The term “Millennials” has become all the rage since Neil Howe and William Strauss first coined it in 1991. This Millennial Generation, consisting of all of those born roughly between 1982 and 2004, have been poked, prodded, theorized and hypothesized about ad nauseum.
From being our civic-minded saviors to our narcissistic downfall, overly coddled children to independent go-getters, people who fall within the Millennial years have become the screen onto which those in our society can project our best and worst selves.
Our best and worst white, middle and upper class professional selves, that is.
And this is where I take issue with the notion of the unquenchable Millennial Generation. It is not the youthful, doe-eyed Millennials themselves who I invite to kiss my ass, but rather those who use the term as a monolithic, all-encompassing descriptor that is beyond scrutiny.
And here’s why:
1. Though term Millennials is said to describe all children born between 1980 and 2004, it actually is almost always used to describe a very small, privileged segment of the population (read: white, affluent, privately tutored). By using such an inclusive definition and then moving on to provide theories that relate to only a small subsection of members, what we are really saying is that the term “Millennials” in fact refers only to the most marketable, important, valuable segment of the population.
If you fall outside of this narrow definition, even if born within the appropriate timespan, you do not count.
When we are talking about Millennials, we are not referring to the Trayvon Martins of the world. We are, therefore, perpetuating a system in which there are those who fall within the “norm” and those who might as well not exist. This negation of the margin is typical. If “Millennials” truly captured all of those kids who were born from the early 80’s to the mid-2000’s, it would be impossible to construct a simplistic set of theories to capture their functioning in the world.
So, we simply pretend that when we talk about Millennials, we are talking about everyone… and those who are a bit too, ethnic, too poor, or too blue-collar, well, let’s just brush those pesky outsiders under the rug.
2. Which leads to the second point. Even if we do decide to use the term “Millennial” with the shared knowledge that it does not include those who are low-income, non-gender conforming, and everyone else who doesn’t fall apart when tennis lessons conflict with SoulCycle, we are still doing a disservice to Millennials by using this term.
In categorizing an entire group of people, whose population reaches upwards of 80 million in number, we are necessarily negating each individual unique emotional, historical and psychical experience. No wonder rates of depression and anxiety are up in this population, given that one’s entire history, relational map, and complex intra-psychic experience is reduced down to “coddled, overly demanding, whiner baby.”
Shoot, setting aside that this excludes all of the janitors, inmates and military folk (see point 1), even coddled, helicoptered tech workers have a right to be held in mind as the multi-faceted individuals that they are. In negating the complexity of their unique experiences, we are potentially contributing to their feelings of malaise.
3. Finally, our society loves pointing the finger of narcissism at these so-called Millennials, yet it is we who have showered endless attention upon them, thus perpetuating the naval gazing of which we are so critical. In fact, Millennials are the most researched generation to date.
Baby-Boomers and Gen-X’ers are having a heyday shoving Millennials into strict (and often contradictory) binaries. I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this video ….
…as much as the next guy, but, these are the people who we’ll have to rely on one day in the very near future to keep our country functioning, so perhaps we’d do well to begin focusing less on the pathologies of this tiniest segment of the Millennial population and instead, begin treating them as the multi-faceted intersection of race, class, gender and education that they are.
I’m well aware that the nomenclature isn’t going anywhere, but I do hope that my invitation for all of us who use this term to kiss my multi-ethnic, and yes, Millennial ass will serve as a reminder that we Millennials are not one thing. We’re dads and whites and blacks and techies and unemployeds and incarcerated and immigrants and foster youth and nurses and single moms.
I encourage us to begin focusing less on what these so-called Millennials are up to and shift the lens back onto the preceding generations. It’s all too easy to sit back and discuss the failures of the upcoming generations as we wax philosophical about walking uphill to school both ways. What are Boomers and Gen X-ers doing to promote environmental protections, a societal safety net, and a more balanced criminal justice system?
It is time for all of us to come together and participate. After all, we want to create a healthy future so that those in Generation Y and beyond will have the resources to begin their own exhaustive research on all of the generations to come.