Much has been made of this report into the attitudes of millenials on a wide variety of social issues, and it seems to have been coming up again lately. In particular one singular aspect of the survey has been picked up and that is related to race relations. Perhaps this has come from Obama’s Brother’s Keeper initiative or in reaction to the recent Stand Your Ground issues and their relation to race. Whatever the reason, this 2012 survey and report is being much quoted again.
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.”
Given that millenials are notably more progressive on pretty much any issue you care to name, this appears to stand out as an anomaly. Why should millennials attitudes on race be regressive compared to everything else? The survey doesn’t try to figure out why and no commentator that I’ve read as of yet really tries to ask why this should be either. Minority commentators look at it with a sense of disbelief and point to various issues that stand in opposition to the – apparent – millennial view but little or no attempt has been made to understand it, just to express outrage.
I have a few ideas on why this might be and I don’t think it is a blip, I think it is a continuation of the progressive theme. Here’s why:
- Millennials have, apparently, been brought up to see people as people and not to discriminate on these kinds of bases. Positive discrimination or what appears to be unfair division of funds and assistance offends this sensibility and appears racist. Indeed it may well be.
- The economic situation during the Great Depression has lessened or wiped out a lot of the financial/living standards divide between blacks and whites which has previously much more strongly correlated to race for various reasons rooted in history and right wing ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy. The playing field has been greatly levelled and now that more people are at the bottom of the pyramid they’re fighting for scraps and see less reason to target that by race. There’s some legitimacy to this point of view and it is one played up to by the right wing internationally, dividing ‘skivers and strivers’ in the UK, for example, or demonising immigrants.
- The public conversations around political and economic issues have become tiresomely radicalised with the tea party on one hand and the counter-culture response to that on the other ‘a pox on both your houses’ seems like a reasonable response and one that may hold out some hope for a more reasonable future.
I just don’t think this is – or will turn out to be – a regressive step.