First popularized as a response to a video on Tik Tok of a man blasting millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997-2012), then as its own sound on Tik Tok which led to a whole song, then to merch, and an internet and generational wide meme- “Ok Boomer” has become the rallying cry of millennials and gen Z. It’s fitting the phrase emerged from an area created and ruled by the two youngest generations, but not everyone is happy about it…
A number of Baby Boomers (born from 1946-64) have had their critiques of millennials and gen Z ever since they started to see what they perceived as “flaws” with the youth and unanimously thought everything was better “back in their day.” “Ok Boomer” has become our generation’s way of saying, “just stop,” “you’re ridiculous,” and “you don’t know what you’re talking about but won’t listen if I try to explain.” The phrase is used similar to the way youth took to the streets to protest during the 60’s instead of attempting to argue with older generations about issues that mattered to them like the Vietnam war and equality.
It’s become a way for millennials and gen Z to express their frustration with older generations over issues that they either ignore, don’t care about, or have an outdated self-righteous opinion about such as climate change, inequality, healthcare, college tuition and student debt, government, and more. However, many baby boomers are far from laughing about the newest meme, and I honestly find the irony in it hilarious.
They’re the generation that branded the term “snowflake,” (the word’s new use has been credited to baby boomer author Chuck Palahnuik in his novel Fight Club) using it to say that younger generations are supposedly way too sensitive, offended by everything, and need their safe spaces. But they’re the ones starting to sound pretty snowflake-like with many taking up arms complaining that it is “hurtful,” “offensive,” and some going so far to say that it’s even a slur (which is completely ridiculous and demeaning to communities that still face abuse from harmful slurs). I think it’s absolutely hilarious to see a generation that has blasted us for so long about our sensitivity and “censorship” be buckled by a phrase that is just giving them the verbal equivalent of an eyeroll.
Some employers are even beginning to ban the phrase in the workplace. According to an article by Suzanne Lucas for Inc. magazine says that employers claim the phrase violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) that protects employees over 40 in the workplace from discrimination. But it doesn’t protect those under 40 from
discrimination from older co-workers (While there’s no federal law protecting employees under 40, there could be state laws that do so depending on where you live). So when bombarded by insults like “snowflake” and “generation selfie,” or jokes about avocado toast, millennials in the workforce (and gen Z when they soon beginning to enter) are not protected under the act until they turn 40. Personally, I don’t see a saying like “Ok Boomer” or “snowflake” as discrimination in the first place and should not be as a fireable offense. Both are just a way of people calling out what they believe to be undesirable qualities.
“Ok Boomer” is a way of calling out people on outdated, problematic, or offensive behaviors, so wouldn’t that possibly help them realize that what they say or how they act is destructive to their workplace relationships? If they weren’t offended by it so easily and maybe opened their minds a little, they could use it as a sort of vibe check to try and correct their behavior and allow themselves to be educated.
global impact and has worked its way into schools, homes, and even government. In New Zealand, a Member of Parliament, 25 year old Chloe Swarbrick, was giving a presentation supporting a climate change bill when an older MP began heckling her. She notices and very quickly shut it down by just firing back with “Ok boomer.” A clip of the interaction went viral, further pushing the discussion about the phrase’s use in professional environments.
With the holidays coming up, a political climate strongly divided by generational lines, and “Ok boomer at the height of its popularity, there’s a perfect storm in the making for some tension around the dinner table. But what I’ve realized recently is that we don’t necessarily need to be petty and have the best “Thanksgiving clapbacks.” What we need is more empathy across generational lines. Both younger and older generations need to recognize that they’ve both had their huge struggles and will continue to face struggles. The Boomers had to deal with the Vietnam and Cold Wars and segregation, while millennials and gen Z are facing daunting student debt, minimum wage that isn’t a livable wage, and climate change. Both have ideas on what this country should look like and when it boils down to it, they might be more similar than you’d think.
I’m not saying that if someone older is being racists, homophobic, misogynistic, or transphobic that a well placed “Ok Boomer” wouldn’t be satisfying and well deserved. I think that anyone, regardless of age deserves to be called out on beliefs that fit those categories. But the best thing to do would be, instead of being aggressive when calling them out, maybe try to gently tell them that mindset or comment is offensive to people. Make sure to let them know you’re not saying they’re a racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic person in general, but what they said was. Then you have a better foundation to educate them or exchange beliefs in a civilized way. No yelling match required.
I don’t think the new phrase will go away anytime soon, but we as the younger generation need to use it wisely. Using it in a way to either express frustration, shut down an argument, or use it to incite conversation. But the next time an older person tries to put “kids today” on blast or criticize the beliefs or passions of younger generations, try to have empathy and start a conversation… but don’t forget the newest tool on our belts, and if the conversation starts to seem pointless, don’t be afraid to hit them with the “Ok Boomer”.
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