If the baby boomers and we Gen Xers were to have a Facebook relationship status, right now it would read “It’s Complicated.”
I speak only as one of those on the avowed Left, who grew up as Democrats but now may question our party loyalty, in particular because of the policies enacted in the Clinton-era, that now halcyon period too many Baby Boomers want us to recall with fondness, despite the fact that the current student loan crisis rests squarely at the feet of Bill Clinton, and that the current mass incarceration problem is Clinton’s doing as well (by his own admission). You see, I can’t even get through the first sentence without having to enumerate why we are so very torn on Hillary Clinton, and why a lot of it has to do with the Baby Boomers as a generation.
With that said, I am not here if it were not for the baby Boomer activists. For me, especially, as a White man, if it were not for the incredible African-American (Hispanic, Native American, and other non-White) leaders who emerged in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and for their White counterparts who did the difficult work of deconstructing their own Whiteness, I would not be where I am in terms of social consciousness. While I identify primarily as a Christian, the fact is my education was leftist and deep. I–like so many others of my generation–would not be who I am if it were not for the baby Boomers that produced us, nurtured us, guided us, exposed us to incredible ideas and people, and infused in us a sense of responsibility and rebellion. If there is to be one criticism of my generation, it is that we have been apathetic a lot. We did not think that we would have to fight for the same ish that the Boomers fought for. We had no idea we would be relitigating some of the central issues that were decided, we thought, in terns of racial justice and women’s rights. As a generation, we started a little later (en masse), but we showed up.
In many ways, I feel a bit shamed by the Millennials, and I think that we in Gen X need to be doing more. Give us props, though; we’re a pretty engaged generation when we need to be. Think of ’08. You can really thank us for the ’08 Obama push. Once we realized that he could win, we got mobilized. It was pretty awesome to see. But it is 8 years on now. Our student loans have not decreased. Many of us have kids, no savings; jobs, no retirement; ham, no burger. We are looking at being the first generation in American history to not do better than our parents We look at some of the compromises that were made–and the generation that played a large role–and we get a little upset.
Here is what I have discovered as the result of a few unfortunate exchanges with Baby Boomer friends. The anger that we Xers and Millennials have is not against individuals; at least, not individuals who were not directly involved in decision making. Some of us are mad at President Clinton and President George W. Bush. But when we talk about Boomers, most of us are commenting on the legacy we have inherited from a generation. We understand that there were dissenters. We understand that most of our parents stood against some of the things that we greatly abhor about today’s political climate (the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia); the Boomers were the ones who taught us to fight against such stuff.
But there were some decisions even Progressives supported that aren’t working out so well, like student loans and welfare reform. And we think that elements of the system need to change. Now. So when we criticize the generation, we are criticizing the system we have inherited. It is similar to criticizing White privilege. When someone tells me that I as a White man have privilege because of my race and gender, I understand that they are not saying I’m a bad person. It is not a value judgment. It is a statement of fact. I do have privilege, regardless of the particular details concerning my life. This is what I mean when I write about “Baby Boomers” and their impact on politics. I am not critiquing individuals, I am saying that my generation has been impacted in very specific, damaging ways. We’ve also inherited some amazing music, literature, art, philosophy, human rights work, and countless other contributions that enrich our lives and culture.
We Xers love you, Baby Boomers. You gave us life. You gave us hope and a sense of what can happen when you question authority. You’ve taught us to be bold and imaginative and to have hope.
So please, Boomers who are supporting Hillary, don’t shoot us Bernie supporters down when we are just trying to do what you raised us to do: Imagine. Don’t try to kill us with pragmatism or tell us that it cannot be done. Y’all might not have done it, but maybe we can.