After spreading like wildfire on social media, the phrase “OK boomer” has become young people’s favorite response to the old and outdated.
Taylor Lorenz, writer for the New York Times, described the phrase as retaliation against years of millennial bashing, in which America’s youth has been generalized as irresponsible, narcissistic and tech-addicted. In a context where young people are frequently maligned by their elders, “OK boomer” is a satisfying rejoinder.
To some, however, the phrase also holds a social and political valence. More than just old-fashioned thoughts and habits, the stereotypical “boomer mindset” is sometimes thought of as synonymous with political and cultural conservatism.
This secondary meaning, funny as it is, ultimately conceals more than it reveals about our country’s political disputes and social divides.
The boomer generation, for instance, came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which were periods of substantial social upheaval and massive inequality along lines of race and gender. Black baby boomers are the children of the civil rights and black power movements, while many boomer women fought for gender equality in the home and in the workplace. Others participated in protests against the Vietnam War and in favor of LGBTQ rights.
Associating the boomer generation with conservative politics erases these struggles for social equality across generations.
Just the same, young people have political and racial divisions of their own. Rather than a unified bloc of liberals, millennials are similarly multifaceted in their political beliefs.
According to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center, about a third of millennials lean Republican — a relative minority, but still amounting to millions of young conservatives.
White millennials are particularly politically divided: while the overwhelming majority of millennials of color lean Democratic, 41 percent of white millennials lean Republican.
Rather than a pure function of age, then, the proverbial “boomer mindset” can be found in both young people and old.
“OK boomer” will continue to be an entertaining retort both online and offline. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to let generational stereotypes cloud our understanding of real divides in American society — class, race, gender and sexuality — that cross generations.
Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.