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Don’t Call Them “Post-Racial.” Millennials Say Race Matters to Them [in the US]

Illustration/Stokely Baksh

Tuesday, June 7 2011, 10:05 AM EST. Source: Color Lines

 

Editor’s note: This essay is the first in a three-part Colorlines series based on a series of focus groups conducted earlier this year by our publisher, the Applied Research Center. Part two will explore the language young people use to discuss racism and part three will highlight innovators working to help young people organize around structural racism. You can download the full findings of the focus groups at ARC.org.

“I think that’s a big fat lie,” responded Jose, 20, when asked the question so many people want to know about his future: whether the fact that his generation elected the first black president means America is, finally, over race. He’s a young Latino man of Mexican descent who works multiple part-time jobs, including painting cars, being a security guard, and doing construction. “It’s been a thousand years that racism has been going on, up ‘til this date,” Jose said. “It’s still a whole bunch of things going on.”

Andy, a 19-year old white community college student, was more blunt still. “That’s a load of crap. There are still racists everywhere,” he scoffed. “[It] can still hold you down, and make you less successful. And impact your life.”

Jose and Andy are members of what sociologists and journalists have dubbed the Millennial generation. The parlor game of naming and identifying themes for every crop of Americans can be inane, but there’s no denying that people are a product of their times—and, in turn, that each generation collectively gives birth to a new cultural, political and economic ethos. Children of the Depression intuitively grasp sustainability and saving. Baby Boomers can’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Generation X took its own revolution online. And the young people born after 1980 have been correctly recognized as the largest, most racially and ethnically diverse generation the United States has ever known.

The Millennials have already helped usher in two massive, irreversible changes in the 21st century: the election of the first nonwhite president and the news, as of the 2010 Census, that America is just a generation and a half away from being a majority nonwhite nation. As a result of these tectonic shifts, everybody wants to know what young people think about the country’s maddeningly perennial problem: race.

Or, more accurately, everyone wants to declare what young people think about race. Too many journalists, political commentators, and even researchers have taken the established fact of increased racial tolerance among today’s youth and hastily labeled them “post-racial.” The conclusion fits neatly with the mainstream political narrative of the Obama era—that race and racism are no longer significant barriers to success in our nation. Mass market publications have outdone one another with trend stories suggesting that Millennials’ comfort with diversity—whether in identifying as multiracial or dating outside of their race—is proof of that equity.

At the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, we found this narrative a bit too tidy. So we decided to do something that needs to happen more often: Actually ask young people what they think about race and racial equity in their lives and their futures. We conducted more than a dozen in-depth focus group discussions in the Los Angeles area with 80 young people like Andy and Jose, ages 18 to 25. We will be expanding the research to additional cities later this year, but so far, two themes emerged clearly from these conversations.

 

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Source: Color Lines, News for Action

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