White Millennials can’t use generational politics to negate their privilege and racism
Clearly, the problem isn’t solely with Baby Boomers, but with white supremacy overall.
by Jamilah Bellinger
Eric Swalwell, the once presidential hopeful, became known for his stance on generational politics, most notably, his remarks towards Joe Biden, calling on him to “pass the torch.” During his short time on the debate stage he made it clear that his solution to the most pressing issues as president would be by giving the next generation power. Swalwell also made it a point to focus on his generation’s worries, which he blames on the previous generation’s inaction.
This led me to question how being part of a particular generation automatically qualifies one to help solve the most critical issues of our time. Simply having younger people in elected offices will never guarantee that the same power structures that harm marginalized people won’t be upheld and reproduced.
What he, and so many others, seem to ignore is the truth about who had the power in previous generations. White people, particularly white men, have controlled and continue to control congress and the presidency. So, how is passing the torch to a younger white person somehow the solution to America’s problems?
Swalwell’s comments indicate a much larger problem within liberal spaces, particularly white liberal ones. Generational politics has become a way for younger white liberals to negate their white privilege by diverting blame onto their parents and grandparents. Not that generational politics isn’t useful in some contexts, such as distinguishing certain challenges that younger people face as distinctively different from older generations. However, placing blame onto a monolithic “Baby Boomer Generation” for the current state of the world only diverts attention away from the prevalence of white supremacy in all political institutions and within white youth.
For one, the current narrative about Baby Boomers excludes the experience of Black Baby Boomers by assuming they had the same benefits and opportunities as their white counterparts. Secondly, it creates a delusion that white Millennials and younger play an insignificant part in white supremacy—not insignificantly, the growth of incel culture and real life violent consequences it has. Thirdly, it perpetuates the erasure of Black political thought and experience within liberal spaces.
The current narrative that Baby Boomers are all wealthy, Trump voters who ruined the economy, to the point that they’re likely the only generation to retire, completely ignores the history and oppression of our Black elders. The Boomer generation was born between the years of 1946- 1964. World War II had just ended in 1946 and 1964 was during the Civil Rights Movement. Black Boomers lived through harsh, legalized anti-Blackness and continue to face de facto inequalities to this day.
A group of people cannot ruin the economy if they don’t have equal economic power due to systemic racism. Redlining, employment discrimination, and discrimination in higher education effectively left Black Boomers out of contributing to the economy in a significant way and halted most social mobility they tried to achieve. If you are systematically blocked off from higher skilled jobs, higher education, and access to homeownership—particularly in certain affluent neighborhoods—you can not acquire wealth.
This combats the belief that baby boomers will be the only generation to retire, because they could not gain enough wealth to retire. In fact, “22 percent of black baby boomers are projected to have incomes below twice the poverty level at age 67, compared to 12 percent of white boomers.” Which means they either have to keep working well into old age or have to survive off of government assistance, that continually raises the age of entitlement and essentially gives people barely enough money to scrape by.
This disparity between Black baby boomers and their white counterparts extends into voting patterns. It is well known that black voters are an important faction of the democratic coalition. This doesn’t change with age, as 91 percent of Black people aged 65 or over and 90 percent of Black voters between the ages of 45 and 64 voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The opposite is true for their white counterparts, from the ages of 45 to 65 and over, voted for Trump by more than 50 percent. These rates for white Baby Boomers voting conservatively remain true for the 2016 house race and even the 2012 presidential race.
As for white youth during the 2016 presidential election, 47 percent of white people aged 18 to 29 voted for Trump. White people by and large, regardless of age voted for him.
Clearly, the problem isn’t solely with Baby Boomers, but with white supremacy overall. This is why Swalwell’s comment is so troubling, as it completely ignores the racist attitudes, whether overt or covert, that get passed down to white people in every generation. White Boomers were raised by people who felt threatened by the Civil Rights Movement and later they voted for coded racism during the Reagan and Nixon presidencies. Those people have kids and grandkids, in whom they helped to instill explicit or implicit anti-Blackness.
Younger white liberals have a blatant problem of using generational politics in an effort to distance themselves from “bad white people,” while often in the same breath attempting to erase the experiences of non-white people with racism. This exemplifies how integral white supremacy is to white Millennials. They do not have to move through their life always being conscious of how they are perceived or being painfully aware of the injustices they’ll encounter. It doesn’t affect them. This is white privilege, the ability to be ignorant.
But it is impossible to negate that privilege. Being young doesn’t make them exempt from its benefits. White liberals need to focus on learning how to step into the background and use their privilege to give agency to non-white people. We need them to unlearn their internalized racism so that they don’t pass so much of it on to coming generations.
Womanist. Nerd. Opinionated. Jamilah Bellinger is a political science major who despises (most) politicians. Jamilah enjoys anime, novelas, cartoons, and other forms of escapism.