Millennials have long been praised as one of the most racially progressive generations in America’s history, but a closer look at data about the young generation’s views and overall racial bias suggests that white millennials aren’t actually as progressive as many previously thought.
Millennials are the generation that caused #CrimingWhileWhite to trend nationally on Twitter, helped elect the nation’s first Black president, caused a spike in the support of interracial relationships and organized rallies for slain unarmed Black men that generated massive and extremely diverse crowds of protesters.
It seems to paint a portrait of an accepting, loving and progressive group of young white people that have been deemed the “most tolerant generation in history” by the Chicago Tribune’s Ted Gregory.
But despite comforting media headlines that assure the nation that millennials will likely deliver a serious blow to racism once they start taking on positions of power, it seems white millennials are only willing to describe themselves as “racially tolerant”—their actual social, political and economic views and inherent racial biases don’t support their illustrious title.
While nearly all millennials agreed in a Pew study that “everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their race,” a 2012 study by a Syracuse University professor revealed that “white millennials appear to be no less prejudiced than the rest of the white population,” Al Jazeera reported.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that many white millennials didn’t even consider racism to be much of a problem in America anymore, claiming that white people face just as much discrimination as Black people do.
A 2012 poll conducted by MTV revealed nearly 60 percent of white millennials believed discrimination affects white people just as much as it does people of color.
Less than 40 percent of that same group believed white people had “more opportunities than racial minority groups.”
To compare, 65 percent of Black millennials believed people of color had fewer opportunities than their white counterparts.
The MTV poll wasn’t the only study to expose the white millennials’ overly optimistic attitudes about race in America.
A 2014 Pew survey revealed more than 40 percent of white millennials said “a lot” still needed to be done to bring Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality to fruition, while more than 50 percent of millennials of color said the same thing.
The survey also revealed that while only 13 percent of white millennials said Blacks and whites don’t get along “too well/not at all,” about 30 percent of non-white millennials had the same view.
Such studies serve as proof that the white community tends to be extremely disconnected and oblivious to the realities of racism in America and what impact it has on people of color.
But proving a group is naïve about the realities of racism is different than proving a strong racial bias exists. That’s where a study conducted by the nonprofit Project Implicit comes in.
The study used more than 2 million voluntary tests taken from 2000 to 2006 that charted implicit racial bias in the test takers.
For the most part, implicit racial bias changed very little between generations.
What did seem to change was how many people thought racism was a problem, especially after President Barack Obama’s election.
“A representative panel of Americans interviewed immediately before and after the election reveals a roughly 10 percent decline in perceptions of racial discrimination,” Nicholas A. Valentino and Ted Brader wrote in a 2011 study, according to Al Jazeera.
Unfortunately, that decline in the perception of racism seemed related to the rise in “negative opinions of blacks and heightened opposition to both affirmative action and immigration.”
The problem is that when white people believe racism is not plaguing the Black community and robbing them of a vast amount of opportunities, they are then inclined to believed that “persisting inequalities can only be explained by the personal weakness of Blacks,” researchers noted.
With a Black family in the White House, many white people falsely assumed that great progress had been made in the Black community and that it would essentially be possible for any Black individual to find great success as long as they worked hard for it.
It’s clearly a very misconstrued view of racism in America and proves that in order to truly push towards a more racially accepting and progressive country the focus needs to go beyond getting people to feel bad about being racist.
If social media movements, historical elections, socially progressive behaviors and diverse rallies are not accompanied by real changes in the perceptions of racism and the implementation of policies to combat years of oppression against people of color, then one can certainly make a strong argument against just how much progress the so-called “progressive generation” has actually made.