At present, I’m finding my millennial brethren life-crisising all over the place. Words like: manifest, envision, vision board, freedom, financial freedom, dreams, passion, unpack, travel, enlightment, peace, etc. are recirculating through conversations between us with as much frequency as “um”, “uh” and “like” when we were teens.
What’s got me all riled up today over my cuppa peppermint tea is some early morning contemplation on historical trends in black history with white-supremacist beat-downs back into the sunken place. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but William Lynch and Jim Crow did conspire to make us the permanent underclass in America.
I’m weaving my literacy of historical propagandist ploys at manipulating the masses, and especially black people and youth, and I’m getting wafts of a stew that smells something like a rude awakening for us all. I’m suspicious about how Wakanda Forever, Black Lives Matter, the Bitcoin craze, soring numbers in black sole proprietorship businesses a’ bustling, and black middle-class flight from America (I’m for all of this by the way) all pans out for Black America when things inevitably get hard again.
I’m fucking scared. Too many of my black friends are quitting their pension yielding jobs in exchange for dream chasing, private business ventures, all to explore freedom and self -fulfillment. Black millennials, are still millennials. We are equally bombarded with the same level of propaganda that is telling us, the future is uncertain, live for now, life has no purpose so go find it kittens. We are all made to suckle at the pursuit of happiness, dig deep into our yogic selves and fill our hearts with light, as we embrace up-cycling our old clothes and living with our parents until it’s just ridiculous.
Here’s a broadly accepted theory about the millennial generation: We are projected to be less happier, and less fulfilled, because we are relentlessly in search of instant gratification. And since the air we pump back into our own feeding tubes on a daily basis to pursue the fill-in-the-blank of our dreams, nobody dare say to us, look guys:
You’re getting older.
Let’s examine what it means to get older.
-Your parents get old, need your help, and die.
-You start a family, who needs you to provide time, energy, and money.
-You need money for retirement because most of you will not be physically able to work through health complications or until you die.
So I acknowledge today:
Happiness does not come without tests of boredom, pain, suffering, discomfort, even anxiety. In other words, freedom ain’t free. And if you ain’t happy now with yourself, there is no “out there” that will MAKE you happy. If it’s the journey you crave, hop to it. But the journey still won’t make you happy. Feeling happy comes with contentment with ones own accomplishments, which literally could be ANYTHING. I’ve met too many travelers collecting visas like rings, never to learn much, never to gain any new substantive insight on life, love, culture, etc. What their unhappy asses get instead is a different variety of the same old shiny new thing to floss, meriting them coveted Instagram and Facebook attention.
In other words, today I say, Self:
Be honest with yourself, set a goal, ANY GOAL, and then work your pants off to achieve it. = Happy!
Fill yourself with the endorphins, serotonin, and adrenaline by feeling the gains of achievement. Then, oh Impatient One, watch your ego glow. Endure the wear and tear of perseverance.
I’m not 100% sold on capitalistic notions of success. I do not subscribe to the belief that we must work hard every second of the day, or even every hour in order to feel accomplished. However, I’ve noticed a few patterns of behavior across cultures. Without social purpose, which requires individuals to be regularly challenged with responsibility, individual humans don’t do so well. Look at my students out here in the Gulf who don’t have a worry in the world and can afford themselves with modern day slaves. By their own idle hands, they are killing themselves with sugar addiction and crashing their cars for the sport of it. Human existence without the arduous trials of obstacles= “Hmmmm, how do I turn up the Will I die if I… dial just a little bit?”
Furthermore, purchasing a new pair of red-bottoms or a new watch is the equivalent of eating glazed donuts in the morning to start your day off feeling right. That high doesn’t last very long if you’re goal is substantive nutrition, and before you know it, you need a new sugar fix.
Me. I’m ruminating:
At least three times we’ve seen Black America thrive and then have had the carpet snatched out from under us. First, Emancipation. We thought we was free until white wrath employed KKK bands to relentlessly terrorize us without penalty. Second, Black Artistic Renaissance of the 1920s. Heck! Everyone was Renaissancing. The Great Depression wiped that out. Third, the Civil Rights Movement. The narcotic infestation era of the 70s and 80s annihilated us by flooding black and urban neighborhoods with drugs, which ultimately authorized America to legally incarnate nearly our whole race. Too many of us are slaves all over again.
Thanks to Black Excellence boosterism, it feels like we are finally free. Free to come on up to the Penthouse, as John Legend sings it. But, because we are young, of course it feels like FINALLY we are free. We don’t have the longevity on earth nor the hindsight to see that: Nah, we’ve been free before. That we, once upon a few times, have been led to believe that we were all finally free to do, create, believe, dream, imagine ourselves able and entitled to live unencumbered lives. Then… many blacks and poor people were suddenly not! Pensions, Social Security, unions, welfare, job security, all those safe guards for which our parents fought were inspired on the way up out of living through and beating back the blues of a being stuck between a rock and broke ass place.
So what do we do? What does the millennial do? What does the black millennial do?
We foreit our packages, our way into the great white world (THERE IS NO ESCAPE! ALL OF IT WHITE YALL!!!!) on the hypothesis of being financially free.
Can we at least agree that freedom is subjective…an illusion? My homie driving Uber speaks about being free to do what he pleases, but he drives all day while he believes himself the captain of his own ship. He’s free. He’s free! He’s free?
Even the business owner needs to kiss the behinds of investors, customers and sometimes employees. Think there’s no business owner gallivanting without worries? Yes, they may exist but they’re certainly the unicorns of business owners.
We take our degrees and make bold attempts to do right for our selves, drinking the individualist attitude Koolaid. We say no to job security or career paths, and expand our minds with more education. Black women hold the most degrees by ratio of any ethnic group in the USA. Have we noticed at all how that educational status is becoming less important with the rise of power yielded by social capital? And by the way, we have racked in quite a bit of debt paying for expanding our minds and not lining our actual pockets with cash rendering investments too. Who would’ve seen that a’coming? Sounds like another trip through Slavery Lane, don’t it???
Also, we talk big ideas about aligning ourselves and building the bond we’ve envied in immigrant groups. Why can’t we be like the Jews of New York City, we say? Here’s some facts:
- We’re not immigrants! We’ve never had the systemic institution of relying on each other (beyond our families—whatever was left of it post being sold away from each other once, plucked off for slaughter for generations, experimented on, sent to war, shot down, feed drugs, and incarcerated) to support a greater community of people black like us. Hell, we can’t even figure out who is “us” since we’ve also inherited white-supremacist thought patterns that has divided us by skin color, dialect, class-status, and now curl-pattern and nutritional classism. (I went there! I see a future where black vegan children aren’t allowed to play with the black neighbors who serve collard greens flavored with smoked neck bones. Do you?) Yes! We can build together. We can employ each other. We can work together. However, we can’t expect this to be easy, and need to develop a culture of loyalty. And that shit ain’t built in a day. Between Amazon Prime, Upwork and the countless other few-click agencies we can exhaust to fulfill our instant-gratification proclivities, building loyalty in the black community is fighting up hill, with no gloves and weights on. We need to activate patience! This means hold fast to hope, hold each other accountable and lift up our brothers and sisters WHEN they fall short, and have faith in our basic humanness to improve over time.
- For those of us who are immigrants, all it apparently takes is one American born generation for the homeland culture to take a back-seat to the individualistic thinking that’s got America’s children lost and on antidepressants. When your kids lose the village, what they pick up instead is the imposed white-supremacist projections of what they should be and how they should act. And you can try to keep your kids away from Black Americans all you want. I’ll advise you then to not send them to school or let them consume media at all. Black Americans haven’t found a means to escape being fed hostility about ourselves after 400 hundred years, and neither will you. Yes, I’m hype. Wakanda Forever! But Wakanda is a fictional place, and Trump America is REAL!
- Without a long-lived cultural institution that has effectively stood the test of time (like the Jewish experience of being persecuted and tried for 10,000 years) to teach us how to rely on each other, how to trust each other, how to be loyal to each other, we must acknowledge that while we are building, we are not there YET? Our families and communities did not all have the means to build itself up from poverty, and to develop a systemic netting to buffer losses experienced by the individual household. This means we do not have the trust funds our white millennial friends have (because it was a trendy status item for all the families in the neighborhood back then) to fall back on when they wake up to a chaotic adult reality. This also means that when my white friends say “So What?” when we talk about the responsibilities of taking care of elders, they can rest assured that their elders will be just fine, and I can’t. Black elders still need us to be well enough to take care of them in old age and ourselves and provide for our next generation.
How do we end the crisising? What comfort can be offered to the black millennial soul?
Let’s acknowledge that crisising is part of the human experience. Studies of adolescent development will confirm this. And since we can’t agree when adolescence ends, what we do believe right now is that the frontal lobe, presumably the part of the brain that allows us to grasp who we are beyond our own self-gratifying needs, starts to finish up the development process closer to our 30’s than when we turned age 20. No surprise that when we live in a society that doesn’t have clear roles or purpose for the individual, humans tussle in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Just compare the dependency of western-modeled societies on drugs and pharmaceuticals to nonwestern-modeled societies.
And for goodness sake, drop the “happiness” talk. Happiness is relative and experienced differently by all. We can’t prevent crisising. What we can do is accept that it is not avoidable and at best manageable while we live in constant pursuit of the happy experiences we seek out and collect along our life journey.
Black millennials, we need to start with the end in mind. And not just the feel-good end, but a serious look at the end of our lives and the lives of all those who count on us. We are a diverse bunch, and many of us are privileged to have families with legacies of success and wealth. My rant pertains to those of us who don’t have the provisions of an Aunt Oprah or Uncle Tyler to pick up the slack if ever needed.
For me, I’m realizing that some variance of “struggle” finds me everywhere I go. So why do I intimidate so easily at the thought of jumping out of the pan and into the fire? With all of my miles, and merit badges, how is fear still part of my story? Can I relish in my confidence to take care of myself no matter what direction I go from here yet?