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.