Posted on July 25, 2008

Gen Y and the Colorblind Lie

Saaret E. Yoseph, The Root, July 22, 2008


“Why,” he had to wonder, “can’t I say the word ‘nigga’?”

Before you judge, consider the confusion, the people and the times. He, the semi-down white boy and me, the weary black chick restricting language deemed suitable by the three other black folks in the room. We are both products of our generation—Generation Y.

The situation was definitely awkward. Yet, the fact that the two of us, from different cultural backgrounds, were even interacting would likely be seen as a triumph by our elders, especially those who struggled to make it happen. Casual chit-chat between a young black woman and her white male counterpart might have been the gleam in King’s eye as he conceived his “I Have a Dream” speech, and it was probably the distant hope of Thurgood Marshall as he argued Brown v. Board of Education. {snip}

Let’s get one thing straight: Race is a socially created concept, and since its inception it has been a socially fed nuisance, to say the least. It sprang to life and run amok. Lyrics, lawsuits, lynchings, boycotts, bombings, preferential treatment, superiority complexes, inferiority complexes and inhumane acts based solely on skin tone and misconceptions.

Millennials like myself are often steeped just as deep in the troubles of race as generations before us. This isn’t to say that advancements haven’t been made. Civil rights, career options for minorities and intercultural dynamics have no doubt improved in America since my parents’ day. But progress in regard to race is not linear—it never has been and never will be. Every generation has different ways of dealing with the rainbow-colored elephant in the room; influenced, no doubt, by previous eras, but distinct in its own right.

We Gen Y’ers, born between 1978-1997, handle race with our own brand of complexity. {snip} Famed news anchor Tom Brokaw [says] that today’s youth, unlike their parents’ generation, are simply not bothered by race; that, by and large, youngsters are “colorblind.” He echoed these remarks the next morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, mentioning encounters he had with parents—across party lines—who told him that their children “don’t see skin color.”


Somebody needs to get the facts straight. I’m sorry to break it to Mr. Brokaw and to all others above my age bracket, but my peers and I are by no means colorblind.

What may be fueling this concept of the raceless Millennials is the extent to which we’re intermixing. There are more interracial couples, more biracial children and an expansion of the definitions of ethnicity, but all of that has done little to help us understand each other better. {snip}


{snip} Gen Y’ers often deal with race in an overt, in-your-face manner through jokes, stereotypical references and cultural tourism. {snip}

Note: Knowing every line of a Lil’ Wayne song does not mean you know the black experience. The black experience cannot be defined one-dimensionally, especially not in the lyrics of a single track. Neither can the Latino experience, or the Asian experience or the white experience. Yet, somehow my peers and I feel more comfortable skimming the surface rather than sitting down for an honest discussion about race.


Considering all that you went through, how can you expect so much from Gen Y? You ask us to look beyond skin while demanding, again and again, that we check boxes to define our identity. You emphasize diversity and allow our classrooms to be monochromatic. You’ve told us to hold hands and love each other’s differences, but we grew up watching you draw lines and hold up picket signs (think O.J Simpson, Rodney King, The Bell Curve controversy, etc.). Understandably, our wires have gotten crossed.


Yes, white kids listen to hip-hop and black boys rock Polo shirts, but race has not yet reached the point of being a non-issue. The elephant is still very much in the room. It certainly was for me when I made a request to ban one boy from simply speaking his mind. N-bomb notwithstanding, I understand his position and can only hope he understands mine. . . .

So, please {snip} stop dubbing us as the colorblind generation. We see race. We may reference it more without truly understanding it. We may color outside the lines. But we do see. Our eyes are open, and our vision is clear. It’s us that is blurry.