The epidemic focused on denying young people’s role in modern society continues. In the last week I have seen two articles that attack the very existence of youth today, albeit from two different angles. A major problem with these two specific articles is that they come from within the so-called “youth movement.”
Nancy Lublin, the CEO of NYC-based Do Something, moonlights as a regular columnist for the progressive business magazine Fast Company. I meant Lublin once in the early 2000s at an America’s Promise event, and have read Fast Company for a decade. I wish neither of them ill. For almost two years now, Lubkin’s articles in the magazine have rubbed me wrong. They’re either smuggly self-aggrandizing diatribes, not unlike my blogs, or they’re plainly generational boosterism that romanticizes the abilities of younger people. Last month’s article falls squarely into the ranks of the latter, and that’s why it makes this entry, aptly demanding that we, “See Young People.” In it Lublin goes about promoting Millennials as the be-all-end-all of social change, young people who, devoid of guidance or anchoring from previous generations, have risen to the tops of their communities to change the world, all on their own. Devoid of obligation to or acknowledgment of the giants who have walked before them, apparently Lublin believes that young people today are the whipping boys of all generations. That’s just a gross over-romanticization, and plays right into a sense of generational inferiority and inability that is not limited to any one generation. (Don’t get me wrong: Lublin’s organizational strategy relies on discriminating against youth, thinking she knows everything about youth today, and I get that. I disagree with her wholeheartedly.) Every generation is subjected to the scrutiny and judgment of previous turns, and in this way, this generation is no worse than others before it…
…which apparently flies in the face of the next article up for scrutiny. Global Youth Action Network, long run by people who I respect, is apparently siding with the generally age-discriminatory New York Times. In August The Times took it upon themselves to typecast all 20-somethings today with the type of news that makes Lublin’s analysis seem fitting and necessary. In one broad stroke, they validated every frustrated baby boomer by broadcasting their facetious answers to the questions, “What Is It About 20-Somethings? Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” Apparently, since people are taking longer today to do five “milestones” carved out by sociologists as essential to achieving adulthood, (completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child), our society may be going to a bad, bad place where it’s never gone before. (The best, best essay I’ve ever read about this is by Jeff Chang.)
What Lublin and The Times get wrong is their generational typecasting: simply because somebody fits into an age group doesn’t mean that they’re going to think or act in a prescribe-able, predictable way. Lublin is guilty of this because of her well-intended, but over-hyping, of young people today; The Times is just wrong. The author of this piece is apparently ignorant of young people for whom this mold just doesn’t fit.
All this brings to mind a quote by French revolutionary author Frantz Fanon, who once wrote that, “He who is reluctant to recognize me opposes me.” Ironically, I think the boosters and the detractors are in the same boat, in that they both refuse to recognize young people for who they really are: diverse, broad, and uncharactizable. For all intents and purposes, let’s quit typecasting children, youth, and young adults today- they are simply too different for any generalization to stick across their entire age range. Watch this excellent video with Sir Ken Robinson for more information. And then let’s get to the work of personalization: if you want to slam young people, be specific! Target those middle class white suburban youth who you grew up with! Aim at those low-income Hispanic and Latino youth who you fear! Pull for the upper class, well-meaning white girls who you’ve always envied.
Whatever you do, however you do it, please, please, please: SEE Young People.