Cross-Talk Isn't Going Away; Let's Meet in the Middle
Many of the arguments made about millennials come from sources that are not even remotely intersectional, and as such, fail to account for the vastly different experiences created by racial, gender, socioeconomic, and even geographic divides.
(Overland Park, KS)
He is a 29 year-old teacher. Nick also identifies as a working class millennial who is a white, gay, cisman suffering from depression and anxiety.
I asked him the series of questions below, and I hope you'll learn as much from Nick as I did! He's an inspirational millennial who is doing really important things.
Do you consider yourself a millennial- why or why not?
I consider myself to be a millennial because I was born towards the very end of the 1980s and grew up during the coming-of-age of the Internet. I have been shaped by my persistent access to information and ease of communication. However, I reject the notion that my generation can be prescribed essential values and I believe my “millenialness” is less pronounced than it is for some of my wealthier peers, and more pronounced than it is for those who lived in poverty.
What identity has been key in your development as a millennial?
This is difficult for me to say clearly. At first glance I want to say that being a gay man has been the most key element that has intersected with my identity as a millennial. I grew up closeted and as an adult now I see representations of people with diverse sexual orientations that were not as prevalent as when I was a kid. But if truth be told, I believe that my working class background is as important to my identity as a millennial because I came of age with other people who have wholeheartedly rejected traditional US economics as failing them. I paid my way through college on my own and am now saddled with an insane amount of debt, but the economy had failed me and those I care about well before then. Growing up in a blue collar community in Kansas City, Kan. I saw the foremost effect of economic degradation and the polarization of wealth. While I never worried for my basic needs, and, in fact, had considerable access to luxury wealth such as video games and computers, many of my friends were not as fortunate. I knew from adolescence that the economy was failing, and that is a key component to my identity today.
Is your job the sole purpose or “calling” of your life? Put another way: what ignites and fuels you? Is it work or is it something bigger? Something deeper? Who do you serve at work, and why do you serve them?
My job is my calling. I have known since high school that I wanted to be a teacher and I love what I do. I have returned to my home community to work with the culture that raised me and represent my authentic self. I find immense satisfaction with that every day. I am also a person who constantly challenges the status quo, and while that is sometimes difficult in an established environment like education, I believe in the importance of local public institutions like schools, and I think my place is inside them, holding my coworkers and my superiors to the standard of doing the best for kids. That is what inspires me on a day-to-day basis. I am helping kids, but more than that, I am helping build a society that will keep helping kids.
What are your passions, hobbies, and/or aspirations?
I love history and politics and I have a strong activist streak. But I also really love video games, so there’s that. These days I spend a lot of time managing my own stress and health by spending a lot of time on recreation, when for me, that hasn’t always been the case. My activism has not gone away, it has simply shifted places in my life. I also really love new media. I believe that podcasting and YouTube has allowed for an explosion of content creation that gives a voice to the formerly voiceless. On any given weekend I might be playing board games with my friends, at home listening to podcasts, or spending time with my family. Those are the things that keep me running so that I have the energy to do the hard work I do every weekday. On the side, I am also pursuing a graduate degree with the ultimate goal of getting a doctoral degree in some educational field. Last year I completed a certificate in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy through the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and I am hoping to get a Master’s degree in School Counseling soon. My passion for learning and love of education is an excellent complement for my interest in justice.
What communities or groups are you a part of that have been instrumental in helping you feel like you belong?
I believe that being a part of the queer community has been helpful in making me feel like I belong. Sexuality is on a spectrum, and at this point in my life, I do not have a long-term partner, nor do I intend to have a long-term partner. This is much easier for queer/LGBTQ+ people to wrap their head around and so this community has helped me realize that I don’t always have to have an answer to the questions of romance, sex, and family. There is also a somewhat ambiguous leftist Internet community that exists, and falling into that has given me the tools to articulate complex sociopolitical beliefs that mainstream education does not equip you with. Because of that I have grown to feel more confident in my beliefs about society and the world. Lastly, I suffer from severe anxiety and depression and being part of the larger community of the mentally ill has been essential for me to better understand my own mind and body as well as the health and behavior of others. My mental illness has been an essential formative element of my person and working with others that have the same struggle has been nothing short of liberating.
The millennial generation has been labeled as entitled, tech-savvy, non-religious, non-direct communicators, and financially irresponsible. What do you think about these labels?
As an educator I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I wholeheartedly reject the essentialization of any generation. I believe that many of the arguments made about millennials come from sources that are not even remotely intersectional, and as such, fail to account for the vastly different experiences created by racial, gender, socioeconomic, and even geographic divides. In her book “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Troubled Teens” author danah boyd points out that the use of technology by teenagers as opposed to their parents is very different. Rather than feeling consumed by their technology, as older generations perceive them to be, kids felt that technology was just an unspoken assumption of daily life. I would say the same about my classroom. These things are not distractions that turn people into zombies, they are just elements of life that kids have grown used to. Personally, I worked full-time through college to get a degree that pays very little. Many of my friends are extremely hard-working. Anecdotes do not a worldview make, however. Instead, I would like to turn to one raw data point that I consider to be essential to understanding the economic divide that exists between millennials and previous generations- we are set to have the first generation in US history to make less money than its predecessors. The fact of the matter is, any faults that are identified with millennials (who are often assumed to be white, straight, cis, and middle class) if they are real can be linked to the economic degradation experienced all but the wealthiest Americans. And their “entitlement,” if it exists, might stem from the knowledge that we are the largest economy in the history of human civilization and yet we still do not have public programs accounting for the basic needs of our citizens. If that is entitled, then I suppose I am entitled. I prefer to consider myself reasonable.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself and how you interpret the millennial generation?
Cross-talk isn’t going away. I have studied the history of childhood and adolescence in America and as a concept it’s still fairly new but the common thread is that older people express anxieties about social change through aggression towards younger people. This is just a different form of the cross-talk that existed between rural and urban Americans in the lead up to the Great Depression, or between the counterculture and the silent majority in the Sixties. There needs to be an effort on both sides to understand each other if you want amicable solutions. So I will meet you in the middle. I have a different value system than my parents’ generation. I value free time and health more than I do productivity and material gain. I believe in justice and social responsibility more than individual freedom and responsibility. But I also understand that those are not things that change overnight. I have conversations about this every day in my classroom, with my students who are younger than me as well as with my coworkers who are older than me. We can have differing beliefs without maligning one another. I think that we need more conversations and less assumptions. That’s a place to start.
Think you have a story to tell about being a millennial? Comment below or message me today at email@example.com!