The Future is Gen-Z Stuff

Cam Wade
10 min readMay 24, 2023
White man in a blue coat holding a Snoopy plushie
photo taken by author

The future’s Gen-Z stuff, but most people don’t want to hear that. The future is something we want to participate in. Futurity both scares/delights us. In fact, we embrace it at all. The good, the terrible, the ugly, and the bad.

Conservatives in some states even talked about raising the voting age after seeing that Gen-Z might start turning the tide. Names like Greta Thungberg, Maxwell Frost, Kyle RittenHouse, or even Daniel Penny. We’re equal parts good and bad. Optimistic/Pessimistic. Utopian striving/dystopian diving. I won’t pretend the entirety of my generation is unproblematic. That’s a wild claim, especially with the last two names dotting that list.

I don’t think I’m some kind of revolutionary, and neither do any of the Gen-Z homies of my own think that. We’re just real people, doing real shit, trying to survive in a fucked of world of growing White nationalism, unregulated monopoly capitalism, and global ecocide. These conversations and stories lead me to think about my own orientation towards the future.

What are things going to look like?

Where will we live?

What will we eat?

Is there something better on the other side of things?

I’d like to think that there is. These conversations oscillate between a great hope for the future and also major disappointment about how things end up. It’s in this contradiction we learn to find our way forward.

Baby Blues

image of a beach with heavy tints of blue
photo taken by author

Tommy and I gaze at the patterns on the water. They cut the sand like paper mache, minerals building and bubbling beneath our feet. It’s my last summer in the Coastlands, and things feel oddly apocalyptic. Sure, there are people running around everywhere. Laughter high from the euphoria of feeling, seeing, and bathing in that summer glow.

“You know, I’m gonna miss you, like a lot,” I say to him. My little brother’s eyes lock with mine.

“How could you not, I’m me?”

I roll my eyes. He’s a dumbass and know it all. Make no question about it. He’s the first to cause a ruckus, the first to bring chaos in every direction he turns. He’s hard to keep track of. It almost makes me feel like a bad brother. He even said that to me once one day after work.

After breaking our backs guiding and caring for children at the same summer camp we both used to be campers at, he finally tells me “You’re not a role model.”

“Excuse me? What the fuck does that even mean?”

“Like, I think you’re a good brother. You know, you’re Black and gay, and that’s pretty cool. We’re just a lot different, but I love you. You do inspiring things.”

It caught me off guard. He really thinks I’m inspiring. Maybe I did some good after all with all this time, even if he’s not my biological brother.

I put my arm around him and give him a squeeze. He’s my chaotic brother and a dumbass all the same. But he inspires me just as much as I inspire him. 18-years old, and not knowing anything about how the world works. I’m only 23 though, how much could I really know much more than him?

I let go and see that goofy smile.

“Let’s go walk the pier. One more time, yeah?” he asks.

I nod.

“Let’s go.”

I worry about him because he’s my little brother. But, I know he’ll take them all by storm. Millennials and Gen-X, I hope you’re ready. My little brother’s my favorite wild card.

A World of Pages

Shot of a bookcase with a wide range of cover designs and books.
photo taken by author

Nia loves the feel of a book. Any genre, any flavor, my good sis devours it whole. I haven’t met a more voracious reader than her. Turning novels like Loilita and Crime and Punishment into bench-warming work. Just like books, she knows how to read people.

Her brown eyes calculate every moving detail, pattern, eye roll, hand gesture etc. Nothing escapes from outside the sight of her vision. Nothing except a call for the future.

Grey skies and trickling rain while she and I seclude ourselves having a library date. Even with nothing going for the school year anymore, we love to get together and discuss. But something felt off today. The Combahee River Collective manifesto’s pulled up on her Macbook, but I can tell she’s just staring through the screen.

“Do you think about why it matters?” she blurts out.

“Why what matters?”

“Exactly, why does anything matter?”

She starts pacing around the room.

“You good?”

“Honestly, I’m not. We’re literally living in Hell.”

How could I not know what she was talking about? This year has been shit for all of us. Fascists like Ron Densatis get bolder everyday, while rights and protections are stripped from Black people, queer people, and working-class Floridians. White supremacists like him and Tucker Carlson don’t care about people like us. People that get grouped under the ‘undesirables.” That’s what happens when you orchestrate all out cultural warfare against marginalized populations.

She starts going off about school. Starts going off about the conditions of our life. Anyone else would dare to call her sensitive. What’s so sensitive about wanting to understand how to survive in the world? What’s so soft about not wanting to die? Why are we lazy for giving up when the world has made it clear that there is no space for people like us?

Dinnertime Shenanigans

living room deocrated with multi-color christmas lights
photo taken by author

I’m leaving for the Midwest , and my fraternity brother Dustin treats me to dinner at his place. It’s something I have always loved about him. He wasn’t a stereotypical frat douche bag. He understands the importance of things considered “women’s work” like cooking, cleaning, and childcare/education. Even when others would scoff at me for having been a camp counselor or hating my more holistic and empathetic approach to pledge education, Dustin has always stood by my side.

The rice and collard greens dance along my nose. I asked if I could help, but he just tells me to sit down and enjoy being the princess I am.

“How’s the new job?” I ask him.

“I’m satisfied. It could be worse.”

He’s been working for the government, but can’t tell me about everything he does. Says they have to keep things top secret. I don’t blame him though. I wouldn’t want to piss off the Federal Government.

“I miss being a menace to society with you, Dustin.”

“Yeah, menace to the chapter. Menace to society. Menace to everything. Something to do with our ontology, right?”

I burst out laughing like a fucking hyena. Which he makes fun of me for. Laughing and bawling, and exploding with emotions.

“Some things don’t change, do they?” Dustin says. And he’s right because some things don’t. He’s still miserable, and I’m still depressed. Even as pledge brothers, we weren’t really happy with the state of things. Sophomores in college, and we had already lost that freshman glimmer that made everything seem so positive and brought about the world. Now, he’s working a big boy job, I’m headed off to grad school, and shit still doesn’t seem better.

“You know what I think about sometimes?” he says to me.

“What?”

“Bro, at some point, it’s all gonna end, and I look forward to that.” I give him a weak smile. I know he means it. I mean it too. It’s all gonna end at some point, and why bother caring about a future that seems fucked up from the start.

I wish we could take flight. Just me and my sweet brother on a journey to another place, another time. I wish we could go back to bumping G–Eazy and J Cole along I-75. I wish we could roll up on Buccee’s getting our “beaver” jerky and sugary slushies. I wish Waffle House was only five minutes away, not 600 miles. I wish for so many things soaring back to our grueling utopia. Grueling because being a member and leader of a fraternity was never easy, but utopic because I truly felt like the sky was the limit around him.

He puts my plate down in front of me, and we eat. The flavors hit like a fourth of July special. He’s truly a wizard when it comes to things like this.

I think about what he said some more.

Some things don’t change.

It really feels that way, doesn’t it?

Summertime Sadness

shot of two men riding jetskis on a lake
photo taken by author

We’re soaring. The water’s whipping at my heels. It’s like something I’ve never felt before.

My grandlittle always talked about how fun it could be. I feel like a real-life superhero, even if we’re just on the jetski. Summertime on the southern coast done just right. Last night, when I got there, he told me he would miss me. Miss me and our whole fraternity line. Things haven’t been the same since I graduated, and I know they won’t be again. These are growing pains.

The skies start shifting purple, and we realize it’s time to start heading back. When we get back on land and he docks the boat, I ask him.

“Are upset with me?”

“What–No! Why would I be?”

That’s true. He wouldn’t have a real reason to be mad at me. I just feel that he should. Even if none of it is my fault. I feel like there’s something I’m not doing. I’m a nourisher, a maternal figure, and yet somehow I don’t feel that my motheing is enough anymore. Maybe it was never enough. Maybe I can’t fix everything. Maybe I’m just a broken maternal.

“I love you, Gage.”

The Future Is Black

photo of three Black people smiling at the camera and embracing each other
photo of the author and two of their friends

Tia dust the ashes from the blunt and lets out a smokescreen. I feel myself lost in the trance of her sativa. It’s a screenshot from history. A cinematic moment that I never want to forget.

I told her about my general unease about life. After all, I had seen her struggle before like most Black woman have to with the racist superstructure that overdetermines people like her as useless. As best reserved for stagnant wages and exploitative, feminized care. She’s a dreamer though. A dreamer, a fighter, a marooner, a guerilla intellectual, a Black feminist theorist. Her theory is my light post, my blueprint.

Terror, violence, and the afterlife of slavery dances around us like demons dammed to hell with no ice water. Almost as if the Black moves through the world as the living dead. She convinces me of a different path though because that’s all we have. That’s all we can hope for. She’s see her utopian visions realized in the likes of Ice Spice, GloRilla, Meg Thee Stallion.

“You know how I feel,” she says to me. “They’re literal baddies. True vernacular intellectuals.”

I wouldn’t say she sees them as her prophets. After all, can lyrics like “you thought I was feeling you? That nigga a munch,” save the world?

–Hardly. And I don’t even think Tia thinks that herself. But she’s dreaming of the vision of a new place that could come. A utopia that hasn’t yet been realized, but can be strived for on the horizons of time.

Time for Black captives is stolen through enslavement/incarreration , care-taking, and all out genocide. Forever locked out of humane logics of equality, rights bearing subjects, and familial relationships that can be recognized by the State. Time freezes the Black captive, so that she can’t take flight. She’s forever locked on the medical plantation that is premature death via maternal mortality and the expirementing of Black female flesh to help create cures for other people’s cancers or upholding the tenets of gynecology.

“Feeling is knowing is thinking is doing is being,” Tia blurts out. She ashes the blunt once more, then passes it to me.

“Chile, what you mean?

“Feeling is knowing is thinking is doing is being,” she responds again.

I realize she’s not dodging my question. She answered it perfectly. Like our foremothers Audre Lorde and bell hooks, Tia sees the point of joy, euphoria, and imagination for a utopian future. She knows a political program that doesn’t think through conditions of care, affect, and violence will result in serial policy failure and mass death, just like capitalism has wrought us. Tia embodies the personal is political is structural. Her love for Ice Spice and Meg makes sense is a world where Black girls are shamed for their “fast-ways” and made to embody the lack that White men, woman, and Black man fail to live up to.

“Those are my home girls. They’re a huge part of my story as Gen-Z. People hating on them makes me want to go even harder for them. It makes me love them more.”

She loves them more because she knows the world hates Black people, but especially Black girls and women. Those demarcated as Black and feminized are thrown away like building blocks to build White utopia. Tia’s radical utopia rejects that. She moves through the world as she does because she demands something different.

And I know I should too.

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