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Dec. 5, 2021

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Millennials about as racist as parents

The Columbian
Published:

WASHINGTON — Racial slurs that have cropped up in chants, e-mails and white boards on America’s college campuses have some people worried about whether the nation’s diverse and fawned-over millennial generation is not as racially tolerant as might be expected. The Christian Science Monitor went so far as to ask, “Are millennials racist?”

Surely not all millennials are racist, but data can address a key related question: Are white millennials less racially prejudiced than past generations?

We took a look at five measures of racial prejudice from the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center’s 2010, 2012 and 2014 waves. Among many other questions, the survey asked respondents to rate whites and blacks on a scale from being “hardworking” to “lazy.” Using this data, we can categorize respondents into whether they rated whites or blacks as being lazier, more hardworking or the same.

When it comes to explicit prejudice against blacks, non-Hispanic white millennials are not much different than whites belonging to Generation X (born 1965-1980) or Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). White millennials (using a definition of being born after 1980) express the least prejudice on four out of five measures in the survey, but only by a matter of 1 to 3 percentage points, not a meaningful difference. On work ethic, 31 percent of millennials rate blacks as lazier than whites, compared to 32 percent of Generation X whites and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers stick out as the more revolutionary generation, at least compared to the Silent Generation that immediately preceded it (and was born before 1946). Boomers are between 8 and 17 points less apt than the Silent Generation to express openly prejudiced views toward blacks, amounting to the greatest shift from one generation to the next. Xers are less prejudiced than Boomers on just one of five measures, interracial marriage.

Beyond generational comparisons, the poll suggests substantial minorities of white millennials hold racial prejudices against blacks. More than 3 in 10 white millennials believe blacks to be lazier or less hardworking than whites, and a similar number say lack of motivation is a reason why they are less financially well off as a group.

Just less than a quarter believes blacks are less intelligent, while fewer express opposition to interracial marriage or living in a 50-percent black neighborhood. Holding these attitudes is not the same as making racist comments in public or even among close friends, but there’s clearly an audience for race-based judgment among the millennial generation.

The fact that today’s young whites are not much different from their elders on racial prejudice shouldn’t be all that surprising, as it matches past research on policies designed to alleviate racial inequality. Comparing ANES surveys from two decades, University of Michigan political scientist Vincent Hutchings found “younger cohorts of whites are no more racially liberal in 2008 than they were in 1988” in a 2009 article.

Whatever expectation that millennials’ diverse racial makeup would spawn especially tolerant views has not yet come true.

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