They tell us that millennials are lazy and incompetent. They tell us that millennials are too busy buying avocado toast and mastering the Instagram selfie to look outside of themselves. They tell us that the millennial generation has been lost to technology and we might as well call this the end of times because millennial snowflakes will never be able to do more than cry victim. We’re taught not to take millennials too seriously. We’re taught not to respect millennials because they have no respect for authority, familial or political. We’re taught to stereotype a millennial based on the outfit they choose to wear and the accessories they bear. If a millennial is carrying coffee, they’re too hipster. If a millennial is eating yogurt and granola, they’re too health-crazed. If a millennial is wearing anything other than a three-piece suit, they’re too lazy to care about their appearance. If a millennial is wearing a three-piece suit? They must need a job because their parents stopped paying the bill. We joke that this generation doesn’t care enough or that they care too much or that they’re too ungrateful or that they love too many people or that their morals and behaviors don’t reflect the good ole days. When a millennial speaks up, they’re shot down for being too opinionated on matters they can’t possibly know anything about. When a millennial doesn’t speak up? They’re ridiculed for not having any opinions. Tired of hearing about millennials yet?
I bring all this up to say: forget it. Society doesn’t know anything about this millennial era. They don’t even know how to classify millennials other than to say that if you’re on your phone too much, if you’re drinking any coffee other than strong black coffee that you brewed from home in a traditional coffee pot, if you're somewhat concerned about your environmental impact or if you seem remotely uninterested in the old white male yelling “smile, sugar!” across the street, you’re probably a millennial. But really, the millennials are those of us born anywhere between 1981 and when the Twin Towers fell. Yes, that’s us. Those darn up-to-no good disrespectful kids.
But last weekend, I spent three days with 100 millennials and really, I couldn’t see any of these ‘millennial myths’ fed to us. From early mornings to late nights, I saw 100 eager, impassioned, hopeful students full of a desperate need to change the world. I sat in a room of diverse persons all college-aged and listened as they shared stories and experiences and hopes and dreams, and I heard no disrespect, no hatred, no ridiculing. I heard love, encouragement and belief. A belief that each of us has what it takes to dismantle the systemic oppression of black and brown bodies and create a new structure where everyone is invited to the table and the voiceless are heard. I saw one hundred people using social media to build community and celebrate one another rather than create superficial profiles. I listened as white men and women stood up and promised to see and check their white privilege. I witnessed hugs, laughter, tears shed together and a bond built on better tomorrows. There was a disrespect in the room, I’ll admit. A disrespect at old systems that no longer work for current situations and that desperately need to be replaced. I heard disrespect in the form of anger at another’s experience with racism, sexism, and other transgressions. I spoke with disrespect at the lack of care and concern we seem to give to teachers and students alike. As we visited with peers, received knowledge from those before us, and discussed the changes that need to come and voices that must be heard, I didn’t see disengagement via social media or eye-rolls from uncaring citizens. None of us needed to be educated on the current happenings in our world and none of us sat with no opinion on matters at hand. Instead, we collectively raised our voices, our hearts and our minds in an effort to know one another more deeply so that we could know the issues and successes of today better.
So, why do millennials get such an unfair assessment? I believe it lies in pride and fear. Older generations are afraid of being forgotten, of not living up to the ‘American Dream’, so they cling to what is seen in their eyes as better days when in reality the grass was no greener. With fear, pride always follows and this pride needs a pedestal to stand on. That pedestal comes from a heightened sense of betterness. This belief that if I am better than someone than at least I’m not the worst. I’m not saying that older generations are the enemy or even that they got it all wrong because I never lived in their shoes. I do not pretend to understand the decisions they made nor the situations they were made in. I can’t say I’d have made a better call because it was never my call to make. But I do believe hindsight and honest history is our friend. I believe the diverse thinking and the opinionated voices of the millennial generation combined with the prideful fear and past experiences of older generations lead to tense feelings and a strong sense of opposition. But I also believe with education, discussion and respect, we can all co-exist and co-collaborate to make this side of the universe better for all.
A huge and indebted thank you to Teach for America for the opportunity to stand beside some of the greatest game-changers of my generation.