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The Colorblind Millennial Generation and the Problem With Being Blind to Race

First Posted: Jun 27, 2014 07:28 AM EDT
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Millennials, as a whole, feel that colorblindness is something to strive toward, yet they believe in "celebrating diversity" within their "post-racial" generation. According to research compiled by MTV for a public affairs campaign to address bias, entitled "Look Different," millennials believe they are more tolerant and diverse, profess a deeper commitment to equality and fairness, and are less afflicted with "different treatment" than previous generations. However, some of the beliefs communicated in the research are sorely optimistic, and the findings reveal that millennials are committed to a standard of colorblindness that's so precarious that it leaves them uncomfortable with race, unable to take measures to reduce racial inequality, and can even leave them confused about what racism is.

Ninety-one percent of respondents "believe in equality," 84 percent said their families taught them to treat everyone the same, and 89 percent said they believed everyone should be treated as equals. Yet, only 37 percent of respondents (30 percent white and 46 percent non-white) stated that they were raised in families that talked about race. The absence of race-related conversation in early life grows to a decided ignorance in the adulthoods of most millennials. Also, the fact that President Barack Obama was elected president convinced 62 percent of the millennial population that minorities were are afforded the same opportunities as whites, and nearly the same percentage believed that race is not a "barrier to accomplishments," nullifying the need for a conversation.

Seventy-three percent believe that we should talk "more openly" about bias, but only 20 percent say they're comfortable doing so. Many young people are afraid to ask real questions, letting their fear and ignorance steer them through conversations. The lack of questions and conversations about race has prompted half (48 percent) of white millennials to believe that they face the same discrimination as non-whites, and that they are disadvantaged by their race. White millennials believe this even though very few revealed that they felt excluded because of race (10 percent) or been hurt by a racial offense (25 percent). In the interest of limiting race-related maltreatment or prejudice, 73 percent of respondents stated that they believed that "never considering race would improve society," and 90 percent stated that everyone should be treated the same regardless of race."

The problem with the colorblind racial ideology as it relates to millennials is that they believe that racism can be solved by removing race from the equation. The sole issue with racism isn't just "different treatment." Racism is a hierarchy of racial injustice, where white Americans possess the greatest share of power, wealth, respect and resources, and blacks and Latinos have the least. That presence of superiority obscured by a focus on race is itself racism; in fact, racism is simply unequal treatment rooted in unequal conditions.

"Millennials have grown up in a world where we talk about race without racism — or don't talk about it at all — and where "skin color" is the explanation for racial inequality, as if ghettos are ghettos because they are black, and not because they were created." said Jamelle Bouie in Slate.

Racism isn't a failure to invite blacks or Latinos to "the party;" racism is a reluctant invitation without giving directions, or the means to get there, or the means to afford the entrance fee or the food or the drinks there. Racism is (if they manage to make it to the party after overcoming all of those obstacles) making them feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable, or tokenizing them. Racism is wage gaps, educational gaps, housing discrimination, detention centers filled with migrant children, racial privilege, institutionalized discrimination based on a person's name, uninvestigated deaths and disappearances in low-income communities, exoticism and objectification and racially-themed parties and mascots.

"If you subscribe to a colorblind racial ideology, you don't think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist," said Brendesha Tynes, a professor of Educational Psychology at USC University of Southern California, who once led an experierent where she documented millennials' reactions to racially-themed parties. "You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You're also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multicultural competence."

Colorblind racial attitudes play a role in the condoning of racial images and behaviors, particularly as the digital age inspires more anonymity on social networking sites, contributing to direct and indirect racism. While the colorblind generation's ambitions are charming, removing race without addressing practices and policies based on race or racism is futile. Conversations about fairness, equality, privilege and discrimination with a special emphasis on race must take place, not be neglected, otherwise there will be no progress.

Peers have to teach one another about structural racism, about how race still shapes lives and how the media informs attitudes toward race.

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