Suppression, Revolution, and Commodification: On Baby Boomers and Millennials

The ongoing flame wars between Greedy Baby Boomers and Entitled Millennials is not only  tiring (its roots lay some 25 years ago when mainstream media dubbed us Gen X’ers “Slackers”), it lacks deeper analysis in need of some old fashioned dialectical materialism. Because the problem isn’t so much the people, but the conditions.

Let’s start with the coming-of-age of Boomers. The Post-War years brought along unheralded prosperity due in no small part to added productivity in the global economy (what with the US sitting out most of this war between Empires only to clean out on top at the tail end) and a large swath of the population missing. Semi-skilled labor, due to the work or threats of unionization, finally delivered living wages and a level of comfort unknown for the Working Class. Or, shall we say, the White Working Class, as Black and other non-White populations were denied entrance to many of the mechanizations of prosperity–such as drastically increased wages, accessible higher education, and the expansion of home ownership in the sprawling suburbs. The fact that the suburbs were sprawling and that home ownership there was so available was the work of a federal government once again expanding the terms of settler-colonialism through the mechanisms of the nation-state including reduced fuel prices and expanded interstate projects coupled with a new form of Homestead Act.

The benefits of the White Working Class mediated a distinction brought about by commerce and the bourgeois government that would lead to the creation of a large and placated White Middle Class to buffer against dispirited Working Class people. Higher social mobility through the GI Bill coupled with geometric mobility, allowing a large White Flight from the urban areas, where the new White Middle Class and industries were able to transport wealth gotten through wage theft of the working class Black and White people of the city. The same remnant working class people were stagnated in urban ghettos such as, in Chicago, Uptown or Bronzeville. Meanwhile, higher-paid White WC and Black Entrepreneurs moved to their own racially and class-segregated neighborhoods to act as yet another buffer. Because White Supremacist Capitalism thrives on buffers and interruptions. And so it’s important to note that any critique of the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is woefully inadequate, as it misses many of those purposefully left behind in this new ecology.

This social and capital mobilization was imprinted for the benefit of welcoming a White Baby Boom for the manufacturing and consumption of consumptive goods, the bread and butter of American capitalism. The rising Middle Class Baby Boomers were raised in this atmosphere, but globally and locally something else was happening: revolution was in the air. While many people give White hippies (the children of the rising White Middle Class in the US) credit for the burgeoning revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s, the reductionism is particularly nationalistic and racist. Revolutions against imperialist capitalism were happening throughout the under-developed world and were finally coming to a head in the 1950’s. Whether China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, or India and the entirety of the European colonized in Africa, people of color throughout the world were unshackling themselves from Western hegemony, often at great cost. The Washington, Belgian, and corporate influence could be felt at the peak of the bullet and bomb through Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Black America in the US South and Urban North. Other formerly-colonized began to rise up and stand their ground, including the Chicano and American Indian Movements while women (famously-but-not-solely White women in the US) were simultaneously struggling for social, economic, and sexual liberation (as all three are interconnected).

It was in this frame of the liberatory organizing of the Black and Brown proletariat that the occasional White ally would arise and, due to the power of Whiteness, would somehow amass a substantial amount of the credit. While not in the same vein as the FBI taking credit for dismantling lynching White Supremacist vigilante groups during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s clear that dues owed White allies such as the Weathermen during this time may be overrepresented.

Yet, the rise of radicalism in White Middle Class Baby Boomers was an effect of the times that were a-changing. Being White and affluent, they had more direct influence and it was harder to ignore these would-be class-and-race-traitors (in the most complimentary of tones). The way they would be silenced would be different from the silencing of Black and Brown radicals throughout the world and domestically. Key leaders of the Black civil rights, anti-war, and liberation movements were assassinated and the movements as a whole underwent severe repression on all fronts that the full lethal force of the federal and local police (and aiding vigilantes) and judicial system as well as economic depression, psychological and social warfare. It’s increasingly easy to argue that they had a hand in flooding our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and guns (while maintaining .the strict prison industry that severely punishes Black and Brown communities for obtaining or holding such).

The White Middle Class retreated back to the life they were raised to occupy, to take over the mechanizations of industry. To further expand the unsustainable economic growth they sought, they helped to usher in Ronald Reagan’s Neoliberal state (aka, the Final Stage of Capitalism).  They commodified public works and turned stable and previously accessible goods into get-rich schemes. They dismantled the welfare state, the collective organizing, and the infrastructure which had enabled their transition into the comfortable Middle Class. They also helped to dismantle Affirmative Action which had temporarily expanded a Black Middle Class.

So this exponential growth necessitated the dismantling of the means to that growth. Once the capitalist class established enough buffers and re-stole all the wealth they could (in a time of tremendous economic growth, the top ten percent came away with 99% of it, leaving the working and middle class with one percent) while exponentially increasing the cost of living.  The very stolen wealth has become its own buffer. And the Petty Bourgeois White Baby Boomers, who have already entered into a comfortable retirement, seem blissfully unaware that the next generation faces the void of the disparity between the standards of living of the Baby Boomer generation and the cost of living in the new millennium.

You see, a dialectical materialism will tell you that it’s not Boomers or Millennials you should be angry with, it’s Capitalism and Whiteness.


Is God Neutral?

God has no favorites.

A variation of this is said throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the Mosaic Law, in Job, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Pauline letters, and by James and Peter – the last three being cornerstones of the Christian Church after Jesus himself. If you’re like me, you probably read “God has no favorites” as “God is neutral” and therefore whether one is poor or rich doesn’t matter in God’s judgment. Or maybe you heard a preacher talk about it with the implication that though things are bad for some, but we cannot really help. Things are going to remain the way things are until Jesus comes again.

But that doesn’t square with most of the bible, particularly passages where the Prophets, the Psalmists, Jesus and the Apostles talk about the way things are and the way things ought to be. Their risky and embodied words and actions enforce the message that being neutral in terms of power imbalance is to side with the status quo. And that doesn’t jibe with Mary’s Magnificat, the song she sang in considering the coming savior in her womb:

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.

The common reading of James 2 – at least among Evangelicals – is that we should not show bias toward the poor or the rich, but treat them all the same regardless of position or status – but only in church! This is reading doesn’t consider the rest of the book’s treatment of the rich – those who were dragging Christians to court to rob them of all they had and who will someday fade away like the flowers. (In this context, it sounds like James was talking to a people enamored of Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatally Fabulous or MTV Cribs; people worshiping wealth. So, same sun, same moon.) If that is the case, then, why is that treatment of equality limited to the church service?

We’ve de-radicalized the bible by considering it to be a place out of time, detached from the current world, esoteric and floating above a place of reality. Church may be – but often isn’t – an image of the disembodied, extra-life we anticipate, what with its singing and talking to God and learning about God and often its topsy-turvy social orders*. But outside of church is the real world – unrelated to the world of heaven. We remain close to heaven by keeping our eyes from seeing bad stuff, from saying bad stuff, by praying to a disembodied God, by reading our disembodied bibles.

We omit “on earth as it is” from the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, may your will be done… in Heaven [after we die].”

It is in taking the bible to speak about the after-life in a disembodied sense that we understand God to be static and pro-status quo.

In ancient Greek culture, Greeks were lifted above non-Greeks, males over females, free citizens over enslaved (who Aristotle notes are not much better than beast, in case we’re wondering about the roots of Western Civilization). Second Temple Jewish leaders taught much the same around the time of Jesus and early into the Apostles: Jew OVER Gentile; Man OVER Woman; Free OVER Slave.

king of the subwayThis is the “natural” order, the stasis, the overlapping function of society. But it is not the way of the God that emptied self, stepped off the throne, became a peasant in a corner of occupied Imperial Rome, and then was executed as an insurrectionist. This God threw down kings starting with God’s own self. This Jesus lifts the lowly starting with the sight- and hearing-impaired and physically immobilized.

So, no, God is not neutral.

The status is not acceptable.

According to Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In recognizing that the normal order doesn’t work for Jesus, the writer is saying that the natural order doesn’t work for God or God’s people (all of humanity) and needs to be overhauled. The Kingdom of God overturns the normal order, raises every valley and lowers every hill, makes straight the road, levels the field. It willfully works to de-privilege the privileged; it privileges the unprivileged.

Jordan - Pink Sunset over Petra

Hills and valleys are purty, but they’re not very helpful and separate the hoarders from the peasants

So, it raises women while humbling men, raises people of color while humbling white people, raises people with disabilities while humbling able-bodied people, raises trans* people while humbling cys people, raises enslaved while humbling enslavers, raises the colonized while humbling the empire, raises the poor while humbling the wealthy, raises the uneducated while humbling the educated – patterns Jesus established himself before he was executed. Patterns he picked up from the Psalms and Prophets, from Moses and Amos and Isaiah and Micah. To do otherwise, to be neutral, is to favor the oppressors and the oppression.

Biblical justice raises and lowers so that all may see the glory of God – which is to say the image of God upon each human being. We are all human.

As I remind my daughter, we are all persons.


*More so in poor churches that I’ve encountered where, for once, we could gather without putting on class airs. It’s not so much the case in middle class and professional class churches I’ve been a part of – even in ostensibly more rich ones.