As a 51-year-old man, I don’t cry much, but, wow, have I been a weepy mess watching these magic kids from Parkland, Florida. That’s the term that keeps coming back to me: These kids are magic.
They somehow don’t seem real. They seem more like wizards who just popped into existence, as if the school shooter who tore through their high school just showed up expecting sheep and found warrior-paladins instead.
But then it makes even less sense, because the students speaking out are not just from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They are from everywhere. And they keep demanding that the media recognize that they are from everywhere. These magic kids keep saying to the interviewers: Go talk to the other kids; go talk to the black kids; go talk to the poor kids; go talk to the Latino kids.
Then, when the cameras finally turn to the black kids and the Latino kids and the poor kids, they talk about other kids.
This isn’t a story about Parkland, Florida, and a really smart AP class with great prospects. It’s about a generational shift that caught me by surprise.
So, if these magic kids came from everywhere, how did they happen?
The NRA and its sad, angry ilk have a ready-made explanation: They’re actors. They’re following a script. They’re shills of Big Peace. Whatever. All that is insane, of course, but you can almost understand the confusion. The kids just don’t seem normal. They aren’t what we understand children to be, which of course is to say: They aren’t like us. They aren’t like we were when we were kids.
And so we cast about for an easy answer. But perhaps the answer isn’t easy at all.
Millennials (the oldest of whom, believe it or not, are now in their 30s) and these Gen-Z kids have been painted with the most unflattering colors by my Gen Xers and the baby boomers before us. We’re the ones in positions of power in the world, and what do we do? We call them all a bunch of crybabies. We give them endless grief for their insistent focus on things like “white privilege” and “nonbinary sexuality.”
We mock them for their safe spaces and their sensitivity to being triggered by language. We tell them they need to toughen up. We tell them that the world is a harsh place, as if we know that brutal truth better than they do.
I think the reason we are so surprised is that we’ve spent so many years telling ourselves that these kids are “snowflakes” who were going to get blown away by the real world, that we missed the coming storm.
God, were we wrong.
The truth is these kids didn’t spontaneously erupt from Florida in February. They have been deconstructing the tribal bullshit of our generations for their entire lives, and now they’re ready.
These are the kids who were born in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. They came into a world at war. They grew up in the shadow of Red Alert levels and endless active shooter drills and the ubiquity of “Rekt” videos on YouTube. They did not know one day of school before Columbine. They did not know one day of life without the threat of terrorism. They have not known one day of their nation in peace. Like it or not, they have lived every day of their lives, 24/7, on the battlefield.
We give them endless grief for playing video games. We tell them they should be outside, at school — but for so many of them, the schools and their streets are “soft targets.”
God, I’d stay in and play games where the bullets weren’t real, too.
These kids grew up with the native ability to parse the obvious racism of Trayvon Martin’s murder, of Tamir Rice’s murder, of Philando Castile’s murder, of African-American teenagers in McKinney, Texas, being beaten up by police for being in a “white” neighborhood for a pool party. Just a couple of weeks ago, they watched Stephon Clark get put down by over-amped, trigger-happy police while he was in his grandmother’s backyard. They can see with their own eyes that our society is grossly unjust — and so when the camera focuses on David Hogg, we shouldn’t be surprised that this smart-dressed white boy says “talk to the children of color,” as he did just recently in an interview with Axios. We shouldn’t be surprised when he says “Our parents don’t know how to use a f—ing democracy, so we have to.”
They’ve seen how badly we’ve screwed up a free society for their entire lives, and they are, in their own beautiful way, “calling bullshit.”
Their whole lives have been calling bullshit. They are digital natives with an ability to see the whole grand world. As such, they note that we’re the only economically advanced nation in the world where 30,000 people die from gun violence every year. They aren’t cloistered in their own communities playing kickball, so they know that those deaths are skewed all to hell in the obviously racist, classist ways that are evidenced in the previously mentioned state-sponsored crimes of racial bias. They know that Trayvon, Tamir, Philando, and all the others aren’t aberrations in the data set.
These kids might just be starting to shave, but Occam’s razor is intuitive. You need to train yourself into not believing obvious truths. Maybe Gen Xers and boomers have learned to bend themselves into a knot over that, but these kids? Not a chance.
When the “adult” generations sit on our hands and say we can’t just get rid of AR-15s because of the NRA and their power, of course they call bullshit on that.
When politicians who are blatantly sucking money from horrible people who manifestly make their world worse, of course they call bullshit on that.
We adults have been so busy lampooning their beliefs, that we missed the point where they just went ahead and included everyone into their generational tribe — regardless of race, gender-identity, sexuality, religion, or class. We’re still arguing about gay wedding cakes and we’re still obviously treating kids of color worse than white kids. Of course they call bullshit on that.
What we missed, and why we’re so surprised that they have “magically” appeared, is that these kids threw us overboard years ago. They don’t need our rigidity. They don’t ever again need to hear someone say, “Hey, everyone is a little bit racist.” They have no time for our “God hates the gays bigotry.” They have no place for our transphobia.
Grow up on a battlefield, and you lose your illusions. They’re well over our befuddling myths about the way the world must be.
Moreover, they know they’ve got a fight ahead of them.
They are looking square into a future denuded of the possibilities we older folks took for granted. They can see, quite clearly, that like plagues of locust, our grown-up generations have stripped the nation’s resources; beshitted the global environment like we had a spare planet tucked in the garage under a tarp; presided over the destruction of our own middle class; and, for a kicker, welcomed a parade of nationalist buffoons with fascist tendencies back into power.
These kids can see the tribalism, and they know that soon they’ll be ascendant.
Their tribe is different from mine or yours. For now, they’re young, but for all the rest of their time on this planet, they will be multiracial, nonbinary, nondogmatic, digitally native, omnivorously curious, and significantly bigger than either the surviving boomers or the aging Gen Xers.
These kids didn’t spring suddenly from nowhere. They’ve been watching us and learning from our nearly countless, self-imposed mistakes. They’ve seen us run in pointless ruts, like cattle through an abattoir, and they’ve decided that’s not for them, and so they called bullshit.
I can’t wait to follow them into the future.
I hope I can keep up. I have so much to learn.