Not All Millennials Are White and Privileged!
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Paul Matthew Photography
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I have a timer set on my phone. It counts how often I hear the words “millennial” or “Generation Y’er” with some sweeping crass generalization about how awful people my age are. It is coupled of course with photos, of some Instagram-lit, tattooed, white manic-pixie dream girl and her alt-rock flannel boyfriend. The chances of the poster children looking like me (fat, and unambiguously black) hover between not-in-the-slightest and Christmas miracle. Rhetoric that comes anywhere close to talking about my life is even less common.
It’s easy to to make fun of the entitled, selfie-taking stereotype. In reality those of us born between 1980 and 2009 are a diverse group, who have had extraordinarily different experiences growing up. The lack of engagement with race, class, regional, political and immigration issues in journalism about millennials does us all a disservice by dodging the serious questions of what our coming of age means for the future of America.
Our generation has been a media focus for years. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2009 article “Millennium Muddle” highlights the problem beautifully, if unintentionally. In an entire article about this burgeoning analytic framework, only one of the academics, Fred A. Bonner II, challenges the assumption that all millennials are coddled and indulged.
But as a first-generation everything and a black millennial, I respond to the laser focus on the indulged and underperforming with a special fury. As blogger Trudy of Gradient Lair points out, education and hard work have always been hailed as the panacea for all our ills. Even more infuriating is that as recently as 2002, in the book “Microtrends,” Mark Penn pointed out that a large percentage of black teens (I was 18 that year) were hard-working, high-achieving volunteers. He also cited the 40% home ownership rate as one of the fundaments of the rise of black wealth. Post-housing crisis, with its racially targeted loans that torpedoed our economy, how much of that was wiped out and has yet to be recovered? With half (or less) of the support white middle-class young people got, we rose to the challenge and got hosed anyway.
Today the millennial is a variant of the idea of the indulged hipster. The kids of “Girls,” of Williamsburg, underacheivers and snotty art kids living indulged shiftless lives; the comedy of artisan this, microbrewed that and bad service blah blah. Schooled and reared in Brooklyn and Queens, I now find the places where I grew up and went to school priced far beyond my means and those of the communities that sustained me. When Brooklyn experiences a “ renaissance,” the Hassidic, Latino and West Indian communities that made it get moved out. And their kids — yes, also millennials — can’t afford to live there.
All of this, and still we are seen as complacent go-along-to-get-along layabouts. Our education, housing, healthcare and sexual autonomy are all in jeopardy and the constant refrain is, “Well, do something.” Yes, Occupy happened. But I want to ask anyone who thinks millennials are lazy: Why aren’t people like the Dream campaigners part of the moment? Why aren’t the marches for Trayvon Martin and The Dream Defenders part of it? Millennials have met these challenges with protests , marches, and yes, cross-generational organizing. We’re fighting redistricting, police violence and voting rights challenges that hinder the very moment we’re supposed to seize. “Dirty hippies” and disadvantaged citizens, however, aren’t the best and brightest, so their struggles to secure the dream we were promised and the rights we were guaranteed don’t play as well in London or New York.