An Open Letter to Strauss and Howe
To: William Strauss, Neil Howe and Others Interested in Historical Cycles
Re: The Fourth Turning: Are We There Yet?
I am very glad that I finally caught you (William Strauss) on C-SPAN2 last weekend. I have been wondering about what you thought of Election 2000. I have not been able to find comments on this election on your Generations or Fourth Turnings websites. I can tell from your remarks what you think about the last election, in general but I still wonder whether you think that we have crossed "the Fourth Turning" yet, or whether you believe that this election is just bringing us one step closer to that? Do you really think that the culture wars are over, or do you believe that they are just warming up? Even before the election was contested, I could look at the map and see two totally separate Americas – one urban, coastal, and very diverse in population and another America away from the coast, more rural, and with a less diverse population. As an African American, I do question whether the south is as "red" as it appears on the political map. I suspect that African American votes all over the south has been suppressed for several years. I have heard stories of polling places in Black neighborhoods running out of ballots and closing early. I believe that if all African American votes were fully counted, that the south may be more purple than red.
However, in this past election, one can definitely see the cultural wars writ large. Liberals, minorities (for the most part), urbanites, and women overwhelmingly supported Gore, while conservatives, whites, rural people, and men went for Bush. We definitely have two separate nations with different values and dreams for the future. Your predictions not only seem to be coming true, but things may be happening earlier than you thought that you would. I hope that I am wrong about this. We will eventually get a huge secular crisis of some kind, but I agree that the longer we can put that off, the better off we will all be.
I wonder how you see the 5-6 generations that currently exist in America. The GIs are active to the end, manning the voting booths, even as they rapidly die out. Their civic role in our society has always been consistently clear. However, with the exception of my very vocal mother who is outraged over this election, I do wonder where is the Silent generation in the Election of 2000? Are they silent, as usual? Aside from the Supreme Court, and the lawyers on both sides who have been tweaking and finessing the election, where are these elders, as a group?
Where do you see Boomer and Gen-Xers going in the near future? As a Boomer, I am very disgusted with my own generation at this point. I believe that it is the most selfish and the least nurturing of any generation that I have seen in my lifetime, including the conservative "Lost". Too many of us are competing to be the "top dog" at the expense of everybody else. We also seem to corrode everything that we touch, from music, to culture, to sports, to politics. Our one saving grace is that we are an idealistic generation. However, at this point, we seem to have two almost mutually exclusive sets of ideas (culture wars, again). If we can agree on some principles to hold in common and really live by our ideals and use them to benefit our society, we would finally redeem ourselves. I do hope, along with you, that Boomers will ultimately benefit society, even though I agree with you that this may not happen until our own old age. However, I have not been thrilled, so far. And lately, I have been downright horrified.
As a generation, Boomers have been guilty of worshiping the world of work. We are so workaholic that frankly, I am not surprised to hear that boomers bowl alone. I am surprised that they bowl, at all. As a single parent, I wonder how parents have the time to decently raise their children. The Northeast may be worse in this regard than most of the U.S., but I find that business people in the private sector, and professors and administrators at colleges and universities are working around the clock. The 9-to-5 workday and the 40 hour workweek are dead. I go to church with working class boomers and Gen Xers who have to work 2-3 jobs to make it, and they’re also working around the clock. This makes it hard to reach out to the community (even though we are still trying).
I have read all of your books, except for the most recent one on the Millenials and I agree with most (but not all) or what you say. While I’m not overly impressed with Gen-Xers or 13ers, I also believe that they’re doing their best, considering that too many of them never had a chance from the beginning. For many reasons and in many ways, they did not, as a group, receive the nurture that they should have had as children. However, in spite of everything, they are still contributing to this society.
I read 13 th Gen which came out several years ago. There is only one thing that you missed, but it may be one of the most important cultural phenomena affecting this generation – rap and hip hop. In fact I call Gen-X or 13ers the Hip Hop Generation. Ronald Reagan and Howard Jarvis are the fathers of hip hop (Can you get ready for that one?) They cut funds for education and the first thing that schools eliminated were their arts and music programs. This is a generation of kids that did not get music in the school – so they used their speaking voices and old recordings as their instruments. They produced music, anyhow.
Most of this music was very negative and affects how people see hip hop and the generation producing it. However, hip hop has struck a general chord with many (if not all) Gen X-ers of all races and classes in the U.S., and with young people around the world. In fact, some elders have called hip hop "the CNN" of this group. People in Europe and in third world countries are producing their own versions of hip hop.
There is more to hip hop than negative rapping. The break dancing of the 1980s was an early manifestation of hip hop. So was a lot of graffiti art. Hip hop has also brought poetry back to our young people in the form of "poetry slams".
However, whether, how much, and in what ways hip hop music influences Millenials of all races will be a whole other issue that will eventually unfold. I agree with you that Millenials will listen to hip hop and create a sweeter music of their own. This is already beginning to happen.
However, this does not mean that Generation X is not contributing to the society, or that they may have no influence on the next generation. If you could update Generations, I wish that you could include The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill; The Color of Our Future by Farai Chideya; the comedy of Chris Rock; the gospel music of Kirk Franklin; and the inspiration and many contributions of Tiger Woods as some of their cultural endowments. Just as Silents, like Tom Hayden, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon influenced Boomers, mostly in a positive direction, and Boomers like Michael Jackson and Madonna influenced Gen X-ers, mostly in a negative direction, I hope that these Gen-Xers will have a more positive influence on Millenials. Time will tell here.
What you say about Millenials seem to be mostly true. However, I have been working with African American Millenial kids at church. While they are healthier as a group than their predecessors, some are still very much affected by the various developments of the last 30-40 years. While white Millenial kids are coming of age in time to see a poorly run election, African American Millenial college students attending Black colleges and universities in Florida found themselves rudely shut out of the electoral process, almost altogether. While our kids will make it with our help, their journey is more painful and complicated than you portray. I do wonder when the next artistic generation will be born. It would be interesting if the first wave of millenials came of age in 2000 and and the last were born in the same year, but again, we’ll see.
I agree with you that class is a gigantic issue in the U.S. and may be the most important one. The gulf between poor and working class people of all ethnicities, and the very wealthy is dangerous to a democracy. The middle class is also struggling. While some people in the private sector are doing well (if they can keep their jobs), many working in the public sector (like librarians, teachers, professors) are not making salaries adequate for them to buy houses in their areas. Many Boomers are having difficulty staying in and thriving in the system and Gen-Xers have struggled to get into the system, altogether. This is especially true in California and the northeast.
I disagree with you the most on African Americans. We are faced with systematic and intentional disenfranchisement at the polls (especially in Florida and other southern states), racial profiling, and the end of Affirmative Action (AA). As AA is dismantled, African Americans must struggle more and more to attend and teach at majority colleges and universities and to be hired and promoted at majority companies and institutions. Even with AA, the concrete ceiling was a real phenomena to many African Americans. Middle-class Boomer professionals who went to the right schools and paid all of the right dues still found themselves frustrated as they tried to advance through the workplace.
The Election of 2000 has also been especially devastating to us as a people, because of the way it was decided and because of the poor historical record of the Republican Party in their dealings with African Americans.
We have no choice but to continue to protest. We are gradually being pushed out of white institutions, welfare is gone, and we are not all going to jail. I believe that African Americans will put more emphasis on developing their own schools, businesses, and institutions over the next generation. I believe that recent and current events may add a spark to a reparations movement that has been quietly growing for some time. They may also revive the traditional civil rights movement, which had been on its way out. No matter how much people in the media may wish it, these issues are not going to go away. I hope that they can soon be fairly resolved.
However, I do agree with you that the racial situation is much more fluid and complex than the relationships between African Americans and white people. In her book, The Color of Our Future, Farai Chideya, the daughter of an African father and an African American mother, interviewed last wave 13ers and some first wave Millenials and described the impact of hip hop on this group. She also described the impact of this more complicated racial world. The African American community has long integrated, at least to some extent, immigrants from the Caribbean and the Cape Verde islands. (This is especially true in the northeast). More recent immigrants are coming from Africa, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, not to mention Afro-Latinos from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other places, some of whom identify as both Latino and Black. This is an issue for the more traditional African American community.
We are also seeing the rise of very diverse groups of Latinos and Asians. Native Americans on and off the reservations are in the middle of a cultural Renaissance, in which they are building schools, colleges, and museums, marketing their art, and producing literature, music, and film. They have been quietly developing their institutions for some time using proceeds from gambling, tourism, and other activities. They may be down, but they are not out. People from all racial groups are cooperating with each other in some respects and competing with each other in other ways. There are some concerns here for African Americans, but also some rich cultural and political possibilities, as well.
In addition, multicultural families have become a cultural and political movement in their own right, with their specialized organizations, websites, media, literature, and heroes (like Tiger Woods). Some of these families consist of couples from different races who are raising their children in two or more cultures. Others are mostly white U.S. couples who are adopting children from abroad. All of these trends started with children in the Gen-X generation and are continuing with the Millenials. What you say about immigration and generational issues is very interesting. A lot of your opinions would line up with Farai Chideya’s findings, as well.
I know that this is a long letter, but felt that I had to express these concerns. A lot of what you have been writing about in the last decade, will be big concerns of everybody as we move into the 21 st century.