May 9, 2014

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Are Millennials moving us towards a post-racial society?

After that jaw-dropping rant by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, after the deplorable declaration by freeloading Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, we have this pinprick of hope:

After that jaw-dropping rant by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, after the deplorable declaration by freeloading Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, we have this pinprick of hope:

Most young people say they’re colorblind, viewing racial minorities the same as whites, according to a recent survey done for cable network MTV.

MTV reports that a majority of Millennials — teens and young adults from 14 to 24, for purposes of this study — think racism is more of a problem for the generations that came before them than for their own. Not surprisingly, the percentage of whites (73 percent) who believe this is higher than the percentage of non-whites (66 percent) who do. Nevertheless, it hints at optimism, if not exactly candor.

“Millenials are the most diverse generation in history, and it’s inspiring to see how equality and fairness serve as their bedrock values,” said MTV President Stephen Friedman in a prepared statement.

In other words, familiarity seems to engender acceptance or at least ease and tolerance when it comes to those who are different. Surely this can be a collective salve at a time when Sterling was recorded making hateful racial comments and Bundy suggested blacks were better off when they were enslaved.

MTV’s research, which was done earlier this year, also found that 61 percent of white Millenials believe that racism will become less of an issue as their generation moves into leadership positions. Fifty-four percent of nonwhite Millenials agreed.

Does this mean we are evolving, slowly but steadily, into a color-blind society in which equality — in sexual orientation, religious affiliation, ethnicity and gender — is more reality than fantasy?

Yes, yes, yes, I want to shout. My children’s relationships prove that boundaries separating groups have blended and blurred, sometimes disappeared. Their classmates, their friends, their college roommates, the peers they confide in are a motley crew, certainly more diverse than my own limited circle. I often joke that they exemplify a United Colors of Benetton ad, only without the controversy.

But of course, that resounding yes is part hopeful wishing, part ignorant delusion. Millenials do not live in a bubble. They were not surreptitiously inoculated for prejudice along with their MMR vaccines. Hate knows no age, and there are Sterlings and Bundys in every generation.

To believe that racism is receding, that inequality is a form of fiction, that biases are as retro as vinyl records is to excuse ourselves from preaching and working against an insidious scourge. Believing that the work is done, or almost so, allows our own ugly prejudices to slide on through.

Consider this: Half of the surveyed white Millenials say discrimination against whites is now equal to the discrimination against people of color — a belief that MTV’s Friedman admits “can also cloud their perception of historical and institutional inequities.” Such thinking also denies a glaring reality others live every day.

Without the knowledge of history, without the context of experience, Millenials may not recognize that racism has not disappeared. It simply has become more nuanced and less overt. Our neighborhoods continue to be highly segregated, as are our schools. Minorities are consistently underrepresented in media and boardrooms. Voter suppression laws are passed even as they affect certain communities disproportionately. And bigotry blossoms in the growing number of hate groups.

Still, the MTV survey provides hope. Hope that we can overcome our history. Hope that we can be honest with ourselves. Hope that we won’t ignore prejudice, as so many did long before Sterling and Bundy hit the airwaves. Hope that our children will lead the way.

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