“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,” Andy 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. These young people, born after 1980, have been correctly recognized as the largest, most racially and ethnically diverse generation the United States has ever known. Many journalists, political commentators, and even researchers have taken the established fact of increased racial tolerance among them 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.
The Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found this narrative a bit too tidy. So Research Director Dom Apollon and his team did something that needs to happen more often: Actually ask young people what they think about race. They 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, on the intersections of race with key systems of society. They found a far more nuanced set of ideas than conventional wisdom has asserted. Download the full findings of the focus groups at ARC.org. Below, Apollon explores the findings in a three-part Colorlines series. Part three will highlight innovative groups working with young people to take action to fight structural racism.
HOW YOUNG PEOPLE THINK, ACT AND TALK ABOUT RACE
Results from focus groups with dozens of multiracial young people show in-depth conservations about race that generate far more nuanced ideas than mainstream polling has suggested. This is the first in a two-part series of essays exploring the focus group’s findings.
Young people of all races struggle to describe the ways in which institutions produce racial disparities. Dom Apollon explains.
Here are five campaigns that are helping Millennials deal with racism as a systemic, rather than individualized problem.
Research director Dom Apollon explains the project and speaks with some of the focus group participants on camera.