Generation Envy

Illustration for article titled Generation Envy

I've always considered it a blessing to have grown up black during the 1960s when the walls came tumblin' down. My formative years, politically, were shaped by protests against segregation and the Vietnam War, led by heroic men and women my own age. They made me a radical. In addition, the 60s came with a great sound track of Sweet Soul Music and cutting-edge jazz. For all those reasons, I've always thought that mine was the Greatest Black Generation, and it was the only one I ever wanted to belong to.


Until now.

Now I wish I belonged to the generation that includes Kristen, my 18-year-old daughter. I realized that I had come down with a serious case of Generation Envy during a recent plane-train-and-car trip to Colorado, California and Nevada I took with Kristen during her school break a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful bonding experience. We were awed by the magnificence of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, the Pacific Coast and Mojave Desert.

In San Francisco and Los Angeles, she got face time with friends with whom she usually communicates only on FaceBook, and I had a wonderful rendezvous with my college room mate, Larry and his delightful wife, Kathleen, who served guacamole made from the fruit of the avocado tree in their yard.

But best of all was the chance to talk to my often laconic daughter about all sorts of things, including where she wants to go to college and her first vote for president in November. And that's where my Generation Envy got started.

She is, as you might imagine, planning to vote for Barack Obama if he's the Democratic nominee. Notice that I said 'FOR.' That's really important. If Obama is on the ticket, she will give him her whole-hearted support, without any hesitation or qualms. She's not settling for the lesser evil or registering a protest.

What a wonderful feeling that must be. All of my presidential votes have been an exercise in ambivalence. I cast my ballots defensively against one candidate or another because the names on the ballot were so disappointing. It started in 1968 when I was so disgusted by the choice between Nixon and Humprey that I threw my vote away and supported Eldridge Cleaver. It continued right up to 2004, when John Kerry was palatable only when compared to George W. Bush.


Kristen will not have to hold her proverbial nose when she votes this November if Obama is on the ballot. She's FOR him, 100 per cent. She'll have the opportunity to do something I've been waiting for all my adult life and never thought I would see; the chance to vote for a black candidate who has a real chance to win and put this misguided country back on the right track.

Think of the implications for our screwed up politics if the enthusiastic, optimistic support of Kristen and her generation propels Obama to the White House. The power of negative campaigning might start to diminish. A real sense of national unity might take hold. Perhaps most important, we might all start believing that the problems we face can really be solved if we buckle down and pull together- that the process really works. That kind of positive political faith could shape the attitudes of her generation for the rest of their lives, just as the upheavals of the 1960s shaped and now explain the cynical attitudes of old fogies like me.


Those were the thoughts that went through my head as Kristen and I rode through the mountains and drove down the coast and through the desert. We were already close, as only fathers and daughters can be, before the journey began, but the eight-day trip brought us even closer. And, in November, if the electoral fates allow, we'll have another generation-bridging experience. For the first time in either of our lives, we may both have the joy of voting FOR a presidential contender. It will make her feel grown up and make me feel young again, as though we belonged to the same generation.

Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.

is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.