Don’t Call Them “Post-Racial”: The Millennial Generation Speaks Out About Race
Editor’s note: This is the executive summary for a new study from the Applied Research Center. Also included are quotes from participants in the study. You can download the full report here.
The “Millennial Generation” (born post-1980, ages 18-30) is the largest, most racially and ethnically diverse generation of individuals the United States has ever known. Unsurprisingly, public opinion surveys provide evidence that young people are more open-minded than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations about inter-racial friendships and relationships.
However, too many journalists, political commentators and even researchers read too much into this inter-racial open-mindedness and label young people today as “post-racial,” either explicitly or implicitly.
Combined with Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, recognition of the national demographic changes we are currently experiencing through millennials has fed into a common narrative in mainstream media that race and racism are no longer significant barriers to success in our nation.
The purpose of this study is to better understand the racial attitudes of millennials, and the study’s results challenge the labeling of young people as post-racial. The Applied Research Center (ARC) conducted 16 focus group discussions in Los Angeles on the intersections of race and racism with key systems of society: criminal justice, housing, public schools, employment, healthcare and immigration. The participants were 18-25 years old, and each discussion session was divided into four groups: African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, Latinos and whites.
The evidence from these focus group discussions strongly suggests that most young people today believe that race still matters.
- A large majority of millennials assert that race continues to matter. When asked in the abstract if race is still a significant factor, a minority of millennials initially say that they don’t believe race still matters — and some young people clearly believe that money or class matter more than race. But when asked to discuss the impact, or lack thereof, that race and racism have within various systems, a large majority assert that race continues to matter. Our focus group sessions concentrated on the criminal justice system, public school system, employment, healthcare system, housing and the immigration system.
- Millennials are not monolithic. There are differences in how young people of different races and ethnicities view the extent and continued significance of racism in various systems of society. The fact that most millennials believe race still matters should not mask the very real differences of opinion both across and within racial groups about the extent to which they believe race and racism impact outcomes, and in which of society’s major systems. Our study reveals that issues like employment and criminal justice typically garner cross-racial agreement that racism continues to play a significant role, whereas on the topics of education, housing, health and immigration, different races and/or ethnicities emerge as majorities in the “race still matters” camp. Our study also finds that young people of color are more likely to bring up issues of race, access and resources when discussing these systems, while young white millennials are less likely to make connections across systems.
- Like most Americans, the majority of young people have difficulty defining present-day racism when initially asked and typically fall back upon generic terms of interpersonal racism. After an initial stumped silence or stumbling for words that greets a simple question of how to define present-day racism, the most common responses, both oral and written, are generic terms like “discrimination based upon race or color,” “stereotypes,” etc. Most white young people think about racism as something intentional and typically as something that occurs between individuals. On the other hand, while many young people of color similarly fall back on generic definitions of interpersonal racism when initially asked, most have little problem labeling an entire system as racist, given their personal and community experiences and the racial patterns of resources they see across systems. Moreover, young people with social or racial justice organizing experience and those who have taken courses in race and ethnicity tend to describe racism in institutional or systemic terms.
Millennials in Their Own Words:
…On Housing Discrimination
I’m taking a class…in a very poor, Black neighborhood. It’s been a great learning experience for me. A classmate of mine worked for a mortgage company and said they are less likely to give someone a loan if they had a last name that was different. Or if they did have an American last name, then they felt more comfortable maybe letting them slide if they didn’t fit one of the other requirements. There are certain ways they can manipulate rules to treat people differently I guess.
–Ed, 24, Filipino-American, part-time student, part-time product developer
…On Race and Class
There’s no way to say, “A + B = C”… It’s, like, super-nasty complicated. And that’s why we keep coming back to this “Is it race, is it class? What is it?” It’s both.
–Pilar, 23, Latina graduate student
…On Criminal Justice
I work in the Marina del Rey, and, yes, they [whites] get pulled over too, but they don’t get approached the same. Not at all. I hear more people cussing out cops than anything that a cop has to say about the individual. “What the f*ck did you pull me over for!?!” And they know…they just did something stupid [with their car]!
–Donnell, 24, African-American, part-time sales rep
Criminal justice [is] definitely [racist]. I mean, just in Arizona they passed that law [SB1070]. How’re they gonna do that? They’re gonna stop you because you look like you don’t belong?
–Sofia, 21, Costa Rican American college student
…On Exceptionalism of President Obama
Well, I think this could be just an edge-case situation where…one time somebody from a minority group is elected. But if you look at Congress, it’s still like 99-percent old white men. I think that once we see more… minorities in all types of government, we can say that race doesn’t have that big of an effect anymore. Because right now we elected one half-black guy. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the long scheme of things.
–Courtney, 19, white college student
I think students don’t have the same opportunity. If you look at segregated high schools — those schools are predominantly Black. There’s, like, probably, like, 1 percent white. And these are not equal opportunities. These schools do not have the same resources, same neighborhood support, and stuff.
–Duc, 19, Vietnamese-American college student
This report was originally published by the Applied Research Center.
A great video summary:
Photo taken by Tina Atamian
Written by Dominique Apollon for the Applied Research Center