The most commonly said thing about the “Millennial” generation is that it’s more diverse and more tolerant than its predecessors. Millennials are more likely to be persons of color, more likely to show acceptance of same-sex relationships and more likely to have diverse social connections. With that said, none of this means that we’re somehow immune to problems of racism, prejudice and privilege.
Indeed, you don’t have to look far for examples of young people acting with an eye toward ignorance. There’s the “ironic racism” of Girls writer Leslie Arfin, the incredible outpouring of hate toward African-American actors in The Hunger Games and the annual stories of kids who throw blackface parties or complain about Asian students for existing.
All of this is lead in for a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, which polled adults aged 18 to 24 on everything from religion and morality to economic issues and the 2012 election. They also posed questions on race and ethnicity: Does government pay too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities? Is “reverse discrimination” a problem in today’s society? Is demographic change a good thing for American society?
The results weren’t heartening. Overall, 46 percent of Millennials agree that the government pays too much attention to the problems of minorities, with 49 percent who disagree. 48 percent also agree that discrimination against whites is a genuine problem. When you disaggregate by race and count only white Millennials, the picture is much worse.
A solid majority of white Millennials, 56 percent, say that government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities. An even larger majority, 58 percent, say that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
The pollsters at PRRI don’t try to tease out what this actually means, and honestly—as an African-American myself—it’s hard to figure out. Discrimination against minorities takes many forms, and most are easy to identify. There’s the overt bigotry of day-to-day life, the subtle discrimination of laws and institutions (the arrest rate for black men, the predatory lending aimed at minority communities) and the miasma of racist ideas that flow through our culture and sit in our subconscious, ready to act.
These things might hinder white Americans in a spiritual sense, but it’s absurd to say that they have a material effect on the prospects of white people. If you are white in the United States, almost everyone in a position of power or influence looks like you. You won’t be questioned if you find yourself in a nice part of town, you won’t be the picture of criminality, and few people will ever question your right to take government help. Cops won’t give you a hard time as a matter of course, and no one will ask you to speak for white people as a whole. Sports fans won’t go apoplectic and shower you with racial slurs because you scored a goal. The list goes on.
A quick note for those of you who will say that all of these things have happened to you. I’m not saying that individual white people are immune to being hassled by the cops, or being followed in a store. What I am saying, however, is that none of that will happen on the basis of your skin color. Being white doesn’t carry a host of negative assumptions. It’s considered neutral. Being black (or Latino) does, and that’s the difference.