It’s amazing how fast millennials are yesterday’s news. Now, “erbody” and “they” mama are jumping through hoops to figure out how to connect with Gen Z, those kids who are literally kids (10 – 25-yrs-old). Millennials, folk born between 1981 and 1996, were the object of society’s eye seemingly forever. But they too gave the boot to another former darling demographic: them Baby Boomers; i.e. Millennials’ grandparents.
But wait, isn’t there a group, a demographic, an entire generation missing from this conversation? Damn right. Generation X, aka the forgotten generation, aka the ignored generation, aka the X (as in “the unknown”) generation. Or, as they should be referred to from this moment into perpetuity: The Best Generation!
Now, judging by the amount of attention received over the decades from Madison Avenue business and advertising execs, TV shows & movie-makers and elected officials, the “best” and most beloved generation just might be a tie between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Before them, the media darlings were those born between 1901 and 1924. They were so beloved, they were dubbed “The Greatest Generation.” Why? Because they were always at war, on the frontlines of WWI, WWII and others? Naw, son. Not the greatest. These were the folk who cemented racial violence and injustice against the Blacks. Our relatives during this era, however, were great and heroic in their ability to fight through and endure all that madness. But my vote still goes to Generation X.
But apparently, I’m in the mega-minority. Baby Boomers and Millennials have received all the love, while members of Generation X (us folk born between 1965 – 1980) have received zero. Still, most popular doesn’t necessarily translate to best, strongest or most impactful. And it certainly doesn’t apply when attempting to gauge which generation is, pound-for-pound, really the penultimate.
So, journey with me as I scientifically break down to you why Generation X is the greatest of all time.
10: TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE
Generation X has been described as the “bridge generation,” linking society’s two favorite generations (Baby Boomers and Millennials). But Generation X members are not just buffers or place-fillers. We’re the glue that holds it all together.
Baby Boomers and Millennials are two exponentially different generations with vastly different experiences, values and life experiences. Both generations have their positives and negatives, but they are so different, they would literally kill each other if not for that “bridge” known as Generation X.
Generation X understands all the old-school references made by those 58 – 73-year-olds because they were our parents, aunties, crazy uncles and older siblings. And when I say “old-school” I mean real old-school… not stuff from the 2000s. But we Generation Xers are also acutely aware of the Millennial worldview because they are our kids, younger siblings, and often our bosses… whom we have to train so they know what the hell they’re doing.
We are the link, the superglue, the spandex that holds the whole thing together; the folk both the young’uns and the elders can come and talk to when they need an ear, when they need advice, when they need help, or when they need to feel needed.
9: LATCH-KEY LEGENDS
Part of what makes Generation X the best is our sense of independence. We have self-reliance built into us because we spent much of our childhood raising ourselves. That’s not to say we didn’t have present and loving parents. The vast majority of us did. But our parents were the first generation where it was the norm for both mom and dad to work a 9-to-5. That meant, after making our way by ourselves to the bus stop to get to school, and then coming home after the K-12 day was done, we were the kings of the castle. Society, in one of its few moments of even noticing us, gave us a label—those “latch-key kids.”
Y’all Millennials and Gen Zers with your helicopter parents “don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout dat.” But when we got home from school, everything was on us—getting in the house, securing the homestead, making sure our younger siblings were straight, feeding/walking the family pet, cooking meals, serving as human answering machines for any calls that came in, controlling the front door (i.e. discerning who to open the door to when someone knocked/rang and who NOT to open the door for). And I haven’t even mentioned those chores we had to knock out, along with our homework, before our parents got home.
This independence was also reflected in how we approached work. So much of our homework was done solo. We didn’t have parents literally doing our school projects for us. We did them bad boys ourselves. And if we had questions about something we didn’t fully understand, we had to figure that stuff out on our own. There was no internet, no group chats, no cable news or YouTube with all the answers (and misinformation) just a click away. We had answers close by, but they required more work. I mean, I know I’m not the only one who went to their parents with questions, only to hear them say, “Go look it up in them encyclopedias (another thing young folk don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout that).
Though it was frustrating in the moment, that experience of having to do darn near everything ourselves, built into us a self-determining spirit that made us human beings who were/are able to not only work well with others but who can function successfully without some hawking micro-manager. Hell, we don’t really require any managing at all. Just let us go, and we’ll get the job done. We’ve been doing it nearly all our lives.
8: RESPECT FOR ELDERS
Something else we Generation Xers have done all our lives is display respect for our elders. We were raised to respect our parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and adults in general, no matter how crazy or “throwed off” they may have been. We were taught to give our elders that respect while also being tasked with discerning which adults provided info/advice that made sense and which ones only talked nonsense. But either way, whomever we encountered, we treated them the way we wanted to be treated.
This means we didn’t just act any kind of way when out in public because we knew one of Blackfolks’ 10 Commandments stated “Thou shalt not leave this house and act a tee-total fool out in public and bring shame to our family name.” Hence, we carried ourselves in ways that showed respect to and for our teachers, coaches and strangers.
7: DISTRUST OF AUTHORITY
That said, Generation X is called the “X” generation for a reason. As in X-Files. As in “Trust No One.” Well, almost no one. In other words, Generation X developed a healthy distrust of authority. “But you just said y’all had all the respect in the world for elders.” Yo, I know what I said. And FYI, treating folk in a respectful manner doesn’t mean you believe every word coming out of their mouth. We were respectful, but we learned to smell BS and act accordingly.
Remember, we saw Watergate all over the news. We lived through Nixon’s “War on Drugs” which we knew from jump was a war on Black People. We survived Reaganomics, i.e. the greatest transfer of wealth by white, conservative politicians from the poor and middle class to the pockets of the already wealthy. We knew, even in our young years that during the Reagan era whitefolk were doing everything possible to not only halt Black progress, but turn back the clock to the 1800s; flooding our communities with drugs, racist (fascist) cops invading our communities like a foreign army; criminalizing anything and everything we did, good, bad or otherwise.
We saw Reagan make a deal with Iran to NOT release the hostages until after the 1980 presidential election to help ensure his victory over President Jimmy Carter. We didn’t know, but somehow we knew that the US government was literally responsible for flooding Black communities with dope and military-grade weapons of mass destruction. We later found out, it was even more dastardly than that, with Reagan and Oliver North and the entire CIA secretly funneling cash and weapons to gangster mercenaries and troops to overthrow Central American governments in exchange for allowing the drug cartels of those nations an open door to dump all their product in and on Black communities. For Millennials and Gen Z folk, Snowfall is just a cool TV show. For us, it was real life, whether we lived in Compton or not. Because the main issue was folk in positions of power and authority abusing that power for personal gain and/or for the further cementing of the racist status quo.
Which is probably why X-Files is one of our favorite shows. The distrust of authority that fueled Agent Fox Mulder has fueled us since day one.
6: I AM BECAUSE WE ARE
Amazingly, even with that distrust, we inherited and held onto our parents’ sense of community while still being pushed to discover our individuality. The result: we were spared the negative outcomes of over-emphasizing one or the other. When you sacrifice your individuality, what makes you YOU, for whatever group you’re attached to, it’s not you who are really attached. Because you gave yourself up long ago.
On the flipside, which is the most common occurrence, when we go through life as if the universe revolves around you, and care little or nothing about how your actions and attitudes impact others, you become a living cancer to the well-being of society.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ and ancestors’ sense of community required us as individuals to develop ourselves to the full so we could bring our best foot forward, and be all we could be for our own benefit, but also for the good of us as a people (Blackfolk) and the larger “us” as a society.
And it’s this sense of community that has made us invaluable contributors to social movements, community projects, etc. We believe that the Great I Am made us with power and purpose. But we also believe that our purpose and passions must be exercised within the context of community and other people. Yes, we were right there in the midst of the 80s—the ME Generation. But that was mostly Wall Street whitefolk and their wannabes. We Blackfolk Generation X members knew then and know now that we are not an island unto ourselves.
Thus, whatever sense of community still exists in this country, and more specifically, in our neighborhoods, exists in large part because of us.
Another thing that makes us special (great) is the fact that we’re Outsiders.
Our parents expected us to run around outside and have all kinds of insane adventures… without a parent in sight. There was a time when parents had to push and fight to get their kids to go outside. Now, parents have given up on that altogether. But back when we Generation Xers were kids, we lived outside. Parents had to beg (or threaten) us to come home. For many, the signal was when them light poles lit up. And even then, we went inside the house grudgingly.
Once, when I was either in elementary or middle school, I just took off walking around our neighborhood (subdivision). I had to be at least two, three or four miles away from home. I wanders to the outskirts of the subdivision and into a real country, unkept, dirt road kinda backwoods situation. As I’m walking, deep in thought, something told me to turn around. Call it God, the angels, the ancestors or my Spidey-senses tingling, but when I looked behind me, I saw a pick-up truck being driven by some good ole boy going at least 80 mph. I barely had time to get out of the way, because dude was not slowing down. I realized that was a near-death experience, and so did my parents when I got home and shared the tale. But did that stop me from going outside? Did that stop my parents from letting me wander beyond the walls of our home? Hayyul naw! I’m Generation X. Remember?
But “outsiders” for us hasn’t been just about geography or physicality, it’s also been about our mentality. And it’s probably why we don’t trip when we’re treated like “outsiders” by society, as all the talk (our entire lives) has been about everyone but us. Yet, we do our thing anyway.
The Greatest Generation who lived through world wars. The Baby Boomers who captured the imagination of business leaders and elected officials for what seemed like forever. Millennials who were the children of the new millennium, and viewed as so cool and cutting-edge, and flowed with the exponential rate of change in the world. And now Generation Z, the new flavor of the month, the oldest of whom are just now graduating from college, meaning, for the next decade or so, all eyes will be on them and how to make money and build empire off their attitudes, likes and actions.
Nowhere in that historic timeline did anyone pay attention to Generation X back in the day, or right now. It’s as if we’ve been invisible all our lives; silent background noise that is present yet unnoticed.
This outsider position gives us a unique perspective on everything. To start breaking down all the genius-level game-changers from Generation X who have been pushing the world to see things from a different, more collective, healthy perspective, would take more space than I have here. Suffice it to say, so many of the influences and inspirations for much of the powerful, progressive works of art and community building done by young folk, come from Generation X.
This outsider perspective also keeps us grounded in our humanity, such that we almost naturally have a heart for real justice; where all have access. That’s why we led the resurrection of the Black consciousness movement on college campuses and in communities during the 80s. We pushed and are still pushing for universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, student loan forgiveness, and an end to whitewashed Eurocentric education.
This outsider perch has allowed us to push folk younger and older than us towards the fight for real justice, equality and power. The fact that no one gives us any credit for it, doesn’t bother us too much. That’s been our position our entire lives. We’re the offensive linemen society. Without us, there is no forward movement; just losses. But when we do our thing, we clear the way for others to score and shine…and get all the damn credit.
4: MUST BE THE MUSIC
Generation X members were born at a musical crossroads. This means, by and large, we’re down with the old school and the new. We literally experienced the greatest decade of music ever (the 1970s… yes, that list is coming soon) and the two greatest decades for hip-hop (the 80s and 90s). We were the last generation of Blackfolk to experience radio not having any Black FM stations. We lived on AM stations for a lot of our youthful days. So, we grew up exposed to everything; appreciating everything: rock, jazz, the blues, country, R&B, funk, neo-soul, hip hop, house, go-go, electronic funk, etc.
And we made “mix tapes” with those “old school” tape recorders you see on shows like Stranger Things, recording off the TV (Soul Train and The Midnight Special) and radio. Oh yeah, we experienced the greatest music/dance shows in history, of which Soul Train is forever number one. But yo, various cities like Detroit, Chicago and others had their own local versions of Soul Train.
This eclectic musical experience positioned us as global ambassadors even before we knew what global ambassadors were. We were open to it all; exposed to it all; appreciated it all; and appreciated the artists—all of them—who brightened our days with their works. There is no recognition that “We Are the World” without us. There is no realization that we are a global society and we’re all residents of planet earth without us. There is no call to “Think Globally; Act Locally” without Generation X, and the music that helped place that perspective in us.
3: OPEN TO CHANGE
Which leads us to the next Generation X superpower. We are absolutely open to change. Now, truth be told, the Baby Boomers spearheaded and enacted incredible local, national and global change. Hell, they grew up during the Civil Rights, Black Power, Anti-War and Free Speech movements. They were the ones who pushed for African American Studies on college campuses across the land. They pushed for women’s rights. And more. We are forever in their debt for their service. But we have to keep it all the way real. Many in that generation made the conscious decision to NOT teach their children about those struggles, thinking it would sour their kids on their possibilities of living the life they deserved.
Enter Generation X. We found out about that history, oftentimes in spite of our elders. And we learned it and taught it and even pushed for more. And by more, I specifically mean more teaching and sharing of our story, our history, our perspective anywhere and everywhere.
But not only that, we are the generation who grew up when computers were things only in sci-fi movies, and have lived to see them in everything, including our cars, phones, TVs and even our bodies. The oldest of us lived through segregation. We remember a time when there were no Black TV shows and few Black-led movies. We saw the first Black mayors elected across the country. We never imagined racist-ass America would ever elect one of us as POTUS, but I’ll be damned if we not only witnessed it, but we helped make it happen.
We see the rate of technology growth sky-rocking right now, in front of our eyes. But even with that fast-paced growth, few generations, if any, have seen so much growth and change on so many different fronts, as Generation X. Yo, we remember when TV (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and one or two UHF stations) went off at the end of the day, with the flag waving and the Star-Spangled Banner playing. And then, nothing but TV snow until morning.
Now there are a gazillion channels you can watch from literally anywhere, even your phone, Jetsons-style. And yes, we’ve lived long enough to see much of George Jetson’s world come to life, with the video calls and robots that clean up after us. And those cool, flip-open “communicators” used by folk on Star Trek actually came to life, went out of style, and are now making a comeback—all in the span of our (Generation X’s) lifetime.
We knew phones when they were connected to the wall by a curly wire. We were the answering machines before answering machines became a thing. Before call-waiting came on the scene and revolutionized telephone life, call-waiting meant “Wait till I get off this phone; then you can make your call.”
On the big and small screens we’ve gone from seeing one of “us” every blue moon to being showered by Black artistic excellence on the regular. Hell, we’ve seen Malcolm X, Billie Holiday, Fred Hampton and the Black Panther dominate the silver screen.
And speaking of TV and movies, we’ve seen outright, over-the-top, unapologetic racist shows/movies (Charlie Chan, Tarzan, etc.) and characters go out of style as studio execs begrudgingly showed people of color in more humane ways. And we’ve lived to see an acknowledgment of our humanity to now be demonized as “woke” and “political correctness” because whyfolk never really exorcised themselves from their one true religion—the belief in the myth of white supremacy.
Now, as we get older, we may in some cases take some prying not to get stuck in our ways. But for the most part, we have been and still are hyper-open to changes past, present and future.
2: FAITH-FILLED, BUT NOT FOOLISH
A 2017 Vanity Fair article touched on “Why Generation X Might Be Our Last, Best Hope.” However, that article didn’t mention this Generation X superpower—the fact that we are faith-filled but not foolish.
Many of us grew up in the church. Some of us are still there. Some have found other faith systems that feed our spirit. We, Generation X, are open to it all. We recognize that God is bigger than any one faith or any one name we can assign to God.
And our generation, being the recipients of those African & African American Studies Programs and Black empowerment movements, have ingested our history and story that goes far beyond enslavement. We know full well that all the world’s “main” religions trace their roots back to ancient Egypt (Kemet) and the system of Ma’at. We know that the Romans and Greeks who were credited with giving the world civilization, weren’t even allowed into the schools that eventually taught them (African Mystery System), because they were seen as too savage and uncouth to grasp the knowledge. Hence, it was our ancestors who gave the world the gifts of religion, art, science and civilization.
But too often we’ve run into Black churches and Black church leaders more committed to tradition than to incorporating this historical knowledge (and all the social and political ramifications that come with it) into their faith practices. That’s what I mean when I say Generation X is faith-filled, but not foolish.
We’re not here for sell-out “Christianity” (or any other faith system) that refuses to recognize the fullness of our humanity and our story. And because of this, we’ve pushed more and more faith communities to open not only their doors and collection plates, but to open their minds to see that our ancient story is not a threat to our faith but a booster shot of epic proportions.
This spiritual position means that unlike so many 1960s activists who left all religion behind and who suffered because of it, we hold onto and gain incredible strength and vision from our faith. And enough strength to push back when fearful, conditioned minds want to stay enslaved to a colonizer version of history and faith.
This makes us, Generation X members, dangerous and invaluable. We know we have access to the power that created the universe, because that power is in us, regardless of the name you want to give to that power.
1: SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Finally, Generation Xers are invested in the well-being of our globe, nation, city, state and community. This level of responsibility means you can see us voting, organizing, leading Civic Clubs and so much more. Other times you see us focusing on building counter-culture institutions at the grassroots level (i.e. outside of the so-called normal societal structures). In a word, we’re everywhere, doing all kinds of things. Because we feel a personal and collective responsibility to do our part in our time to move the needle of progress forward.
We don’t have time for the bullsh*t. Because, going back to that faith piece, we fully believe in that Bible scripture that Black churches for some odd reason, forever ignore—when Jesus told his Disciples, “What I can do you can do, and even greater things shall you do” (John 14:12). So, while so many folk are waiting on Jesus to do everything, Generation X members say, “But Jesus told his people, he was waiting on them” to wake up to and flex the power that the Almighty gave them at birth, and that Jesus was pissed that his folk were expecting him to do all the work, while they sat back doing nothing.
That kind of thinking doesn’t fly with Generation X. We take responsibility. We take initiative. We’ve done it since our latch-key days. We recognize the importance of connection and community, and of the saying “I am because we are; and because we are, therefore I am.”
We carry with us that healthy respect for others (elders and young folk) while also maintaining that healthy sense of questioning and distrusting authority. Our “outsider” view allows us to see all angles to issues, not just our own.
So, we are literally the perfect agents of social change ever to walk the planet. But we know we can’t do it alone. Our aching knees won’t allow it. Neither will our sense of community and connection that seeks to get everybody involved. But our spirit and optimism and experiences of making things happen so that others can score the touchdowns and shine, means that even as we get older, we can’t stop, won’t stop.
And we know that this article won’t change folks’ minds. They’ll still ignore us, and we’ll remain that X-factor, that unknown push behind the scenes doing big things. And when full freedom and empowerment comes, and every other generation is being celebrated for their role, the ancestors and the Almighty will know the real deal. It was Generation X that multiplied a reality of power for our people and our planet.
And when our time on this earthly plain is up, please know, we’ll be quoting the words of Chuck D, the leader and “hard rhymer” of the greatest hip-hop group of all time, Public Enemy, when he said “Time for me to exit. Terminator X it!”
As in Generation X. The best generation.