This article was originally published in the USC’s Daily Trojan on March 28.
When you think about the term “millennial,” what image comes to your head? No, seriously, think about it.
If you start getting the outline of someone who is white, upper-middle class and college-educated, then the mass media has done its job. The Pew Research Center defined millennials as those born between 1982 and 20 years thereafter.
Millennials are characterized as young adults who do not have job opportunities, are tied to their technology and are more idealistic. But these qualities are only attributed to white millennials when reporting is done on them.
This group makes up a large swath of the U.S. population, and with the projected shift to a majority minority count in 2050, millennials will continually become more and more diverse. But you don’t see that diversity in the media — they are shown as just white.
It is no newfound reality that newsrooms across the country must become more diverse in order to tell and broadcast a wider range of stories about pluralistic communities. This has been the charge of affinity groups like the National Association for Black Journalists for many generations now.
If the media does not start broadening its coverage, this will negatively impact the way we view who a millennial should be. Millennials are the country’s largest age group. For this reason, race and class must be talked about when discussing problems that millennials face.
Fusion features editor Nona Willis Aronowitz explained last month why she is disillusioned at millennial coverage. Most coverage does not consider the plight of young African Americans, Latinos or Asians as a trend of their generation, but more a consequence of their own making.
“The underlying message is that working class people live in a trendless vacuum,” Willis Aronowitz wrote. “They don’t fit into navel-gazing generational narratives.”
I have heard the phrase before that “people of color don’t see themselves in generations.” And now, I’m starting to believe that this is true because our country has been so stringent on which groups are seen as dynamic and worth writing about.
The Fusion article goes on to trace the many times reporters have associated generational ties and their qualms with them to the most wealthy and white in our society. For example, the biggest gripe TIME magazine had with kids coming of age in the 1990s was that “twentysomethings” had “trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder.” Once again, only those of means could be designated as part of this generation, leaving lower-income and browner Americans out of the national conversation about young people in this country.
I have to admit that even I have fallen into the trap of not writing about millennials in the most diverse way possible. Granted, this a college column, so many of the issues I have focused on have been related to the problems facing college-aged and college-educated millennials. But if we continue to do media coverage the way we always have, there will be no progress.
We must upend the way we report on designated generations. We must disrupt the way we think about race, class and opportunity in this country. But the facts are clear — the demographics in this country are changing, so our mindsets on these “taboo” topics must also start shifting.
So I ask again, who gets to be a millennial? Because if we continue down the path we’re on, we will further delegitimize the idea that young people of color can face the same issues of the young white Americans. Millennials are an entire generation and should not be a title for just one race.
So I call on people in the media to start broadening their term for millennial. Start using it when you go out and report about young Africans Americans in South L.A. or immigrants in East L.A. We must start giving credence to stories outside of the college-educated, upper-middle class, white narratives. That’s how change for those communities happen. That’s how all communities will grow together.
I hope that this starts to happen. But it begins with the media being more inclusive with the term “millennial.” It starts with my weekly column. It starts today.
After reading “Wait An L.A. Minute” on Tuesdays, join Jordyn Holman in her millennial conversations on Twitter @JordynJournals. She’s a senior studying print and digital journalism.