I think it's time we talked about "the M word."
Being born in 1986, I have been familiar with my label as a millennial for close to 15 years now. As a term that simply defines a group of people born between the early 1980s and mid-'90s, it doesn't really mean much of anything, and I don't place a ton of value in it.
What has begun to bother me in recent years, however, is the growing frequency with which fellow millennials outright shun the word, cringing at its mention as if it's Voldemort's creation.
The reason for this, of course, is that the word itself has been hijacked by the generations that came before us, used to smear the folks they feel threatened by.
Millennials have been nicknamed the Boomerang Generation for the increased rates in which they move back in with their parents, often stopped in their tracks by crippling student loan debt or rising home costs.
We've been called the Peter Pan generation for our tendency to not want to rush into adult "rites of passage," such as marriage. I'd like to point out that the folks who created implicative terms like "Peter Pan generation" were the ones behind skyrocketing divorce rates in the '80s and '90s. In 2016, those rates declined for a third straight year, hitting a 40-year low, but I digress.
The effects of the condescension of older generations are clear. Rather than identify with their peer group in a positive way, more than half of millennials refuse to even acknowledge the term. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, only around 40 percent of millennials identify as such, with a majority defining their own age group as "self-absorbed, wasteful or greedy."
They must be meeting different millennials than I've been meeting.
You see, one of my favorite parts of this job is that every week, I get to work finding new people doing cool shit in our city so I can share their stories. Far more often than not, these folks are twenty- or thirty-somethings who not only have great visions for where this city can go but are busy implementing these visions and turning them into reality (see Kia Moore's recent series on young women shaking things up in Charlotte's cultural scene).
Millennials have sat and watched as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have crashed the real estate market, nearly run the economy into the ground, passed archaic laws impeding the rights of constituents and stubbornly refused to take any meaningful action on the environment that they'll leave behind for the rest of us, all the while smirking smugly at the so-called "Me, Me, Me Generation."
This week, I talked to a group of young folks who are refusing to wait around for others to get involved; folks who have decided to make their move and enter the political fray before things get any worse.
The last two years have been rough ones politically on a national, state and city level. The folks included in this week's cover story — which covers nine people under 40 years old who are running for seats on Charlotte city council (page 8) — were tired of hearing promises from those in power, and decided to make a move to get a seat at the table (or dais).
The question now is, will this help draw peers to the polling place, when most millennials don't even identify with their own age group?
Dimple Ajmera, a 30-year-old who was appointed to replace John Autry as District 5 representative in January and is now running her first campaign as an at-large candidate, emphasizes why local politics should be a young person's game.
"Especially our generation, unfortunately, focuses a lot on a national level. Sometimes I think about it and, you know, you have very little control over it. What truly makes community a great place is the local policies. So people need to get involved if they want to see a better community. I really hope that millennials, when they read this article, that they realize how much impact local politics has in their daily life," Ajmera says.
"Think about it, the council makes the zoning decisions, the planning and this and that that's going to impact the next 40 years. So if you're going to be around for 40 or 50 years you need to get involved. This is the time that you get involved and help shape the future."
The truth is, you can't deny being born in a certain time period any more than Rachel Dolezal could deny being born white. What you can do (not you Rachel, I'm talking about millennials) is check out some of these candidates and see who represents your interests, then decide who you can get behind.
Maybe in the end, it's none of them, and that's fine, but informing yourself is the first step to stand against a stereotype that has allowed other generations to define us, because at some point — like all of us will some day — that shit gets old.