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Millennials and Racism

Written by Alvin Young

Three weeks ago my friends and I, all men of color in our twenties, took a trip to Davenport Park in New Rochelle, NY. We pulled into the empty parking lot and noticed a white van parked across from us. I remember getting out of the car, looking over to the van, and smiling to the young white man and woman in the front seats. Immediately I saw their glare, their confusion, and what would eventually manifest as their hate for us. After some time at the rocks, we returned to a vandalized car. The words “Fuck Niggers” and graphic images were scrawled on the back window. Flabbergasted and disturbed, I immediately began scrubbing the words off the car. As I stepped back to look at the window, I noticed tears flowing from my brother’s eyes. There it was, in bright pink letters, a stern reminder that as black men in the 21st century, we still have targets on our backs.

The event at Davenport Park made me think about the many contradictions regarding race and discrimination within my generation. Glorified by many as the most tolerant and racially progressive generation, research shows that many millennials have surprisingly reactionary beliefs on racism. For instance, in an article on millennials, the polled data shows that 51% of surveyed white millennials reported that if blacks would work harder they would be as well off as whites. Moreover, the poll reported that 43% of millennials maintain that blacks are less intelligent than whites. As I continued to research additional data on millennials and racism, it became clear to me that my experience at Davenport Park should come as no surprise. There is a major paradox within my generation when millennials are believed to be tolerant and colorblind yet in a MTV poll, 70% of surveyed white millennials believe that historical inequalities of blacks should be disregarded and persisting inequalities are due to black weaknesses. In the park, our peers aggressively attack us with little regard to possible ramifications. Our encounter shows that in absence of lynching and state sanctioned racism, millennials can still act in ways that are overtly racist.

Soon, I began to connect the data to recent events in Baltimore, Ferguson (where Mike Brown was murdered by a 28yr old police officer Darren Wilson), and other cities in the U.S. where militarized police forces occupy communities of color, and to the video of millennials of Sigma Alpha Epsilon chanting their toxic disapproval towards blacks joining their fraternity. Millennials are predicted to make up over 75 percent of the work force by 2025 and will comprise one out of three adult Americans. It then becomes important for us to address racism and discrimination in our generation if we truly wish to address the welfare of our communities. It is difficult to create a racially progressive society when institutions (like the criminal justice system), networks of people (like fraternities), and individuals (like the people who vandalized my friend’s car) continue to dehumanize black lives. 

While the MTV poll reveals that 38% of surveyed millennials think that as they get older, racism will become less an issue, it becomes clear to me that the issue is not only institutional but instilled in families and communities. Blacks are continuously depicted as law breakers instead of protestors, animals instead of residents, and some millennials have revealed their intolerance by carrying out racists acts while they still believe themselves not to be racist.

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