The generation that either grew up in “the ’60s,” or “marched with Dr. King” or against Vietnam in the ’60s is a privileged generation. And they haven’t let us forget it for the past forty years. I should know. I’ve spent most of my adult life — and some of my growing-up years — swimming upstream against this pro-60s tide. The only thing about the ’60s that I can claim was that I was born in the ’60s, which is technically true. Then again, being born on the last Saturday in ’69 barely counts at all.
But that’s hardly the point. The optimistic sense that I felt during the mid to late-70s was a consequence of the ’60s, which, depending on which generation one is technically from, lasted from ’60 to ’68 or from ’64 to ’72. If you were a hardcore drug addict, then it lasted until you either died of an overdose or until you got clean. For most folks I’ve met who were part of that scene, the ’60s lasted until ’98. Again, I digress. The disappointment I sensed from progressives and Blacks and women and gays creeped up somewhere between the second half of ’78 and ’82. Then there was a mood shift, where those who lived the ’60s as kids or as revolutionaries had by the mid-80s exchanged their idealism for realism, and attempted to past that on to my generation.
Here’s the twist, though. It was passed on as a warning to keep our lives and minds on the straight and narrow path to financial and career success, as part of the “do as I say, not as I did” parenting and educational methodology of our era. No wonder my generation was labeled as slackers long before anyone from it could make their mark on the world. Mixed messages kind of have a confusing effect on kids as kids or students. Even when those from Generation X did follow that advice, they found that the jobs their parents had were either filled by folks from the privileged generation or weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
A former boss of mine once asked me was my high school class a political one. The question nearly made me choke on my spit. The general answer, of course, is no. There were moments of mobilization, I suppose. Like to get new textbooks so that folks could take them home after school. Or complaints about teachers who weren’t doing their job. Or about class sizes being too large for a Humanities class. But not much more than that. After all, the closest thing to Vietnam in the ’80s was divestment from South Africa, and that was more of a corporate/college issue for mobilizing people. Singing “We Shall Overcome” seemed silly when MLK Day had been put into law in ’83.
More than anything else, the contradictory behaviors and statements of the privileged generation in large measure explains the lethargy and apathy that my generation grew up in and had only recently distanced itself from. The privileged generation consistently claims the mantle of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, yet consistently made excuses for institutional discrimination, racist rhetoric and biased practices in our schools and in their jobs. The privileged generation argues that they were highly energized for politics and community like none that had preceded it, yet the voting record for these former radicals has been both contradictory — Reagan and Bush I — and low when compared with their numbers. Not to mention the utter lack of etiquette and community that exists in most of the country these days. Those from the privileged generation say that they sacrificed so much for my own, yet it is obvious based on everything from public services to education to jobs and housing that the only sacrifice they made was of their ideals.
Now I realize that I’m making gross generalizations. That not all folks who lived or experienced “the ’60s” was a progressive or into shaking up the system or into “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.” Regardless of what one says about ’60s folk who weren’t radicalized by civil rights or Vietnam, their plans for political and economic domination have been consistent for more than forty years. Those who’ve spent years gloating about the good ol‘ days about Grace Slick and Marvin Gaye, hashish and oregano brownies are nothing more than blowhards who may have done something of significance in the past, but certainly not now.
I just want the idea that if you were born after the ’60s, that you have nothing worth contributing to our nation to die a quick but painful death. It would mean forcing more of these radicals — real one and ones who are legends in their own minds — out of power. It would mean shifting the media’s and popular culture’s ’60s paradigm, which we have in some ways. Bottom line: we need to move away from privileging the ’60s itself, as well as the generation that we’ve given too much credit for what happened in it.