The “Millennial Generation” (born post-1980, ages 18-30) is the largest, most racially and ethnically diverse generation of individuals the United States has ever known. Unsurprisingly, public opinion surveys provide evidence that young people are more open-minded than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations about inter-racial friendships and relationships.
However, too many journalists, political commentators and even researchers read too much into this inter-racial open-mindedness and label young people today as “post-racial,” either explicitly or implicitly.
The purpose of this study is to better understand the racial attitudes of millennials, and the study’s results challenge the labeling of young people as post-racial. The Applied Research Center (ARC) conducted 16 focus group discussions in Los Angeles on the intersections of race and racism with key systems of society: criminal justice, housing, public schools, employment, healthcare and immigration. The participants were 18-25 years old, and each discussion session was divided into four groups: African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, Latinos and whites.
The evidence from these focus group discussions strongly suggests that most young people today believe that race still matters.
Like most Americans, the majority of young people have difficulty defining present-day racism when initially asked and typically fall back upon generic terms of interpersonal racism. After an initial stumped silence or stumbling for words that greets a simple question of how to define present-day racism, the most common responses, both oral and written, are generic terms like “discrimination based upon race or color,” “stereotypes,” etc. Most white young people think about racism as something intentional and typically as something that occurs between individuals. On the other hand, while many young people of color similarly fall back on generic definitions of interpersonal racism when initially asked, most have little problem labeling an entire system as racist, given their personal and community experiences and the racial patterns of resources they see across systems. Moreover, young people with social or racial justice organizing experience and those who have taken courses in race and ethnicity tend to describe racism in institutional or systemic terms.