I’m really, really tired of this Boomers v Millenials crap.
What utter bullshit.
The fact is, generation after generation of Americans has been told that if they worked hard and got an education, they would get a job and be successful. That they would eventually, maybe with the help of their parents, be able to buy a house and raise a family if they so desired. Every single generation of Americans has been fed this, and for generations it was more (if you were White) or less (if you were anything else) true—before modern medicine extended lives, after multiple massive-scale wars left even a once-massively depressed country hungry for people to fill jobs. The American Dream relied on more than just the willingness to work hard.
This generation of young adults was bottle-fed this dream, and misogyny, and racism, and toxic masculinity. They were fed the idea of bootstrapping, and their own personal merit. They didn’t come up with their expectations, beliefs, and behaviors in a vacuum.
Poor choices were made. Shit went horribly wrong. We all know this. We can say the Boomers fucked shit up, and yeah—they did. Some of them even know it. Hell, my mom still occasionally apologizes, because she sees the difference between my situation and hers. She remembers a time when you could walk into a place and get hired on the spot. She remembers when education was nearly free.
But shit gets fucked up—that’s what happens, kids. Look at history. History is all about shit getting fucked up. And people having to deal with it and getting cranky at the people who came before. I qualify as neither a Boomer nor a Millenial; My generation sorta fell through the cracks. Regardless, people have been treating Millenials like they are angry children. Well, shit yeah.
What we need to recognize is that the Millenials are the first generation for whom that American promise has been well and truly broken (even during the Depression the government was working on programs to help get people back on their feet, in a way that today’s government is not). We need to realize that the things to which they feel they are entitled are things they’ve been promised since birth by people who believed it because it came true for them or enough of the people around them. And that their seeming petulance about it is really just the disappointment of a generation of people who are actually working hard only to discover that every single one of them just got sent searching for the same, nearly empty, pot of gold that they’d been individually assured of finding.
Yes. There is a lot of fucking privilege in that disappointment. Especially a lot of White privilege. (The American Dream is built entirely out of White privilege, once you factor in systemic racism.) That’s been endlessly explored in articles all over the Internet (no, as a person of color I do not dismiss the importance of this issue—it’s just not for this post). Yes. Millenials do need to grow up. Once that disappointment hits, the next move is to get over it and move forward with what you’ve got.
But to have a promise that affects your entire life broken isn’t actually that small of a disappointment. It’s not like they dropped their ice cream cone. They—we all—have to completely restructure our understanding of what is possible, what they are capable of, and how they are going to succeed within the American Reality, not the American Dream.
That’s not actually a small thing.
So here’s the deal. I am angry. Furious. Enraged. Livid. The fact that it is 2015 and it is still possible for me or any of my black friends to have our lives destroyed by supposed servants of the people simply because we are black makes me truly, deeply, painfully angry. The fact that these careless murderers, these state-backed assassins rarely get punished for murdering black people makes me want to flip tables. All of the tables. I’m right there with the rioters in Baltimore, is what I am trying to say. I want to break the windows of cop cars. I want to set shit on fire. I want to flip tables, throw rocks, pound concrete, rage against this system that has perpetuated itself BECAUSE REMAINING QUIET ONLY FUELS THE ENGINE THAT MAKES OPPRESSION POSSIBLE.
So when you tell me that racism is shitty, but you’d really prefer if people could go back to reasoned arguments on Facebook instead of destroying property, all I hear is: “I have the privilege of waiting for you to receive justice, and your life means less to me than glass and concrete.” When you tell me that you don’t condone the actions of corrupt racist police forces across the country, but follow that up with, “but we need to find intelligent ways to fight,” all I hear is: “I’m avoiding using the word ‘thug’ because I’ve read somewhere that it is racist.” When you tell me, “I feel angry too, but you don’t see me smashing in small business windows,” I hear, “I will never have to worry about my children being shot by the police simply for the color of their skin, so I can afford to show my anger by sharing articles on social media.”
If you are white, and puzzled by the rage and pain of your black friends, family, lovers, partners, and children, then you are part of the problem. If you decry the destruction of cars with the same energy that you decry the destruction of lives and families, then you are part of the problem. If you think just talking about these issues is getting anybody but white people anywhere, then you are part of the problem. If you are wishing for the days when we could pretend to be color blind and the goal was to become a Bill Cosby-approved house negro, your time has passed. Evolve, or you are part of the problem.
If you are not already angry, now is the time to get angry. If you have not already found your rage about this situation—and I don’t mean self-righteous indignation, here, I mean that deep acid burn in the center of your being that threatens to overcome your very existence every time you hear of a new murder, every time you watch a cop walk free, every time George Zimmerman appears on the news, every time one of your fedora-wearing, libertarian-voting, #notallwhatever white friends brings up black on black crime or absentee fathers, then I simply do not understand. If, when another name floats to the surface of your awareness and becomes yet another hashtag (and they do every 28 hours—black men are being murdered by police practically daily and that number does not include women of color or trans people of color), you do not feel like buying a ticket to Baltimore to smash cars with your black brothers and sisters, then I do not understand. I. Don’t. Understand.
But you go ahead and keep telling me there are better ways for people to fight state-sponsored murder, that waiting quietly and voting the right people into office is going to work for us eventually. That white people will eventually just give up that upper hand and stop being racist. After all, we have a black president, right? More importantly, keep telling yourself all of that. In this instance, the lie you believe is far more powerful and damaging than the one I believe. And you can afford to believe it.
You’re the problem. You.
My heart is broken.
Black children and young Black men can be murdered by cops across the country and their families will never see justice. Black cis and trans women are murdered and get backburnered. The idea that somebody is a “thug” is enough to justify that person’s untimely death.
My heart is broken.
My friends who are parents of Black children are terrified. They live in fear for that this means for them, for their children, for their families. A friend of mine spoke of feeling helpless against the concerns of his teenaged son, who is deeply frightened by the knowledge that he can be shot any day just for being a young Black male.
My heart is broken.
Yesterday as I walked through Oakland I looked down at the black leather gloves in my hand and wondered if they looked threatening enough to get me shot on my way to drinks and dinner with a friend.
My heart is broken.
My heart is broken.
The list of names keeps growing, like the most awful mantra, like a time bomb, ticking away one name at a time.
My heart is broken.
I can’t breathe.
Hop off your tricycle.
It’s never too soon to know what you are.
You are Black.
A diversity statistic.
A shoplifting risk.
Going to be suspended.
Not a job prospect.
You are a tangible threat.
Terminology is essential, so keep these in mind:
Y’all don’t rally, you riot.
Y’all don’t assert your rights, you resist arrest.
Y’all don’t find, you loot.
Y’all are not persons fighting for equality, you’re animals.
We’ve got your back.
Three squares a day.
Once we manage to pack you away.
That never works.
Now tell the truth:
Where’d you get it?
Reading many of the #YesAllWomen posts from most of my female friends, one thing comes repeatedly to mind. It’s from a radio interview Marisa did in regard to being a female motorcyclist in the Bay Area.
During the interview a man called in with so much hatred towards motorcyclists, it was terrifying. He even went so far as to promise that any time he sees a rider in his side view mirror he tries to “put them into the guard rail” and that he hoped all motorcyclists died horrible, painful deaths.
This is as close as I can come to understanding that feeling of what it’s like to be female in this society. EVERY TIME I RIDE, I think about that guy on the radio and remind myself that he—and many others like him—are behind the wheel of some of those cars I ride past every day. I will never know who those people are until it’s too late, so I always treat every driver like they’re that one guy I heard on the radio that day, vowing to kill us all.
It doesn’t matter to me at all that most drivers don’t think that way. I only care about the 1 in 100,000 who does.
The kicker to my analogy is this:
I can stop riding my motorcycle any time I want.
Women never get to stop being female. (Not that easily, anyway.)
Thanks to all of you who have been brave enough to share your experiences thus far and those that will in the future. It has been enlightening, even for those of us who are trying to be the good guys.
Ben Davis is a SF/Bay Area web developer and 12-year veteran motorcyclist. Ben has appeared on ABC News 20/20, The Wayne Brady Show, and in the National Enquirer—for reasons you can’t possibly imagine.