As far as I know, nobody in the mainstream media has examined the prevalent, cynical ‘oh my god Millennials are so entitled’ discourse using the anti-patriarchal, intersectional writing of non-white scholars and activists (or a, say, a class-based analysis of which millennials harbour delusions of grandeur). For the most part, my generation (the ‘echo generation’ or ‘Gen Y’) is almost uniformly portrayed as ambitious, self-serving, driven and entitled.
I’m sure you can label some of my generation in North America and Europe with these epithets. Sure, I roll my eyes at people who pad their CV at the expense of their peers’ well-being. I’m not scared to call that out, anymore, either. If I suspect you’re ‘intellectually squatting’ on Indigenous People’s political struggles or inserting yourself into someone else’s autonomous struggle, for example, I will say it to your face. As lovingly as possible. But I will say it, because we don’t need people using our struggles to further their stellar academic or public service careers. We need accomplices, not allies or saviours.
However, how does this so-called ‘entitlement’ serve to obscure those of us who are actively, continuously, tirelessly ‘raging against’ the conservative, neo-liberal baby-boomer (intensely settler-colonial) privatisation machine? When we dare to call out sexism in the workplace, or question exploitative work structures that are ableist, are we being entitled or simply resisting unjust practices that still favour white, hetero, cis-gendered men? When we point out that most structures still exist because of the colonial State’s theft of Indigenous lands, are we being selfish or merely demanding accountability? (I could share horror stories of female friends who have stood up to baby-boomer and Gen X bullies in the workplace, only to be labelled ‘entitled’ and ‘hostile’, but these are not my stories to tell).
Is it that my generation has an entitlement problem, or is it that there are (relatively) more non-white, trans, two-spirited people in the halls of academic institutions, public office, and corporate culture to call out patriarchy and white supremacy? Is it that we demand ‘too much’ from our jobs, or is it that we have been raised to know our worth, watched our parents fight at generation-defining struggles against the State (blockades, court battles, marches), and absorbed the stories shared with us across many generations about holding ourselves and our leaders accountable?
When I was a little girl, my mom took my younger sister and I to rallies at the Legislature to protest Premier Ralph Klein’s vicious cuts to healthcare, education, public spending in Alberta in the 1990s. I remember carrying a placard that said ‘Let Them Eat KD’. I remember, at 11 years of age, viscerally understanding that normal working people did not matter when white men with ledgers could find a way to squeeze more money out of the public realm. I remember becoming politically aware, on those cold steps of the Alberta Legislature, as snow fell down softly around us. And it has defined everything I have done since.
I won’t pretend that all of my generation is committed to decolonisation or justice. I know a lot of self-serving, off-putting resume padders, and I do my best to resist their influence on my life. But I do think we need to push back against any discourse that frames a generation in one way or another, and instead look at the points across which people are resisting, refracting (a word I’ve started using to describe when we bend, scatter, disrupt dominant patterns or power), and transforming structures that do more harm than good to the average person.
Maybe it’s not that Millennials have an entitlement problem, it’s that we have absorbed the struggles of the generations that came before us and are empowered to firmly, lovingly, unflinchingly call out violence in all its forms.