids are all right without our two cents.
A few of our favourite well-known Gen Z girls have proven that they’ve got a few things handled. They’ve extinguished our doubts, and have given us these gems:
1. Willow Smith on childhood fame
‘This generation is hypersensitive spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally. So when we look on our phones and we see people dying right next to us and we’re sitting there about to go get a latte – that breaks you down. It’s not just the phones. The phones are just a tool. The phones just heighten what was already happening.’
This style muse was just 10 years old when she dropped her viral hit ‘Whip My Hair’ and we should’ve known from that moment on that Willow Smith would grow up to be a self-assured, creative, outspoken youth. Born to superstar parents Will and Jada, Willow was privileged enough for her talent to be immediately launched to the world, but the ‘Female Energy’ singer has been honest about the reality of childhood fame.
‘Growing up and trying to figure out your life while people feel like they have some sort of entitlement to know what’s going on, is absolutely, excruciatingly terrible,’ Willow revealed in a candid Girlgaze interview.
In this interview she further outlined the perils of superstardom at a young age, but it seems Will and Jada’s youngest found solace in the making of her second album The 1st, which she describes as an ’emotional regurgitation from the depths of a burgeoning woman.’
2. Yara Shahidi on activism
‘Zoey is more than just a TV character – she is my activism through art.’
The 18-year old activist, Harvard student, and actress Yara Shahidi often weighs in eloquently and with an informed mind on current affairs. She plays the lead role on ABC hit show Black-ish’s spinoff series Grown-ish, which follows Zoey into her college experience; the series addresses student casual drug use, black consciousness, and the American condition as a whole. The character Zoey is an extension of who Yara is in real life.
‘She is an angsty, rebellious teen, entrepreneurial at heart, academically astute, and the thread that ties her family together. It is through my character and characters like her that the barriers of racism, ageism, sexism, and other -isms can be broken down,’ she said at a media talk earlier this year.
Watch Yara Shahidi speak on artistic activism and social justice:
3. Amandla Stenberg on visibility
‘What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?’
We fell in love with her when she played Rue on Hunger Games in 2012, and our hearts were shattered when this character died. But Amandla, the actress, NYU film student, and social commentator, is alive and well, and she is constantly dropping thought-provoking bars. While many her age are still grappling with their sexuality, in an exclusive Vogue interview Amandla matter-of-factly said, ‘I don’t think gender even exists. My sexuality’s very fluid and my gender is very fluid. I don’t think of myself as statically a girl.’
She was named the Feminist Celebrity of 2015 by the Ms. Foundation, and according to Vogue, ‘Time magazine twice named her a Most Influential Teen (2015 and 2016).’ American feminist journalist Gloria Steinem aptly described Amandla as ‘brave and effective in pointing out the presence of racism within white culture, and also in naming the invisibility of black women.’
4. Zulaikha Patel as a symbol of hair politics
‘…she’s gotten into trouble for her hair before. She’s even been in detention for it.’
Zulaikha Patel became the face of the 2016 Pretoria Girls’ School protest against hair rules. Of course, this was not a battle resting solely on Patel’s shoulders, but perhaps that powerful image of her with her fist in the air along with her very lush, distinct mane catapulted the then 13-year-old into that position. In 2016 The Daily Vox reported on the fact that Zulaikha has had to change school three times because of her hair.
Zulaikha bravely defied what had become a norm for black women like us who felt like they couldn’t speak up against the policing of black girls’ image in South African schools. And it is for this reason that she earned herself a 12-metre-high mural in Brooklyn, New York. The artist Lexi Bella described the Pretoria teen as ‘an amazing young activist who gives me hope.’
5. Chloe x Halle Bailey on women’s rights
‘Our bodies. Our choice. Super proud of the effort so many women are making today by marching. Let’s get in formation ladies.’
Their music is worth a daily listen and so are their opinions. The hippest R&B duo on the scene right now also stars alongside Yara Shahidi on Grown-ish and recently released an album I highly recommend, The Kids Are Alright. As Beyoncé’s proteges, Chloe and Halle are dedicated to women’s rights, and participated in the women’s march, with Chloe saying, ‘I believe it’s more than just doing a hashtag. You should go out there and do the women’s march and the march for equality.’
‘We want to inspire young girls to keep going in whatever they want to do and to challenge themselves and to not be afraid of certain jobs… just because maybe something might have lots of males doing it,’ Halle added.
6. Muzoon Almellehan on the importance of education
‘Our country needs a strong generation.’
Muzoon Amellehan fled Syria for Jordan in 2013 due to rife conditions in refugee camps, and five years later she can proudly say she’s the youngest UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to date. How, you might ask? Muzoon is committed to creating change for children in Syria in order to get more children educated. As a result, she made it onto the TIME list of 30 Most Influential Teens in 2017 in honour of her activism towards keeping Syrian girls in school.
7. Rayouf Alhumedi on the need for inclusive emojis
‘I think this emoji will influence the world indirectly.’
It turns out the tech generation is not merely mindlessly texting away on smartphones for hours on end for no reason at all. Sometimes young folk use their phones to innovate too. In 2017 Rayouf Alhumedi made the texting experience so much more pleasant for millions of women like herself when she proposed Apple’s headscarf clad emoji. As a 16-year old Muslim girl from Saudi Arabia who wears headscarves, Rayouf said ‘it’s something important to [her] identity’ to have an emoji that looks like her. Her campaign was even supported by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian before Apple and the Unicode Consortium approved it. ‘It’s a step forward in celebrating diversity and accepting the Muslim faith,’ the forward-thinking teen said.
So cheers to our little sisters, our nieces, and teen stars we admire; may they continue to raise their voices and may we never write disdainful think pieces about them.