Millennials, Activism and Race: A New Study

The Applied Research Center, publisher of, just released a new study entitled “Millennials, Activism, and Race” as a response to a previous study called “Don’t Call Them ‘Post-Racial,’” which aimed to disprove the notion that, since Barack Obama was elected President, race is no longer a barrier to success.

This most recent report intended to give us more information about what drives 18-30 year olds toward work in progressive politics or social justice. The study was conducted through nine focus groups in five cities and is one of the earliest studies to include members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The goal of the study was to find out what makes young activists tick: “why they engage, what they see as barriers to an ideal society and opinions on whether an explicit racial justice lens is essential.” Colorlines reported some of the highlights of the study, and a fascinating disparity between Occupy protesters and other social justice workers:

Politically active, young progressives most often find themselves in the work as a result of family influences. They arenít having grand epiphanies at lectures by prominent people or even recruited heavily by their friends. Their understanding and commitments come from observing or experiencing daily struggle.

People active in Occupy and those active in community organizations are similarly disenchanted with the electoral system. Their frustration was less about the Obama administration than it was about the dysfunctionality of the electoral and legislative systems generally.

All our participants named a dominant doctrine of individualism as a critical barrier to progressive change, but people involved with Occupy had a more explicit critique of capitalism as a system than those involved in other organizations.

Most respondents felt the need to address the racial dimensions of inequality, but they both wanted to include other systems in that analysis, and had few tools with which to bring in race with any combination of other systems like class, gender and sexuality.

As a young activist on the tail-end of the age group studied, I find this report particularly interesting. I, myself, came to activism very slowly. I was always aware of inequalities in the way the world worked, mostly because my mom was very progressive and helped me to shape the way I saw the world, but it wasn’t until I connected with several activist writers online that I began to have any kind of language or tools to explore those inequalities.

Once I was equipped with the language, the lens through which I viewed these inequities — namely feminism — became much stronger. Now, I have to work at not being “that girl” who points out gender inequalities at every social occasion she attends. But, like the participants in this study, I did not have an epiphany that led me to activism; rather, I found I could make a difference within my writing and teaching and started trying to do so.

I was extremely happy to see that the participants of the study not only believed that discussions of race are “key to the success of social movements,” but also that they saw race in conjunction with other lenses such as gender, class, and sexuality. This sort of intersectionality is critical in social activism.

The feminist movement has long been seen as a movement solely for white, middle-class women, for example, so being able to discuss issues of oppression that intersect with feminism — such as race, class, or sexuality — brings more perspectives to the table and helps activists bridge the gap between themselves.

As a teacher, I also found the recommendations for activists who want to work with young people very interesting, mostly because I try to do many of these things in my class. They recommend that we allow young people, especially people of color, to tell their stories. They also want activists to give young people the tools and language they need to start their own activism, as well as encourage students to talk about the forms of oppression they experience.

Furthermore, they encourage introducing young activists to unlikely partners to build many different relationships. This is valuable advice for any activist working with the next generation. If we are to continue fighting the good fight, we’ll need help from those younger than us, and giving them the tools they need early on is essential.


Related Stories:

Don’t Call Them “Post-Racial”: The Millennial Generation Speaks Out About Race

Millennials Promise Brighter Future for Gay Rights

Study Claims Millennials Are Less Green

Photo Credit: PaulSteinJC


Michael M.
Michael T5 years ago


Carolyn B.
Carolyn R5 years ago

Steve R you are one self-deluded goofball. "Racial issues are perpetuated by liberals"? huh? you mean conservatives don't care about racial issues and liberals bring them up, maybe?

Liberals don't care about black on white (etc) racism? Yes we do, you're just not good enough at listening to notice.

Kristen H.
Kristen H5 years ago

I love how the imbeciles in this thread accuse the "liberal" boogeyman of raising the race issues... well duh, since conservatives have their heads up their butts and would rather subjugate everyone not in their immediate circle... what, is blanket snobbery now your excuse and explanation of how you're not racist? Yeah right. Conservatives have been racist forever because they need to have a second class to "rule," in their deluded little minds.

And this article is correct in saying that most of us who are active in politics and activism today are not just speaking out of some "wow" moment epiphany (that means a suddent breakthrough in thought that changes our life view, for those who can't quite reach their dictionary). We are active because of the DAILY STRUGGLES we see all around us.

Those who live in ivory towers should not discount the daily witness of their contemporaries. Just because you turn a blind eye to the suffering you're causing with your insular, exclusive little Good Ol Boys club, doesn't mean the suffering does not exist.

And yes, racism exists. In spades, if you'll pardon the expression. Those who most perpetuate it are those who have blinded themselves the most to the damage their own attitudes, behaviors and commentaries cause in this society. Such as Steve R. and others of his ilk. The white hood might not be hanging in the closet anymore, but the attitudes and behaviors are still in place.

Beth K.
.5 years ago

You called it Mari, I'm not sure Steve R is smart enough to know that he is a racist.

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Michael M.. “did you just forget that Zimmerman was Latino”. I guess I forgot it because Zimmerman has half German American parentage and a German name. I believe the jury is still out on whether he is Latino, so there is some confusion on whether he should be labelled white racist { the big no-no.} Also, the jury is also out [literally] on whether the killing was in cold blood.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Thanks for this article :)

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

Steve R. thats because many times conservatives just say racist shit and are too stupid to see how its racist. The thing that annoys me about white guys (not all white guys, I mean THOSE white guys...) is you seem to always whine and go one with the "what about me?!" mentality. Just shut up, sit back, and let everyone else fix your mess.

Steve R.
Steve R5 years ago

Isn't it strange that racial issues almost always seem to be perpetuated by liberals?

You don't hear conservatives (of any color or creed) harping on about racism ad nauseum!

And of course - you never hear a peep from liberals when the racism is black on white, or black on Latino, or Latino on white, or Latino on black.....

Funny, isn't it?

Kaitlin Carney
Kaitlin Carney5 years ago

As another young person (22 yrs old) I couldn't not be an activist. I was raised so low income, I am on the queer spectrum, and I am female, so if I didn't fight for what is right my whole life, I would be trampeled under by my more privileged peers. For many young people, activism isn't so much of a choice as a necessity. I see myself and others like me being thrown under the bus in this country (and world) and I wonder if I don't do something about it as someone who is deeply affected, then who will?

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the info.