A friend of mine and I were talking the other day. She (a Baby Boomer) complained (not for the first time) that my generation better “wake up and smell the coffee.” She believes we’ve “frittered away” the better part of our adult lives accumulating houses and cars and other “nonsense” all in an effort to distract ourselves from the deeper challenges facing our country.
“We Baby Boomers worked too damn hard for you to not move the bar forward,” she grumbles. When I mention the creation of connectivity tools such as Twitter and Facebook (and the resulting social revolutions such as the Arab Spring) as examples of ways my generation has helped to make change, she scoffs. “What have you done collectively to make it possible for all members of society to thrive, not just the happy one percent?” Well...uh....
It is hard for me not to agree with her. When I think of the systemic legal changes that made it possible for me and my daughter to control our reproduction, to be fully educated, to get a credit card in our own names, and to just to be able to play competitive sports, I marvel at the great ocean our country has traveled. So much so in fact, I worry we’ve convinced ourselves all our problems were over. Until now.
The dark underbelly of who we are seems to be rising again. In the last few months, between the Komen scandal, the all-male contraceptive panel, and the ripping away of reproductive health care support for low income women in Texas, we are seeing our country behave in a way that my generation has been able to ignore: as sexist.
And after the recent seemingly senseless death of Trayvon Martin, we are finally able to see that despite being able to brag about electing the first black (or, more specifically multi-racial) president, racism too continues to fester in our great country.
I am the oldest of Generation X, those born between the early ‘60s and the late 70‘s, brought up during the hangover years when so much had been fought for and seemingly achieved that the only thing left to do (we believed) was to put our heads down and rise to the top.
We didn’t need to be activists (plus, it looked exhausting), our goal was to reap the benefits of all of the great work that had been done before us. We believed, as we were told, racism didn’t really exist anymore. And sexism? Well, honey, what’s holding you back?
So when our heads bumped up against the impenetrable glass ceiling, we assumed it was our own fault; something was the matter with us, not with the system. And when the dirty laundry of racism we kept hidden under the bed peaked out (think Rodney King, Hurricane Katrina, or even the daily insult of racial profiling), we convinced ourselves these were isolated events. “They” were the racists not us. Anyway, we had more important things to do, like make money.
But wake-up calls are happening all around us. A highly regarded marine snaps and murders innocent villagers. A beloved organization that was believed to support women’s health is revealed as being more focused on their own political agenda than on helping women. Unexplained weather patterns wreak havoc across the country. A boy eating skittles and talking to a cell phone to his girlfriend is gunned down.
I believe the Great Recession was the beginning of these wake up calls. And, as much as we might find the Occupy Movement ineffective and lacking clarity, it has inspired the beginnings of a new activism. I can only hope we are finally becoming motivated to take our country back to a place where we can acknowledge there are real systemic problems that require real systemic solutions.
Generation X can no longer hide behind the good work of our Baby Boomer older siblings. It is time to own the truth: we have unfinished business. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of country are we? What kind of country do we want to be?” We must work together, collectively, on the one thing I know we can all agree: the United States should be, at the very least, a country in which ALL of our children are able to not only survive, but thrive.
Now we just have to agree on how to achieve that singular goal. Sigh...