My kids are both unquestionably Millennials, not only in age, but in attitude. This is both a good and a bad thing. It is bad in that they think that “Starbucks” is one of the five food groups. Good, though, in that that chastise me when I get my own Starbucks in a disposable cup. Good in that they are more likely to “swipe right” based on how cute the cat is that is being held in the profile picture than on how closely the cat holder’s skin tone matches their own. Bad in that they are swiping at all. But really, the thing that most defines them as true Millennials is that there are drawers and drawers in my house that are absolutely full of participation trophies. Or rather, participation medals, since medals were the compromise we somehow reached between the space-hogging (and expensive) trophies of legend and the flimsy green “Participant” ribbons of our own youth. Yes, my children are of the generation that perfected getting a prize just for showing up. Or rather, as they were only children then, they are of the generation that had the practice perfected upon them.

They are the generation sneeringly referred to as “Snowflakes”—the kids who supposedly have been conditioned from birth to melt at the first sign of adversity. The ones who are derided for wanting all of the spoils of victory without doing any of the actual fighting. And yet, ironically, as the events of the last few weeks have shown, they are not the ones who truly deserve that title. They are not the ones who are holding the Ultimate Participation Trophy. Because they are not the ones marching through the streets carrying torches.

If Charlottesville has taught us anything, it has taught us that white privilege is the ultimate participation trophy. And the people who refuse to acknowledge this truly are the ultimate snowflakes. Or rather, as one internet meme but it, the “broflakes.”

Think about it: the very definition of privilege is receiving benefits for something that you did not earn. It’s getting into a school because your father went there. It’s getting the chance to rifle through your glove box looking for your car registration unharmed because your age and/or gender is considered “unthreatening.” It’s even something as simple as getting to be first in line because your last name starts with the letter “A.”

There’s nothing wrong with having privilege. And there’s nothing wrong with resenting people who have privileges you don’t. (Yeah, that’s right all of you Andersons out there—as a Wilson, I resent the hell out of your privilege.) And, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your privilege. After all, who among us doesn’t enjoy finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk? Unearned, undeserved, but still, it feels like a triumph. Like, for once, everything is coming up you.

Here’s the thing, though: what do you do with that unearned twenty? Do you look around to see if someone else is looking for it, or do you slyly pocket it? Or, if you already have a wallet full of twenties, do you give it to the next needy person you see? What you do with that unearned twenty (or your privilege) defines you. The Charlottesville nazis? Pocketers, every last one of them. Worse, pocketers who, as soon as that twenty was safely tucked into their wallets, rewrote the story in their own heads so that they had somehow earned it. “I was the only person smart enough to look down at that moment, so…”

I’m not saying that Millennials are perfect. I’m not even saying that there aren’t plenty of pocketers among their own ranks. But it seems to me that they have learned at least one very important lesson that the rest of us still seem to be a little bit behind on: if you’re going to hand out medals to everyone just for showing up, then you had better make sure you have enough medals to go around. Even if you have to pull a few out of your own drawers to do it.

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  1. Mary Swersey

    Dear Kelly,
    I had an ultimate lesson about “pocketing.” When I lived in the poorest country in upstate New York (and was pretty poor myself), I found $100 on the sidewalk outside a hardware store. I took it in and left it with the manager, saying that, if someone came in and said they had lost $100 there that day, they should give it to that someone. If not, call me in a week and I’d come and claim it. They called me and said no one had claimed it but, by the time I got there, it had disappeared. That was an interesting lesson in honesty. And that at a time when I was trying to keep my mother in her home by paying for a 24/7 live-in nurse, trying to keep healthy in spite of no health insurance and kidney stones, breast cancer, etc., and trying to keep my kids in college, to which they had scholarships but needed clothing, food, books, etc. I think the lesson might have backfired. But I have not “pocketed” more than a found quarter since.

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