Black FuturesCulture

the kids are alright

February 17, 2020
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My wife and I live with two little aliens. They used to be our babies but now they are People From Another Generation. These little Gen Z people are different! For one, they’re pushing back against the term Gen Z, they prefer iGen, which fits people who prefer using phones over watching TV and venerate Steve Jobs as the Second Coming. They like to say “OK Boomer” to us, even though we keep explaining that we are Gen X (born between 1965-79), which is a totally different generation than the Baby Boomers (between 1944-64), but I think they’re confused by a term that refers to their grandparents as babies. I don’t recall when exactly they transitioned from being our babies to being Gen Z, excuse me, iGen people, but they’re 12 and 10 and somewhere in the last year or so they began injecting their own political ideas into our home. Far from simply parroting the ideas we believe in, they’re influenced by the political passions of their generation and forcing us to adjust to them. Some have said, “Oh you must have incepted them,” but believe me, if I could do that I would incept them about picking up after themselves, not necessarily in caring for major social issues. But no, these small people who can’t help but toss their clothes on the floor and walk away, are now independent political thinkers. 

Gen Z— OK, OK, iGen — are people born approximately between 1995 and 2012, which means they’re now between 8 and 23 years-old. They are bonded, in part, by being digital natives, far more deeply immersed, and at an earlier age, in Internet culture and social media, than Millennials could be when they were that young. In their media consumption, iGen is all about using Instagram, Tik Tok, Triller, and other social media forums far earlier and more innately. My daughter makes videos of herself making slime and when she finishes, the phrase “subscribe, like, and comment below!” rolls off her tongue even though she’s not actually posting the videos. YouTube is a central force in the world of iGen and YouTube celebrities are a huge deal to them. We watch a lot of videos by Liza Koshy and Mr. Beast, and if you’re not aware of the YouTube ecosphere you won’t know that those two, and other YouTube celebs, have far bigger fan bases than many of the people older folks think of as “stars.”

The political passion of Zoomers is centered around the climate crisis. It’s not an abstract notion to my kids and their peers, and they’re looking at the climate crisis like a problem that they have no choice but to do something about. This is a generation of tremendous efficacy, that takes it as granted that they can affect the world’s biggest issues. I also see this in the committed passion of the Parkland teenagers in their sustained attack on gun violence — where the olds have said there’s nothing we can do about it, Zoomers are fighting tirelessly to make change. My kids’ big political focus is climate and the actions they can take to make a difference. So they insist on composting and not taking plastic bags when we leave stores, and using less water when brushing their teeth. They light up when they hear about Greta Thunberg, who is a real hero to them. My son once went to Halloween as the sick Earth, because that was the scariest thing he could think of.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, race was a central issue among many politically-minded young people, but today’s young Zoomers seem far less focused on race because they sense greater tolerance around it. Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history. Under the age of 10, there’s more Black and brown and Asian people than there are whites. The number of mixed people is rising steadily. This is hardly to say that racism is over, but so far I see a generation more at peace with racial difference and far more animated about LGBTQ issues. But there, too, they show far more tolerance for difference than previous generations have. In my children’s extended peer group, in and out of school, there are many kids who are openly gay or lesbian — or bi, or trans, or fluid, or gender non-conforming. They are aware of who they are, vocal about it, and, in many cases, they’re ok with each other’s choices. The recent, public transitioning of Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union’s daughter Zaya is a moment that’s far more common for Zoomers than it was for other generations, when we/they were younger, and the commonality of it has made a huge difference. 

I know that it’s a parent’s job to worry that everything their kids like will kill them. When my sister and I were the little aliens in our parents’ house, I’m sure they thought we were crazy. But I think Gen X parents are far more accepting of Gen Z than Boomers were of us, and that this has allowed Gen Z the freedom to grow up as they wish. I may fear things about the future — where the climate crisis is going, what will become of Trumpism after he’s gone — but I do not fear the rise of Gen Z. So far, they’re the most tolerant, accepting, efficacious, politically ambitious little aliens I could hope for. I just wish they’d stop begging to use my phone all the time.



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