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Yara Shahidi on turning 20 in a changing world

Dress, Celine; earrings, Alighieri; sunglasses, stylist’s own

Ahead of NET-A-PORTER’s 20th anniversary, we asked actor and activist Yara Shahidi, who also turned 20 this year, to share the significance of having been born at the start of the millennium. Since then, in the wake of the recent global movements towards inclusivity and equality, Shahidi wanted to rewrite her essay to reflect on why it is 2020 that finally beckons system-breaking, space-making change

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

American novelist and playwright James Baldwin.

Ever my inspiration and historical mentor, James Baldwin perfectly articulates the concepts that have often felt indescribable. As straightforward as the sentiment may sound, when I first came upon this quote, something clicked: I feel as though I was born into a generation trying to find our home in the world.

My birth year of 2000 is a paradox in and of itself. Inheriting the progress fought for by prior generations – from the civil rights movement to Stonewall – I was born into a world of possibility. Being proudly Black and Iranian, my freedoms and privileges are the clear result of generations of a global commitment to progress and justice. My first tattoo – ’63 – I wear as a reminder of this work; a year of action in which people demanded a future of progress they knew was important, regardless of whether or not it was a future they were guaranteed.

While Black women weren’t given the right to vote until 1965, I commemorated my 18th year and my movement into adulthood with a voter-registration party – honoring the rights that those before me fought for.

Very much informed by the culture and history of previous decades, 2000 also marked a turning point in which technology had become seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. My peers and I grew up alongside the digital world – a double-edged sword that, at times affecting positive change, inherently changed the way we relate to one another. Connected in ways we weren’t before, I feel as though one of the largest impacts technology has made on my life is the sense of global community developed from being able to be in conversation with my peers, regardless of geography.

Here we stand on the precipice of progress and possibility. My generation proudly takes ownership of our identities and revels in our intersections. So why, at 20, do I feel as though we are looking for a home?

Shahidi, age 8, during a visit to California’s Kidspace Children’s Museum in 2008

I was born into a perceived ‘post-racial’ world with smartphones – undermined by the fact that our societal fates are predetermined based on our ethnicities – and the same technologies that have connected us also surveille our Black and Brown communities. Global protests against oppressive governments, coupled with constant national police terrorism claiming the lives of my community, should serve as a stark reminder of the collision of the forward movement of 2020 and the hate and discrimination that chain us.

It is because of this conundrum that it feels as though we are never quite at home in the world. Yet turning 20 came with the revelation that this is not a bad thing. Where I used to find this state of ‘homelessness’ quite uncomfortable, it is now a source of hope.

To quote the brilliant Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, and we are, in fact, going through the necessary, revolutionary and often uncomfortable process of dismantling. Rather than being complacent with the world we’ve inherited, we have taken on the project of constructing a new home, built on a foundation of inclusivity.

While the term ‘intersectionality’ was introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the work of the early two-thousands has become enacting this mindset into daily practice. This practice has taken shape differently in each and every one of us. I see it in the work of the artists, engineers, coders, entrepreneurs, the future lawyers, and current changemakers. All of us bring our many tools to the table to partake in the work of system-breaking and space-making. Growing up in the age of ‘followers’ has actually proven that the size of our perceived platform has no bearing on the potential of our actions.

So where do we, Gen Z, go from here? I have no clue… But I eagerly await the efforts of our compound voices and I look forward to the home we build

One of the first things my parents taught me is that abundance must flow – I don't know the age at which they sat me and my brother down to explain it, but I remember it being something I always knew in the Shahidi household. It not only applies to physical resources – ie, when you get money, you give money – it is also the idea of time being a resource: your support, your love, your care.

So where do we, Gen Z, go from here? I have no clue… But I eagerly await the efforts of our compound voices and I look forward to the home we build. A home where we lose the rhetoric of coming together in spite of our differences, but we intentionally unite because of them. A home that is identity-celebratory and dedicated to the ever-evolving projects of equity. For who are we if not each other?

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NET-A-PORTER collaborated with a number of designers to create a range of limited-edition tops this year, with 100 percent of the profits going to global charity Women for Women International.