Dear Johnny Oleksinski,
“Entitlement, dependency, nonstop complaining, laziness, Kardashians?” Really? The Lousiest Generation? While I admit that I do not understand some things about the millennials, I would not demean them as you did in your article.
To be a millennial means you were born within a certain time frame. The generalizations and critiques that you ascribe to my generation relate to a limited population, which we expect from mainstream media. It does not surprise me that you cite the experiences of two White individuals as evidence of millennial entitlement.
The millennials who I know don’t build tree houses. They start businesses … while they do Snapchat. After reading your article I wondered what generation you wrote about. It seemed that you described a limited and diluted generational image that someone offered to you. Either millennials are lazy and entitled … or media and pop culture disseminate and profit off a stereotype.
Friends and family often describe me as an old soul, which saved me from being looped in with the rest of the millennials. I like black-and-white movies, music from the 80s and early 90s, and am infatuated with old jazz and the past. I want to be a scholar … not a Kardashian. My old-soul tendencies notwithstanding, I learn constantly.
At 23, I still strive to make sense of my life and own the right to be vocal about that process. At 26 years old, you don’t know everything. When did youth become a curse, worthy of punishment? Bashing a generation simply for being in their early 20s and maybe not getting it just yet doesn’t make sense and strikes me as counterproductive. Old souls don’t deserve a gold star for being ahead of the curve, but rather we carry a responsibility to pay it forward.
My generation confuses me. We obsess on other people’s lives as a form of escapism while indulging ourselves. I mentor and teach to break the stereotypes about millennials. Someone — a Generation Xer not a meme — once told me not to complain or to critique without a solution. My question for you is: What’s your solution? You don’t put forth any ideas to inspire change in millennials.
You make valid points about the portrayal of millennials in mainstream media, but something seems missing from your analysis of the Lousiest Generation. Do you know the recent grad from Haiti who wants to start her business and earns a fellowship? What about the young writer who works menial jobs while perfecting his craft? Johnny, maybe you need to do more research than simply reading Buzz Feed. You might find out how serious we are about changing the world for the better.
"I have a dream that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies"- Byakko
Many people ask me: Where did your shirt idea come from? Who is the Imaginary Enemy? How did you come about creating this? My short answer: America. Being a Black woman in America inspired this movement. And it is the contagious nature of this movement that will make America question everything she ever assumed about the power of sisterhood amongst women of color.
But before I got to a place of declaration and appreciation of sisterhood and Black womanhood everywhere, I had to find it in myself. Not an easy task. I was a high school senior fed up with the idea of sisterhood, solidarity, and pride in Blackness. What had Blackness done for me? I spoke too “good” for the black girls to take me seriously and I was just enough Black for the white girls, as long as I kept up the hyperactive and over indulgent public minstrel show for them to marvel at. It seemed like I could not win no matter what I did. I was whitewashed. I was "bougie". I was red-bone. I was an Oreo: black on the outside, white on the inside. They never let me forget that one. Oreo. What was exploring my Blackness going to do but give people more opportunities to ostracize me?
It was the spaces and communities that I found myself in while in college that, over time, opened me up and deconstructed the oppressive armor I was wearing to protect myself from past hurt. By sophomore year, I found myself surrounded by an army of Sisterhood Excellence. My identity began to emerge with the support of my newfound friends of all backgrounds. It was like looking into the mirror through a kaleidoscope lens. My name was mine again and Oreo was a snack you had when you studied for finals. By my junior year, I began to see that I needed multiple spaces to feel safe in and that was my responsibility to make those spaces. I spent more time in communities and spaces of color. I couldn’t believe I felt safe in those spaces! I also began to learn about an insidious system called White Supremacy that is multifaceted in how it oppresses marginalized individuals, down to the historical trauma that plagues the way we Black people treat each other everyday. I finally had a community to call my own!
But the real world has a powerful way of reminding us that we are not in control. Outside of college, it was all too apparent that I changed, my circles changed, but the world hadn’t. Walking down the street, I saw Black women look at me as if I challenged them or cursed them. They eyed me up and down, as if searching for something. I found myself many afternoons engaging in the silent battle. What was the point of all this? Even if someone had a bad day and just looks nasty, I see more Black woman with that default face than anyone else. Why? I decided to explore that question in a Facebook post one day: I have a dream, that one day women of color can pass by each other and not see Imaginary Enemies”- Byakko (my pen name at the time). I was surprised how many likes the post got and how many people commented co-signing and agreeing with me. A poem is in there somewhere, I thought.
I remember exactly when the movement was born and beating inside me. I was under the Eiffel Tower with my mom in line waiting to go all the way to the top. I felt beyond blessed to be able to share this moment with her. That is when I caught the eye of a young lady of color in line, I gave her a smile, how could I not? We are both about to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower! What I received was a defiant stare at my outfit and an eye roll. My old Facebook post came back to mind. Maybe I’ll make one shirt, I said.
That summer I had shirts made for both of my moms and I to wear. The universe did the rest. Airports, grocery stores, buses, women of all backgrounds stopped me and asked, “Where did you get that shirt?”. They told me that this constant battle against other women was their experience too. That was the magic. A conversation ensued about what made women feel they had to break each other down instead of building each other up. Patriarchy and racism were being explored and deconstructed amongst strangers! More often than not they would finally ask, “Are those shirts for sale?” Then it hit me, and with the support of my family, I trademarked the quote and made more shirts.
With the help of this movement, I was able to write the most important poem of my life thus far, Letter to My Unborn Daughter, All Women of Color, and Lastly to Me. I met amazing creative director and photo editor, Amanda Luxe, who saw my shirts and felt compelled to direct a photo series inspired by them, Jumping Colors II: #ImNotYourEnemy. The photo series was submitted to Blavity and accepted! More conversations are happening; friendships are being born from nothing but words. But I want to make it bigger. So big, that pop culture will have to stop depicting women of color as hyper sexualized caricatures just long enough to listen; so big that women will have to stop carrying the world for two seconds to get the support they need. I want sisterhood and solidarity amongst women of color to become mainstream, and I am not going to stop doing the work until it does.
The cassette danced around my mother’s Camry
To the percussion of a road that we weren’t on
Rattling like a world unhinged,
bursting from his plastic barriers
Begging to be rewound, studied,
captured in the black hands of a black girl in the backseat.
What a world to be in, I thought!
If purple raindrops of royalty could never stop,
the lightning must fly like lavender pedals.
He stayed by my side the rest of the trip
Until my mother asked for him, reaching back
the lyrics catapulting from her heart
Listen to this part,
she would say.
He kills it!
Contorting her fingers all over the steering wheel like guitar strings
Her voice and his riffs would wrap around the open road
and choke that empty space–
the miles between us and home
cracking the chains off my mother’s memory
Stretching her face to the place that many artists go once they
truly find themselves
I never forgot this praise dance for the downpour
This pull towards freedom
that my mom and him translated for me so early
in my artistic journey
That response to the calling
To find one’s self is not just for the sake of being comfortable in this world
But for the purpose to unravel into something more
Creative and Administrative Assistant to
Kevin Powell and BK Nation
I remember when I first saw the Facebook campaign supporting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. The Internet buzzed with a cry for women to be represented and to replace the face of patriarchy and racism. A Black woman at that! Talk about win-win. Let’s do it!
Upon further reflection: Do we really want to take up space on American currency? The same currency that many people of color don’t get to hold when they live below the poverty line? The same currency that recent college grads like me fight for to pay off our student loans? The same currency that causes bullets to fly in the streets when drug dealers conduct business? The same currency that didn’t help clear the water in Flint, Michigan? The same currency that went missing during the fundraising after Tamir Rice’s murder? Do we want to see the face of one of the most revolutionary activists and humanitarians on that dirty paper? No, thank you.
Spare me the symbolism America. This announcement came around the same time that police officer Peter Liang received community service and probation after killing an unarmed Black man in Brooklyn, New York. After hashtag after hashtag of memories and murders justified by a system meant to protect us. What about the symbolism of the current election in which pundits tell Hillary Clinton to smile more while responding to Donald Trump’s comments on his own penis?
Putting Harriet Tubman’s face on this America’s currency does not make me feel warm and fuzzy. It does not make me feel like America has heard me, my mothers, or my ancestors. It makes me feel cheap. Representation on money would mean a lot more if women received the same pay as men.
Department of Treasury: Please take those $20 bills to the community leaders who risk their lives and sanity every day to keep their communities thriving while confronting forces that work twice as hard to tear those same communities apart. Take those $20 bills and invest in quality education for ALL children that includes the Arts. Take those $20 bills and fund solutions to intractable problems like stopping the deconstruction of marginalized communities, mass incarceration, and sexual assault. Spend those $20 bills to honor people of color and the historical trauma that still plagues us.
Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill will provide a constant reminder of how much more work needs to be done. She will remind me that I cannot be distracted by peace offerings or symbols of an attempt to give women of color the credit for all that we did and that we put up with. She will remind me that I must continue to move our nation and our world toward freedom … by any means necessary.
Listening to President Obama’s announcement of his executive order on gun control regarding background checks for potential firearm purchases brought me back to my mother’s cautions to “be careful” when I left the house to hang with my friends. I would tell her about the precautions I took to keep myself safe while out in the Wild Wild West of Los Angeles … the faces I made when walking the streets so I did not look lost and vulnerable … my fake phone calls when I felt followed … the small Swiss Army knife in my front pocket in case things got really bad. Proud. Street smart.
My mother taught me well and now she could rest easy. After listening to her warrior daughter’s preparation for the real world, my mother asked a simple, straightforward question: “What are you going to do if someone takes that knife away from you?” I didn’t know how to respond. Many Americans believe that a gun will keep them safe and that Obama wants to remove that sense of safety from them. The reality: You are only as safe with your weapon as you are against that weapon. Since that conversation with my mom, I never felt as secure with a knife on my person. If someone stronger or faster than me got ahold of it, I would be in trouble.
I want those who wish to own guns to answer a few questions:
*Originally featured on BKNation.org
The post-tragedy Facebook arms race
Where everyone (including me)
engages in public posting of sympathy and empathy
For all worldly devastation
From here, we slowly come to the realization of how
maniacal and draining hatred can be when constantly monitored and reported
We get sad,
countries turn to fire as we all rush to try to understand
How can this happen anywhere?
We post all we can gather throughout the day
Researching reliable resources.
We lose stamina,
We cease to have the capacity for such sadness on a constant basis
Or the media lost interest before us
We rather watch puppies swim for the first time
Or relatable sketch comedy
(Laugh factory serves as my escape)
And before we know it
Buzz feed shenanigans and Reddit
We sink right back in because
It's so hard to give breathing room to things that take breaths away and
Publicly proving we care is another layer of pressure before we become numb again,
in one form or another,
and our consciousness fades
With a type of dissociation that is only human
when you try to fathom why certain injustices and massacres exist
And so becomes the conflict of consciousness:
How do we not lose ourselves before another tragedy awakes us
to the rest of the world and their grievances?
How do we stay engaged to
seek knowledge, seek service, seek information, seek justice, seek hope
without the media asking us?
How do we remain okay in silently praying in the dust of destruction
Rather than yelling it from cyber mountaintops,
Sometimes contradicting ourselves,
sometimes policing others’ attention spans,
or simply not knowing what to do to cope?
How do we make humanity a daily routine?
Not a meme,
Or re-post or re-tweet
How do we breathe humanity
Without losing our breath?
It is not that we don’t appreciate your experience or interest in our future. However, what you might not realize is that sometimes your advice or questions do more harm than good. These conversations cause us more anxiety than they do a space for open discussion, discovery, and excitement for the multitude of possibilities open to us. Below are a few things to consider when talking to a recent graduate or a young adult:
1. Please Don’t Project Your Fears, Past Traumas, Or Ageism Onto Us
As an older individual, we understand that you lived through more experiences than us and might be eager to let us know what options or dangers are out there. But please understand that we are creating our own experiences in real time. We don’t have the luxury of looking back and shaking our heads at all the silly things we did when we were in our 20's . We are living those “silly" experiences. Telling us that you were “stupid” or “crazy” back when you were our age doesn’t make us feel good. Projecting your past fears/traumas onto us does not serve as a cautionary tale, it’s more of an uncomfortable conversation where we watch you re-live your younger years. Be gentle when discussing the possibilities of the future with us, it is never an easy conversation to have. A safe space to discuss this will help us cope with the unknown. Sometimes we want to share our thoughts and ideas about the future without your past taking center stage.
2. Grad School May Not Be For Everyone Right At This Moment.
This may seem like a no-brainer as education stretches her arms in so many ways to greet us in this day and age. But we all see the faces you make when we mention “taking a break” or “travel” or “work”. We notice the eyebrows furrowing and the inevitable question, “You are going back to school, right?” Or we get, “Well you could take classes now and get a head start!” Please think about what it is like to be in our shoes after four years of devoting our lives to earning a degree then finding out that degree might not reach its full potential without real world experience and more school. Please think about how refreshing it might feel for some of us to grow as professionals or as humans without an institution behind us. Passively insinuating that school is the golden ticket pressures us into this socialized narrative that school is the only option to achieve any real success or fulfillment. Overwhelming those of us who want to go back to school with the many challenges that come with it does not help us "see the light", it actually stunts our growth and excitement. We both know that there are many options out there to achieve our goals and aspirations, we need support in embracing those options.
3. Journeys Are Like Fingerprints
I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with friends distraught because they were not doing what everyone else was doing, be it going straight on to graduate school or taking a few years off. Please support us by encouraging creativity in our path, not trying to make it fit everyone else’s. We too put ourselves in boxes sometimes and need help to see the excitement in adventure. When we hear that we are deviating from the norm, we become anxious when things do not go “as planned”. My mothers literally strapped me down to earth to finish my graduate school applications. I was extremely anxious because of what I heard happened to you if you didn’t go back to school right away. Luckily my parents supported my journey as it was being written and when the time came for me to accept a job in New York, I did not feel like I was deviating from the perfect path; I felt like I was creating my own, which is my perfect path.
4. Please Ask Us If We Want Your Opinion/Advice Before You Offer It
As some do when they see a pregnant woman and regurgitate all they learned during their pregnancy, it is common that older folks do the same when it comes to plans for our lives. We are getting so much input from family, friends, and colleagues that most of the time we don’t know which way to turn or when to trust our own advice. When I was looking for the perfect grad school, everyone who had a mouth had an opinion. When I started to date, everyone had a philosophy and thought it was the right one for me too. For me, it was more helpful to hear, “What do you think is best?” This simple question gave me the agency to present my own ideas, fears, feelings, and philosophies. It gave me the chance to figure out how I truly felt. Sometimes we just want our idea to stand alone in the air without scrutiny so we can see it for ourselves. Once I could claim that space, I was able to give more attention to people’s advice or suggestions (if I asked them for it). If we do not ask you for your advice, we are not looking for it. If you think we are or you are concerned, please give us the safe space to let that conversation start. It will help us so much more.
Although these are helpful hints for older folks, I think it is a great reminder for us young adults as well. When listening to people we trust and hearing their advice or suggestions, we need to remember that is all it is, advice and suggestions, words. It is our choice if we want to take it. It’s our choice. We are allowed to feel lost and confused and it is okay to ask for help. We are not going to always get it right and sometimes there is no "right". Someone once told me that it was not helpful for him to tell the universe what he didn't want to be, it was more helpful that he be prepared for whatever the universe had in store for him. Patience is rarely a willing friend of mine but came up a lot in these few months after graduation. I so want to be at the finish line of my development as a woman of melanin, a poet, an activist, a leader, but that is not where the beauty lies. The silver lining, the diamond dancing on the ocean shore of our stories, the gift is really in between: the journey.
TO THE CALIFORNIA WOMAN WHO SAID:“GUNS ARE JUST TOOLS LIKE SPOONS. WOULD YOU OUTLAW SPOONS SIMPLY BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE USE THEM TO EAT TOO MUCH?”
I am your biggest fan.
You have inspired me by simile.
You have opened my third eye
poured nirvana into my mind
I am enlightened and want to help;
Spread the word of your genius to the heavens.
Utilize your logic to start a movement:
We should outlaw humans.
Guns and spoons are just tools.
Why blame them for the fools responsible?
For all we know, these poor things are just victims
at the hands of the idiots who created a system
not suitable for them.
We’ll start with your family members.
Then head to the gun shops and detain all
those who give out gun permits to
the mentally distressed. Then we can head
to the house of their parents outlaw them for
not taking good enough care of their mentally distressed kids;
Ride down to the hospital and kill all of them
For not providing well enough policies to fit
Needs of those struggling mentally.
We should outlaw humans
We’ll need a plane ticket to DC.
Break into the capitol and retrieve all of congress
for not prioritizing healthcare in all their lobbying.
Eventually get to the president for not delegating
The important work to the right people.
It’s a lot of work but stay with me.
Once we have outlawed the government for
not doing their job, we will come back to California
and attack the inner city. Get all the kids in gangs then
use those same guns to get their parents for not parenting
well enough. Then go to their schools get the teachers
for not caring enough. Then we can ride to the school district
and murder them for not having the funds.
Then we will get to the department of education
because they can’t figure out how to distribute better money
to benefit everybody.
After that, we’ll branch out spread our horizons
to the rich people who don’t want to share their wealth
to help those in a system that didn’t care enough to begin with.
We’ll need addresses for the all the big banks.
Kill the CEO and their assistants who instill
greed in the masses.
We should outlaw humans.
After that we’ll have lunch.
We will have time to delegate the work
to the rest of the world.
We will end with my family:
The fools who cared enough about innocent fools
getting killed by the hand of tools.
We were naïve and stupid.
I know that now.
One question California Lady,
What are you left with?
The tools you want to protect.
Safe and sound out of the hands
of the people you don’t think are
worth the protection.
You will be lonely.
Maybe, you can teach a spoon to
speak and a gun to love. Maybe one day
they will thank you for placing them above everyone else.
Photo taken by Lük Lupe Photography .
Averting eye gazes is like a game
Acknowledging existence and
is a death sentence in this town.
I wanted to be like the man of many relics
Fingers covered in rings and trinkets
Bracelets of all types
Samplings of all religions
Rope around his fingertips to never forget
Where it all begins.
I want to be like Marjorie
From the housekeeping company
Whispering prayers in her sleep
Ancient mantras from ancestors
Freestyling her lullaby
As she is rocked in a steel crib
Like the noble God-child,
3 policemen walk into a subway
it was less of a joke,
and more of a despairing epiphany
that I officially did not feel safer with them around
I felt anger at the Blue Lives Matter bracelet tightly wrapped around his walkie-talkie–
Someone made that, someone had that manufactured
So I would see the symbolism in the denial of a system that devalues me
they talked candidly and leaned back on their professional
patches on the subway doors,
I stopped writing poems,
Spiritually and historically stunted
Until they walked off.
You identify as a Christian. I identify as Christian. We both accepted ourselves as God’s children. According to the Nicene Creed, we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins. I assume that — like me — you got baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
You and I should be family. Somewhere between your withholding marriage licenses from gay couples and my having two mothers, our ideas of Christianity hit a fault line. The God that I thank for a fulfilling life to do His will cannot be the same God that justifies denying human rights to love. Our Gods took on two different faces within the same doctrine. How do you reconcile with the statement that, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love?” (1 John 4:8). What about the sacred calling to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31)? How could the same God who preaches the sanctity of love demand that you deny that same option for others?
This goes beyond one couple. You made a choice to tell the world that people like my parents should not share their love with one another—the birthright that God gave to all of us. You reduced me to the little girl who heard this message for years and feared for her two mothers’ immortal souls and who endured bullying from those with a similar mindset to yours. Your message inspires suicide and incites hate crimes, Ms. Davis. You hurt people.
Did you intend to send this message on behalf of God, the God who instructs us to “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend them without expecting” (Luke 6:35)? You refuse to “loan” your “enemies” a marriage license. You deny them the independence to live their lives that you enjoy.
I cannot believe that we love the same God. May your God grant you the same compassion, understanding, and determination to bring peace to the world and his children that mine does. God bless you, Ms. Davis.
If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates [their] brother, [they are] a liar; for [those] who [do] not love [their kin] whom [they have] seen cannot love God whom [they have] not seen. – 1 John 4:20
Also featured Bknation.org
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...
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