Nov 3, 2020

#148: The Janitor Generation

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Something different for this week: No regular newsletter. 

There is a chance that this will be the last Office Hours newsletter you ever choose to read.

Not trying to be dramatic here, and nothing’s wrong. Still, I wanted to kind of use today as an editorial reboot. It’s like back in the day when a new creative team would start on Spiderman or Batman. Office Hours with me will continue to have the same structure, same history, and continuity, just with a different perspective. 

I tried my best to divest my political beliefs from this newsletter/community, but I don’t think I can anymore. I’ve been writing this in starts and stops for 4 years now and wasn’t sure if it would see the light of day. It’s time to finally let this drop.

I’m asking that you read it in full and after you finish, if you feel like it’s too extra or too political for you or if you only signed up to lurk marketing ideas from me and don’t care about what I have to say about anything else, I understand if you unsubscribe. Thank you for your support until now. It means a lot!


FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT, PRESS PLAY AND LISTEN TO THIS AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE WHILE YOU READ THIS.


“When I’m gone, let the work I’ve done speak for me"

When my grandmother died, she had these words inscribed in her casket. 

The “work” she was referring to had nothing to do with her professional career or what she did to pay the bills. My grandmother’s work was done in service to her community. It didn’t  matter what job she had, the work was her whole raison d’etre.

You can’t do everything, but you do what you can with what you have.  

My grandmother’s concept of community was broader than the world she lived in. That meant her community didn’t stop with the people in her house. Her community was the whole block, up the block, the city, the country, black folks, white folks, whoever, and wherever. To her, there was no you. There was just us. She looked out for people because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Consequently, I have never known a world where I didn’t feel an innate responsibility towards helping my community. 

My whole family is from Selma, Alabama. Still there, too. My granddaddy and my grandma were part of the movement that started in the churches,  like in our home church, West Trinity Baptist. I’m one of those kids that got sent down south for the summer. I grew up in these same churches, and I have spent many a Sunday morning in an itchy suit bored to DEATH at First Baptist. 

Because of that access, I learned first hand what kind of work went into progress. See, back when they were getting the movement rolling, my family did what they could with what they had in service of their community  (as did countless others whose names will never be on a monument or immortalized in a movie). People would meet at Brown Chapel or First Baptist or West Trinity to plan the marches, including the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which you can best believe my family had a hand in.

In Selma, news travelled to the white community in town as fast as it did within the Black one. The town’s white factory foremen would start driving by churches and making note of whose car was parked out front. If your car was at the church when a meeting was going on, you would get fired the next day you showed up to work. This is that 93-octane UNCUT voter suppression. My family decided to get active. Not only did they take part in marches, , but they used to have cars park at our place, hidden in the back so people couldn't get in trouble with work. They couldn’t change Jim Crow Selma, but they did what they could with what they had. Because they recognized a responsibility that was greater than themselves—a responsibility to their community.   That’s my political perspective. 

I believe in the United States because it is my homeland. I also know that the only true greatness this country has ever seen is when the country — the united country, not just white people — has confidence (and courage?) in making this thing work. I’ve been blessed enough to encounter so many different pieces and parts of this country and as a result, I don’t have insecurities about other cultures competing with my own. I don’t believe one culture should be the “normal,” because “normal” is not what makes this country the best country on Earth. To use a popular metaphor, I believe America is the apartment and we’re all roommates. We all have our own things and our own views, but we have to commiserate, collaborate, and compromise in order for this thing to work. 

I believe that building a strong house is impossible if nobody is willing to acknowledge a messed-up framework. So to that end, I think white people need to either forgive themselves or flog themselves, whatever they gotta do — amongst themselves, please leave us out of it for once — to be accountable for the fact that they have built literal empires on the backs of others. 

I believe “others” is a collective force comprised of every group that has been marginalized in this country, from black folks to the Irish to the Jewish to the Italians to the Polish to the Greeks to the Albanians to the Ukrainians to the Mexicans to the Puerto Ricans to the Hawaiians to the…you get it. I understand that many people are set in their preconceived notions of identity and belonging, and as such will reject this creed…but I don’t care about those people anymore. From where I sit, all us “others” just want to succeed or fail in this country by our own merit. That’s why I don’t understand people who seem so opposed to the “other.” I’m embarrassed for those who fight so hard to keep things they didn’t earn while calling the “other” side lazy.  To me, being accountable doesn’t mean giving up anything! I don’t want a handout from you or anybody else. I just want you to play the game fairly, because I know that when everyone has a chance to compete fairly, we all give and get better results. The overall product is better, because everyone is invested in its success and/or failure. One for all, and all for one. 

Let me be clear: I don’t want to sound like I’m running for any office or anything. That is NOT the plan. In a way, this whole thing is me trying to remind myself of the work I am here to do. I’m here to work for my community, near and far, big and small. Can you say the same? 

So now, you have an option. Like I said before: I understand if you unsubscribe. I wish you well and thank you for your support until now. It really means a lot! 

However: If you stay past this one, then I assume you agree with my North Star principles, and are committing yourself to stepping up.. If you agree with me that the job is bigger than us, and needs to be done even if you don’t live to see it happen, then you’re part of my community. And in my community, we work hard for each other;  I’ll work as hard for you as you will for me, in service of something bigger than ourselves. Now, don’t bullshit yourself and don’t bullshit me. I want you to be honest. I want you to be accountable. To your family, to your friends, but most of all to yourself and your responsibility. Because no matter who wins tonight, we have a lot of work to do. 

If the idea is still scary, what if I told you there’s more of us than them?

The Brookings Institution:

"In his first three years in office, Trump’s administration has done much to curtail programs that benefit younger families—health care, benefits to immigrant children, public education, housing assistance, and many other social supports. And, alongside a Republican-controlled Congress, it has handcuffed future spending on such programs with irresponsible tax cuts, virtually guaranteeing ever-larger budget deficits.

Younger generations—millennials and Gen Zers—are strongly supportive of issues that would positively impact their futures: greater racial justice and inclusion, more favorable treatment of immigrants, stronger environmental protection, and effective gun control. But policies that support such measures are low on the priority list for Trump’s aging base.

Underlying this generational conflict are racial demographic dynamics which should further empower younger, diverse generations. One of these dynamics is the continued aging of the white population: There was an absolute decline in the number of white children and teenagers over the past decade, a consequence of there being fewer white women of childbearing age and low white immigration. Racial minorities, on the other hand, accounted for more than half of the decade’s births, as well as accounting for all growth in the country’s under-18 population.

Youthful diversity will be even more prominent in the new decade. The 2020 census will show that more than half of all children under 18 identify as a racial minority. During this new decade, as more white baby boomers age beyond 65, there will be an absolute decline of whites in their prime working years, meaning that racial minorities will contribute to all of the decade’s labor force growth. "

“Generation” is a universal term here. Young people can do what they can but us olds gotta tap in to help them out. If you’re older than me, that includes you, too. 

It is possible that older whites will eventually hold more generous attitudes toward today’s highly diverse younger generations as they age and disperse across the country into suburbs, exurbs, and currently red states, while the children and grandchildren of baby boomers marry those in other races. Millennials themselves can be positive role models as they age and take on leadership positions in business, politics, and public life, serving as a bridge generation between the boomer-dominated nation we have been and the multihued nation we are becoming.

"In many ways, our racially diverse, younger population is beginning to flex its political muscle and raise national consciousness on a variety of progressive issues. This contrasts sharply with the rapidly aging population of mostly white baby boomers and their seniors, who have pushed back mightily against such policies. Unless some accommodation is reached, the struggle between our past and our future will persist, leaving our nation and its economy vulnerable.”

Now, fixing all that sounds like a LOT, right? Thing is, nobody’s saying you gotta do everything, just do what you can with what you have. 

Yes, that work is dirty and yes, people will work against us in force. There will always be racist, misogynist and homophobic people because there will always be insecure, selfish, greedy, corrupt and downright evil people. We can’t waste time trying to appeal to them or the cynics, either. To me, they’re the type to see a giant mess on the floor, know it’s there, know it needs to be cleaned up, but would rather complain about it. 

My people are the ones who see the mess in the floor and will pick up a fucking broom and CLEAN IT UP themselves. THAT is my targeted audience going forward, because whether it be across culture, music or marketing, we need to be the generation that commits to clean this shit up and leave it better than we found it for the generations to come. That mentality is all you need because THAT is how things get done. THAT is how things change. Are you gonna get credit for it? Probably not! Are they going to make a movie about you or write you up in the New York Times or give you a million dollars for cleaning it up? No! 

No matter who wins tonight, we have a lot of work to do. No matter what happens tonight. I’m waking up tomorrow and getting to work in service to my community. Wherever you are, I hope you’ll do the same. 

We’re The Janitor Generation. Now it’s time to clean this shit up. 🧹🇺🇸


HOW TO HELP BLACK LIVES IN 30 MINS OR LESS:

What if I told you that for only 30 minutes a week, you can help Black lives, no matter where you live or how much money you make? Here’s how:
  1. Carve out 30 minutes in your calendar this week.

  2. Use that 30 minutes to go here.

  3. Do one thing in that 30 min window. You can click a link or make a call or donate or sign a petition.

  4. This weekend, share the above link with your three closest friends. If you have a group chat, drop it into your group chat!

  5. Repeat the following week.

As a bonus, now you won’t have to lie to your kids or grandkids about being on the right side of history! You can be all like, “Children/Grandchildren, our family doesn’t tolerate that racist shit. If anyone says otherwise, send them to me.” and you’ll sound all tough and cool, and your kids or grandkids will respect and love you and not want to be racists…guess what? That means less racist people in the future!!

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Office Hours with Ernest Wilkins is written and curated by Ernest Wilkins.

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