“Something, perhaps, like a man passing on to his son his own father’s watch, which he accepted not because he wanted the old-fashioned timepiece for itself, but because of the overtones of unstated seriousness and solemnity of the paternal gesture which at once joined him with his ancestors, marked a high point of his present, and promised a concreteness to his nebulous and chaotic future.”
– Ralph Ellison,”Invisible Man” (Shmoop Editorial Team, 18.70)
(Black males in America continue to experience more significant and material challenges than do their White counterparts. Even still, many continue to remain focused on achieving success, leading a religious life and are, generally, more optimistic than most that things will–eventually–get better).
Message to Millennials: Chaos or Community?
“Our Time Has Come!”
The socio-political and economic forces that exacerbate the undercurrent of racial discrimination towards Black men is no secret. This book has taken careful, deliberate steps to remind some and teach others of this man-made phenomenon that continues to distort itself into the new millennium. And yet, the question does remain: What next? Often, books like these might overshoot their objective; Elvin Dowling’s methodical uncovering of the truth could leave many feeling like that very truth is too insurmountable to overcome. As a Millennial and young Black man, I feel no such fear in standing up to the proponents of institutional and social racism because the data and thoughts within this book empower me. It is with this power that I hope to deliver a message of strength to my generation of peers, specifically young Black men, but truly all young individuals of various religions, ethnicities, genders and so forth.
Before I begin, it’s important to have a firm grasp of our purpose as a generation. To do so, we must look to the past, much like watching an Olympic relay race – a race where one sprinter passes a baton to another. Every generation of Black Americans, from the Civil War to today, has been tasked with accomplishing both a tactical and spiritual mission in furtherance of full equality. The tactical mission refers to an objective that is political or technical in nature; the spiritual mission refers to a psychological or otherwise non-technical purpose that said generation must achieve. If a generation achieves both of their missions, they not only make it easier for the next generation, but they also push all of us that much closer to the promised land of equality. If the baton is fumbled however, it makes it that much more difficult for the next sprinter to run their part of the race.
Take a look below at my attempt to simplify this concept:
Every generation, from the Civil War to Civil Rights, completed their mission fully. It wasn’t perfect or ideal, but they accomplished their objective. But then came the ost-Civil Rights Generation, our parents, aunts and uncles. And that, in my opinion, is when things truly began to change You see, it was this generation of Blacks that were the first to truly assimilate with White America. In the process of acculturation, however, our parents got just a bit too comfortable. They didn’t have to fight as hard for economic inclusion as our grandparents did for Civil Rights. And why should they have done so? Things were better… right? In fact, it was because they believed that “things were better” that they ultimately adopted the American individualist mentality and put aside some of the community ideals that brought our people strength. Many Black folks moved into White suburbs and became homeowners. Many went off to top colleges. Meanwhile, the less fortunate amongst us fell further behind, due to persistent poverty, lack of meaningful employment, housing discrimination and America’s failed “War on Drugs”, among the many other factors that have stood in the way of full equality. And this, I believe, is where the economic gulf that separates the few Black people who have achieved some measure of success, from the overwhelming majority who are barely making ends meet. This is where the baton was fumbled. But it’s not overuntil we win…
My reasoning for walking you through this mini-history lesson is to clarify, first and most importantly, why we Millennials feel the way we feel–and why the time for change is NOW! You see, our parents told us to go to the top colleges so that we can get a good job when we graduate; now we are saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and no way to pay it off without having to move back in with them. Our aunts and uncles encouraged us to become homeowners; now it makes little sense to be tied down to a single location when the careers of today and the jobs of tomorrow are so much more mobile and transient. Our school system forced us into classrooms but didn’t give us the tools to succeed and, in doing so, created a school-to-prison pipeline that is working as it was intended. Our teachers shepherded us away from hard sciences like coding and software engineering; now Black folks make up less than 3% of employees at any given tech company, a field that’s becoming more in-demand every day.
On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the most powerful man in the entire world. The very next day, however, he still owed money on his student loans to Harvard University School of Law. Think about that! The most important position on the planet, assumed by a Black man no less, and even he was still paying his student loans. Having been born in an age of the digital revolution, it is clear to me, and most of my contemporaries, that what our parents didn’t do (or perhaps know how to do) was to fight for our economic inclusion. Being smart about our money. Owning, instead of financing depreciating assets. Investing money, instead of squandering resources. For you see, when they assimilated into larger America, they became susceptible to the scheme that is run by larger America. In doing so, they discovered that the ice wasn’t necessarily colder and the grass wasn’t always greener on the other side. So where does that leave us today? How do we pick up the baton and fight for both economic inclusion AND the issues our generation has to contend with, such as climate change and automation? Well… the answer can be found in the actions of a rather interesting messenger: musical artist Young Thug.
Who is Young Thug you ask? He’s the Uber of hip-hop. A walking Silicon Valley of experimentation in music and ideas. One of the first trap artists to openly wear dresses while professing ambivalent sexuality within his music. Young Thug is the epitome of the Millennial generation and has a bevvy of notable outspoken fans, from Barack Obama to Elton John. For the unenlightened, what makes Young Thug different is that he’s risen through hip-hop HIS way. He helped rap/trap music evolve by adding his own flavor to the mix. In Young Thug, I see an opportunity for many of us to reflect these attributes in our generation’s own fight for equality. In short, it’s time for us to do this our way. For our generation to succeed, we have to realize that WE possess the tools to solve the problems I enumerated above. Following the traditional model set by our parents’ generation will NOT work for us. In fact, following the traditional model set by larger America is a failing choice as well. It’s a trap. As the future leaders of this nation, we need to be smarter about our end goals and work to make them a reality. Morover, simply adhering to a process because it’s what we are “supposed” to do needs to be retired as a concept and philosophy as well. Instead, we need to think outside the box.
Evidence of “out-thinking” the establishment already exists. Inmates are finding creative ways to get educated. Parents are rejecting school systems that discriminate against young Black children and creating new types of schools. Young Black entrepreneurs are bypassing MBA programs and starting their own businesses; taking real risks and gaining practical experience in the process. High school dropouts are using YouTube to learn how to code and gain industry skills. We are resourceful and that skill needs to become our new norm.
To that end, here’s a working formula for achieving success, not only for those in my generation, but for those to whom we will one day pass the baton:
Digital Technology within the formularefers to leveraging, learning, and adopting anything that involves the use of digital technology. In today’s twenty-first century economy, that can mean coding and software engineering as viable options for a sustainable future. It can also mean coming up with new and better ideas that leverage any use of technology to help build a better future.
Ownership within the formula refers to economic ownership. For example, musicians are now being encouraged to own their masters. Putting your money into a high yield savings account that appreciates in value and/or wwning assets like stocks are also important. Most importantly, be certain that YOU owning your ideas.
Ingenuity within the formula refers to the unique mindset that only our generation possesses, due to our intrinsic use of and interaction with technology. Take this story for example. I once saw a video of a three year old who was given a book. He took that book and swiped on it like an iPad. Not once did the boy attempt to turn a page of the book. That boy was given a concept that has been handed down for hundreds of years and saw it in a new light. Essentially, we can take traditional ideas and concepts and look at them in a completely new way.
If we can find ways to harness the power of the digital and information age and own the investments and ideas we have, I believe we can achieve economic mobility and financial stability in twenty-first century America. Moreover, the true power of economic mobility is that it gives us many more options. Options to fight climate change. Options to uplift our communities. Options that allow us to make our mark on the world that can never, ever be erased!
Author’s Note: Kendall Finlay is a 2017 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Political Science and Government. An aspiring attorney, Kendall has served as a Legal Analyst for one of the world’s most powerful social networks.
(Kendall Finlay: Millennial Leader & Rising Star )
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Invisible Man Memory and the Past Quotes Page 2.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 6 Nov. 2019.