A word used to define a generation has become an insult. This must cease immediately.
Last week was the inaugural Millennial Week in D.C., a Monday through Sunday summit aimed at honoring the achievements of the most heavily criticized generation in recent history. Organizer Natalie Moss, who moved to the District (the new millennial magnet, apparently) three years ago, told the Washington Post last week that she put the event together to celebrate the accomplishments of this oft-maligned faction. "Why a week for millennials, and why in D.C.?" she asked. "Simply put, I wanted to develop a platform for millennials to define themselves." Moss didn’t meet the typical self-important 20-something when she moved to D.C., so she created something for the hard-working types she did encounter.
Let them tell it, we all fit a stereotypical description: A legion of entitled narcissists who associate relevance with retweets and favorites, refuse to work hard for anything and, through the twisted powers of delusion, believe everything we do is somehow special.
I’m in favor of destroying the negative connotations associated with the word "millennial," so I fully support Moss' initiative. However, I still have strong issues with the word and what it refers to. So, even though I’m a product of Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, don’t call me a millennial. It’s a word that most 20-somethings should shun, and if you don’t, you’re head's right where everyone thinks it is—buried in your smartphone, figuratively up your ass. In the eyes of our elders, Drake—with his emotive vanity—is our king. Lena Dunham—with her loosely-autobiographical show about self-involved 20-somethings living life one mistake at a time—is our queen. Kanye West—who declared himself a God just a year ago—is who we worship. We're being short-changed through these misconceptions.
The age range for millennials varies, but the word largely refers to people born in the 1980s and 1990s. Hearing the word makes me cringe. I try to limit my own use of it, even for the sake of discussion, because it tastes like what I imagine ass tastes like whenever I utter it. This is because it’s been used ad nauseam (and with venom, albeit) to describe a group the media largely doesn’t understand. Let them tell it, we all fit a stereotypical description: A legion of entitled narcissists who associate relevance with retweets and favorites, refuse to work hard for anything and, through the twisted powers of delusion, believe everything we do is somehow special. It’s very easy to use sweeping generalizations to characterize an entire group of people, but that’s never made it justifiable.
We didn’t fail to launch, the system, which worked one way for so long and then broke, failed us.
The ugly, inconvenient truth is that the generation everyone loves to eviscerate was given a raw deal. I’m not here to play the poor, misunderstood millennial card, but many of us received our degrees and walked directly into the recession or its aftermath. As a result, we’ve been forced to delay milestones like marriage and homeownership because we’re either drowning in student loan debt from undergraduate and graduate studies (because a hyper-competitive job market has drastically reduced the value of a bachelor's degree), unemployed or underemployed, forced to live at home well into adulthood or have to rely on our parents for other forms of financial support. Or nearly all of the above. We didn’t fail to launch, the system, which worked one way for so long and then broke, failed us.
Take Tyler Durden's famous speech from Fight Club, which, in 1999, echoed the frustrations of Generation X. Fifteen years later, it rings true for this generation, and we're very pissed off about it.
What’s more, the word "entitled" is often misused in reference to us. Sure, there has to be some validity to a motif for it to grow legs, and there are unfortunately plenty of annoying, lazy young people out there, but our impatience is mistaken for entitlement. It’s not that we want the world handed to us, it’s that there’s a collective feeling of less time to get things done. At Howard University’s commencement last month, I watched Dr. Sean Combs repeatedly ask graduates if they realized how powerful they are. He’s absolutely right: We are the most powerful generation because we have access to more. For that very reason, we don’t want to be known as the kids who did less with more available to us. If that’s a crime, who isn’t guilty?
We don’t want to be known as the kids who did less with more available to us.
Fortunately, I haven’t faced many of the more crippling challenges that my counterparts have. However, I feel their pain. Since graduating from college, I’ve seen plenty of friends move back home, struggle financially and ponder the possibility that, perhaps, they've been doomed since graduating from high school. But just as I’ve watched some people become statistics, I’ve seen others purchase homes, start families, start businesses and thrive. When there weren’t jobs, people said "fuck it," began embracing entrepreneurship and created their own.
Personal issues with the word "millennial" aside, it has some positive connotations, as my generation has used the resources available to us to become tech-savvy innovators and self-starting philanthropists. Furthermore, across the board, we’re arguably more creative than previous generations, displaying the resolve to make careers from scratch. We’ve also had a profound impact on politics (see the 2008 presidential election for evidence), and we figure to have even greater influence as we get older. That’s why an event like Millennial Week is so important—it gave us the opportunity to show our worth through accomplishments.
I just don’t want to be undermined by the word, or referred to as some self-absorbed child of the hashtag, or a dreamer who doesn't follow through, especially when there are so many people my age working to refute that notion.
History has taught us that society always finds a way to condemn younger generations. Whether it was the tortured James Dean disciples, the Woodstock children or the Generation X slackers, they’ve all faced the same scathing assessment. Hell, it’s the same members of Generation X who were being judged by their parents for getting high while watching Reality Bites and pondering the future of Seattle’s music scene 20 years ago who are so critical of my generation now. I suppose it’s routine societal hazing, but I can’t accept the slander when the shoe doesn't fit, especially considering what we’ve faced.
There's probably someone out there just itching to brand me your typical whiny millennial. I just don’t want to be undermined by the word, referred to as some self-absorbed child of the hashtag, or a dreamer who doesn't follow through, especially when there are so many people my age working to refute that notion.
Call Julian Kimble a "millennial" and be prepared for the curve. Follow him on Twitter here.