Rosie Dawson-Hewes: Finding our voice - that's Y

By Rosie Dawson-Hewes

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Good on Beyonce for being proud of her African-American heritage. Photo / Matt Slocum
Good on Beyonce for being proud of her African-American heritage. Photo / Matt Slocum

I'm a Gen Y. I hate admitting that, defining myself by a list of blanket traits shown by those of a similar age.

I've always denied having Gen Y traits - I'm hardworking, I say. Selfies make me uncomfortable, I protest, and I care about what happens in the community around me.

Research says millennials, as we Gen Ys are also known, are narcissistic and materialistic.

The word coddled is used. All those terms grate. I hate the idea of being described using them.

I fight those generalisations, how can every person born between the early 1980s and early 2000s be defined by such sweeping statements, despite what decades of sociological research says. Though, even my pushing against that label is, in itself, a very millennial reaction.

So, does that mean we millennials won't judge you if you're black or gay or transgender, but we're also too wrapped up in ourselves to do anything about your rights?
Rosie Dawson

We are all unique flowers, you see, each with special skills and something completely our own to offer the world. Or so we've been led to believe - we were the generation who grew up being told we could do anything, be anything we wanted.

But a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says we're also civically and politically apathetic.

That seems strange to me, given the same study found we're more open-minded about issues such as race, gender and sexual orientation. So, does that mean we millennials won't judge you if you're black or gay or transgender, but we're also too wrapped up in ourselves to do anything about your rights? It's mind-bending all right!

That apathy, though, is something I have seen in my peers. Before the last election I couldn't count the number of comments on Facebook whinging about the current government that would end with the phrase "but there's no point in voting because (insert preferred left-leaning political party here) will never get in".

Happy to have a whinge, too apathetic to actually do something about it by exercising your democratic right. We are, after all, the generation that express our support or disgust for a cause by putting a filter on our social media profile photo, as if that actually achieves anything tangible.

It annoys me to see people of my generation upset about the injustices in the world but not actually taking any real action to change those injustices.

If you're not happy about something, do something about it!

Which is why I have really, really enjoyed some of the events of the past few weeks. I don't actually have strong feelings about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but seeing all those protesters marching down Queen St, making their voices heard, gave me very strong feelings. I was so proud of those peers of mine, taking a stand. Exercising their right to have a say.

Read more: Tauranga protesters march against TPP

I really, really enjoyed seeing Beyonce perform at the Super Bowl, a bevy of beautiful black dancers alongside her dressed like the Black Panthers, addressing the racial injustices the Queen of Pop sees around her.

I love listening to her singing about being proud to be African-American, proud of her southern heritage. I may not have the same heritage, but then I also have the privilege of seeing my heritage reflected back at me in music and film and art on a regular basis. So I understand why she wants to see more of hers, why she's encouraging other young black people to also stand proud.

You know what I don't enjoy? I don't enjoy seeing those TPP protesters being lambasted by baby boomers for standing up for their beliefs. Labelled "rent-a-crowd". Hated on by those same baby boomers who likely marched against the Vietnam war, against nuclear weapons, against the Springbok tour in 1981. I don't enjoy seeing Beyonce slammed for singing with a political message, using her art to hopefully create some social change. She is only doing the same as what many artists before her have done. John Lennon, anyone?

So yes. I am a Gen Y. And yes, we are a lot of things and yes, many of those things have negative connotations that I am not comfortable with. But if millennials are going to start standing up for what we believe, using our open-mindedness to make this world a better place, then you know what?

That's a generation, and a label, I'll proudly wear.

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