Jamelle Bouie, a writer at Slate, wrote a piece yesterday which shows that young people have more sensible views on race and racism than their forebearers. Bouie’s work also gave me hope that millenials–those born from the about the mid-1980s to the early 2000s–will be the generation that finally casts aside pernicious identity politics and focuses on solving social problems in this country. The end of racial hucksterism and grievance peddling would be glorious indeed. But Bouie writes for Slate, an outfit which regularly peddles racial grievances. So to him, such dramatic improvements are actually a bad thing.
Bouie’s piece, “Why Do Millenials Not Understand Racism?,” looks at data from a nationally representative poll commissioned by the cable network MTV, whose programming caters to the young. Drawn from a sample of people ages 14 to 24, the poll aimed to measure how millenials are affected by and perceive bias. The poll confirms that young people are more tolerant than previous generations. So far, so good. Some key stats cited by Bouie: “Seventy-three percent believe that ‘never considering race would improve society,’ and 90 percent say that ‘everyone should be treated the same regardless of race.'” Also, 91 percent of respondents believe in racial equality, 84 percent say their families taught them to treat everyone the same, and 89 percent believe everyone should be treated as equals. Oh, and 62 percent believe that having a black president shows the minorities have the same opportunities as whites.
If these sound like positive developments to you, I’m with you. But what distresses Bouie is that young people are not interested in continuing outmoded and harmful policies of affirmative action. Per Bouie, “88 percent believe racial preferences are unfair as a matter of course, and 70 percent believe they are unfair regardless of ‘historical inequalities.'” The horror! And what’s worse, Bouie points out that only 37 percent of respondents say that they were raised in families that talk about race. It is lost on him that this seems to be because young people, more than any other generation, are coming to believe the creed of the American Founders that “all men are created equal.”
In fact, this belief in racial equality runs so deep that it cuts across races. From Bouie’s piece:
It’s no surprise, then, that most millennials aspire to “colorblindness.” Sixty-eight percent say “focusing on race prevents society from becoming colorblind.” As such, millennials are hostile to race-based affirmative action: Interestingly, the difference between whites and people of color is nonexistent on the first question and small (74 percent versus 65 percent) on the second. But this might look different if you disaggregated “people of color” by race. There’s a chance that black millennials are more friendly to affirmative action than their Latino or Asian peers.
In other words, you’d have to resort to statistical gymnastics to make it look like young people still support racial pandering. Instead of celebrating these great strides towards a society based in equality, Bouie whimpers:
From these results, it’s clear that—like most Americans—millennials see racism as a matter of different treatment, justified by race, that you solve by removing race from the equation. If we ignore skin color in our decisions, then there can’t be racism.
Yes, most Americans do share the belief that if decisions aren’t made on the basis of racism, they are not racist! But Bouie is a progressive, committed to progressing away from common sense. So he instead draws the conclusion that millenials don’t understand racism. The key, not surprisingly, is that for something to be truly racist, it must benefit white people:
The problem is that racism isn’t reducible to “different treatment.” Since if it is, measures to ameliorate racial inequality—like the Voting Rights Act—would be as “racist” as the policies that necessitated them. No, racism is better understood as white supremacy—anything that furthers a broad hierarchy of racist inequity, where whites possess the greatest share of power, respect, and resources, and blacks the least.
Got that? True racism can only come from white people, and the solution is affirmative action, not treating all people equally regardless of race. While most of us probably find Bouie’s conclusions outlandish, his views have at least one high profile supporter. The recent Supreme Court case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action dealt a blow to race-based admissions at the University of Michigan. Justice Sotomayor wrote a logically contorted dissent in which she effectively argued that the only way to rectify inequality is by perpetuating unequal treatment.
The good news is that if these statistics hold true, regressive views like Bouie’s and Sotomayor’s are dying on the vine. What Bouie is really worried about is not that young people don’t understand racism. They have been fed a steady diet of racism awareness in schools and via outlets like MTV. No, the real concern is that the days of the professional grievance industry are numbered. Heaven forbid we should stop focusing on issues of racial difference and start focusing on a common identity as Americans.
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