Generations: The Great Marginalizing Tool

If there’s one thing about my generation that I don’t like, it’s that we’re a bunch of know-it-alls. Maybe it’s because my generation, the Y-generation (or more pejoratively known as millennials ), were the youngest generation when digital technology was introduced and we had access to limitless information, enabling us to not only question and be more cynical of our parents and grandparents, but effectively and immediately prove them wrong. And I mean about everything.  I remember when I was pregnant with my first child, I googled and researched and read countless articles, books, blogs, etc., that told me what I should expect, how I should birth, and how I should raise my child. It helped me create lots of opinions from people that I didn’t even know: doctors, psychologists, moms, dads, teachers, etc, etc. And most of those opinions that I learned aren’t opinions that I have now. Probably because three kids later I’ve found that most advice doesn’t work or apply to our family. But probably even more because I’ve since become cynical of the information highway that is the internet.  I still love reading articles, news, and research on the internet, but I’m less likely to trust it and accept it these days. Which is good, because it can really be crushing to hear all of the voices and advice about the best practices for eating, growing gardens, cleaning your house, raising your children, not having children, marrying, being single, rejecting religion, accepting religion, and on and on and on. It can be exhausting. And honestly, it makes people arrogant. Maybe that’s why people have a difficult time with our generation. We’re the biggest bunch of know-it-alls just because we’ve visited a few countries and read a few articles.

However, allow me to invert this argument for a moment. Let’s look at the term generation. It lumps groups of people together that were born and had similar historical experiences during specific times. Generations go through cycles of crises and awakenings, circling back every few decades, to a hundred years. Strauss and Howe created this generational theory that has largely been accepted by our culture. The very first generation in American history is what they call the Puritan generation, who were, as you guessed, the Puritans, and goes up to the youngest generation alive, which is generation Z, or the Homeland generation. What I would like to point out, and what I think we should be weary of when we talk about generations, is that it leaves out large populations of people and really only addresses or includes a small number of people. The Puritan generation excludes the millions of native people who were living on this land, and still do, before the puritans arrived and ignores their experiences as being relevant to the make up of our cultural identity. And so to does every other generation. From the greatest generation, to the baby boomers, to generation x, y, and z, the experiences of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed are excluded. And they make up a large population of people. Even when I describe my generation, millennials, as being know-it-alls, I am excluding a significant number of people who do not have access to as much digital information as I do. I am excluding people who are rooted in the history and knowledge of their people and not the internet. And I would argue that generational theories actively work to exclude people from our histories and experiences. It seems like it’s almost why they exist and is their purpose. They not only hurt and marginalize excluded people, but they also work to hurt the people who are grouped into, what Foucault would call, the spirit of the age, that works to impose histories, rules, and knowledge on people in order to police them. It turns all of our experiences into a singular discourse and erases our own subjectivity. We are no longer our own selves. We are prescribed to one origin and it seeks to find one truth, which does not exist.

So, maybe now I’m reconsidering my own prejudices against my “generation.” None of us are actually products of one moment in history and subjectivity. We are not all subsumed into one social, historical, cultural, or theoretical moment. Our  stories, our histories, our experiences, while disjunctive and discontinuous, create a varying mosaic that relate to each other and create something far more complex, nuanced and beautiful than we ever could have believed or imagined.

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3 thoughts on “Generations: The Great Marginalizing Tool

  1. Well written and it still leaves me to think that people like to be able to categorize others/themselves. We like to feel “part” of something greater than us. And if “knowing it ALL” is something millennials can latch on to, I can’t criticize wanting to be part of that club.

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  2. I completely agree with what you say about generations excluding people. I often cringe at the word “digital native” because in my experience as a tutor and instructor at a community college, I have run into so many 18 and 19-year-olds that technologically illiterate. Some of them are immigrants from puerto Rico or DR. Some have lived here there whole lives. Its like the generation stereo types only apply to the privileged, upper-middle class, and exclude everyone else.

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