The Time is Now: How Millennials Can Create National Conversation

By the time you read this, you’ll have already heard the big news: Beyonce’s latest single is a proud salute with two middle fingers. This recent, politically caustic song and its music video, Formation, comment on police brutality, Hurricane Katrina and are an unapologetic celebration of Black America. While receiving wildly positive reviews from left-leaning Americans, conservative media have angrily bored down on it — most notably Rush Limbaugh with his retort that her song and the Super Bowl performance thereafter was “representative of the cultural decay and the political decay and the social rot that is befalling our country.” Really now?
Limbough’s comment is in direct contrast to a recent and more informed New York Times article, which commented on the fact that her newest album as a whole “celebrated similar themes — capitalism, ignoring haters, black beauty, racial pride and family — but it was also about navigating her identity as a mother, and examining her graduation of her relationship from a pair of newlyweds who were drunk in love to raising a precocious child.”
The key here is that the politics of the issue as a whole has became personal. And Beyonce’s predominantly millennial audience is hearing this loud and clear: we are more than a cog in a wheel, and our personal experiences speak volumes of a larger-scale American condition. It’s a trend that has taken American youth by storm, and here’s how:
Millennials, now more than ever, have a lot of leverage over American politics and society. A 2014 study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers has found that Millennials are the largest generation in the United States, occupying ⅓ of the entire population. And with its earliest and oldest cohort barely reaching its early thirties, we are also a characteristically young generation — one that is only just beginning to occupy the strongholds of the American professional workforce. That being said, over 63% of the older and more-established Baby Boomer generation is eligible for retirement in five years, according to a report by PwC, the world’s largest professional services firm. That leaves a large leadership gap to be filled by millennials in the coming years.
Will we be ready for the passing of the torch? Arguably, it will all depend on how well we formulate and share our ideas of what politics and society could look like across the nation.
Apparently, such ideas are coming from a multitude of backgrounds and cultural landscapes. Yet another national study by the PwC Council of Economic Advisers has found that Millennials are also the most diverse and educated in American history to date, with as much as 61% of us having a college degree, and 42% of us nationwide identifying with a race or ethnicity that is non-white.
With all this in mind, we are a generation not borne from a culturally and politically homogenous melting pot, but rather a socio-cultural mosaic. Our leveraged backgrounds will undoubtedly act as a springboard of agency and action, helping us to make serious impacts on the politics and social norms of our country. And with so many of us at a young age, that great power comes with great responsibility.
This responsibility has been slowly cultivating in our own backyard. UC Irvine students continue to take measures to emphasize a need for greater cultural understanding. Just a few weeks ago, New Narratives hosted Harvard doctoral candidate, educator and spoken word artist Clint Smith to engage in social justice conversations through the lens of black american and inner-city youth agency. In March, we will have an artist showcase in honor of understanding personal mental health challenges, hosted by the inaugural ASUCI Mental Health Commission.
Weeks 5, 6 and this coming week are witness to UCI’s annual “Towards Understanding Islam” series hosted by the Muslim Student Union. This holistic, multi-week series has invited the entire student community to join in conversation to gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims. For instance, this Wednesday they are hosting a talk on Social Justice in Islam: Addressing the Misconceptions of Terrorism, and this Sunday they invite students to fast with MSU from sunset to sundown and in the evening join in a dinner. Afterwards, there will be a reflection by students addressing the importance of fasting.
There’s a very obvious pattern here: these are movements that invite others with varying human experiences to engage in conversation with one another, not in the name of fear or anger — but rather through a wildly underrated thing called empathy.
While it’s not the first time that communities have invited others in conversation with their daily human experiences, studies have shown that these types of interactions matter to millennials more than ever before. White House task force studies have shown that millennials on average value community, family and creativity in their work more so than their annual salary or career stability like older generations. Above all, they want to make a positive social impact on their own children, communities and society as a whole. In short, Millennials want to save the world, one person at a time.
If your head is nodding excitedly with how much you agree with what this article says, and if you end up putting down this paper and doing nothing with that opinion — you’re doing it wrong. If you have certain thoughts about who should represent you politically/socially/academically, or how your school or church or community program should run that is different from how it is currently running, and you do NOTHING about it — you’re also doing it wrong. If your human experience is not being voiced in conversations on this campus, maybe your silence is subconsciously silencing others who may have the same story as you. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to share your experiences too.
As more and more cohorts of millennials reach an appropriate age to vote, to gain a promotion, to manage a body of people, or whatever it may be to gain agency, it’s important to use that newfound privilege wisely. So, yes, if you’re voting for Bernie that means you really DO need to read pro-Trump articles or have conversations with #hillyes supporters. You need the full picture to have a whole opinion. If you’re not a Black student at UCI and you really don’t understand the importance of a recent task force approving the creation of an on-campus Black Resource Center and the full departmental status for the African American Studies program, then it’s time you had a conversation with someone who helped make that happen. If you identify as male and don’t quite understand what the big deal is with the unfortunate defunding of Planned Parenthood, it’s about time you asked someone who is angered by this, what it’s all about.
As we incorporate ourselves more and more into larger socio-political roles, our thoughts and ideas cannot continue to exist in a vacuum. More importantly, for left-leaning millennials who have a few ideas that could really change the way other communities access resources, ways that make middle american traditionalists uncomfortable and unyielding, now is the time more than ever to break the silence. It’s T-minus six months until the Presidential election. Let’s have conversations. Let’s unlearn fear and ignorance. Let’s help others do the same. Let’s make something awesome happen.
Kelly Kimball is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at kkimball@uci.edu.