Reclaiming My Gen Z Identity - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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We have something to learn, even from our youngest citizens

By Shaan Merchant

I always wanted to be a millennial. Despite my 1997 birthday making me the earliest of Gen Zers, I had convinced myself that generational divide should instead be determined by “those who had Instagram in middle school,” a distinction I conflated with superficiality and image-based self-importance. As a slow adopter and minimal user of social media, I found it easy to frame it as a conversation-ending, narcissism-feeding mechanism. 

In many ways, I am a millennial. I remember the thrill of falling asleep to a VHS from Blockbuster and the horror of waking up to the news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I’m older than Google and Billie Eilish, and am a sucker for millennial pink

But as Gen Z is taking form beyond petulant middle schoolers — and who isn’t horrible in middle school? — I find myself hoping to embrace that Gen Z identity I once avoided. Gen Z is a generation not letting itself be defined by events — from school shootings to leaders with authoritarian tendencies to our current catastrophic cocktail of global pandemic, economic recession and racial strife — but instead by their response to those events.

The answer isn’t more selfies, but instead to be more inspired to speak up.

From the high schoolers in Parkland and beyond, this generation has been the most outspoken about the need for gun control. Teens across the country have been at the forefront of today’s civil rights movement, organizing and demanding change. OZY has reported that 70 percent of Gen Zers believe their lives need to make a difference in the world and 65 percent say it’s important for companies to take a stand on social issues. This is a generation that won’t settle for the status quo and is willing to fight for what they believe — that’s a generation I want to be identified with. 

Now I can see those Gen Z qualities shining through: my optimism that we can change the problems of our societal status quo to work for a better future. My millennial-defining qualities won’t disappear, so perhaps in ultimate young-person fashion, I reject the notion of one definitive label. I realize the answer isn’t more selfies, but instead to be more inspired to speak up.

Recent data from Pew Research Center shows Gen Z to be the most diverse, educated and forward-thinking generation, as well as the most tech-savvy. Social media has made our generation informed and connected. It’s a tool, not only to bring people together but also to highlight inequities in our system. While I was busy scoffing at duck-faced selfies, my peers were busy figuring out how to change the world. 

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