World Trust

Do Millennials Really Not Understand The System of Racial Inequity?

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on July 17, 2014

RISD students participate in World Trust diversity workshop

Last month’s Slate article, entitled “Why Do Millennials Not Understand Racism?” touched a national nerve. The post's outward goal was to highlight the challenges our youngest generation of rising adults face in grappling meaningfully with racism. But one of the findings of the MTV study stood out in stark relief: Millennials have a hard time talking about race and discrimination.

As the article states, “Although 73 percent [of millennials] believe that we should talk “more openly” about bias, only 20 percent say they’re comfortable doing so—despite the fact that a plurality of minorities say that their racial identities shape their views of the world.”

This suggests that the headline that launched 45,000 shares might be a bit misguided. It is not that millennials don’t understand racism. Most of them are aware that they live with it and are touched by it every day. The difficulty is less in experiencing it than it is in speaking it. The 80% of youths who are uncomfortable discussing race are thus unable to engage in the substantive national conversation that a majority of them feel we need to be having. This is less an inability to understand, than it is to talk about race.

When it's put like that, those of us born earlier than 1990 are suddenly given pause. How many people, of any age, find substantive dialogue about race and discrimination to be an easy, comfortable endeavor?

While you're thinking about that, the article brings us to its (buried) actual lede. According to author Jamelle Bouie, the real issue is that without an understanding of the system of racial inequity that underpins racism, we are left powerless to confront it. Unidentified and thus unchallenged, the system continues to perpetuate itself behind the scenes.

When the system is exposed, however, individuals are given a shared framework to support them as they begin analyzing and interrupting  the internal and external manifestations of racism. For this reason, all World Trust diversity workshops begin with a presentation of the system of inequity, so that participants can work from a common foundation for understanding and change.

The Slate article, fairly or unfairly, puts its focus on one of our youngest generations. But in order to engage in the sort of work that can truly lead to racial equity, it's worth considering that all of us benefit from a frame that doesn't just fire up conversation on Facebook and Twitter, but leads to transformative learning that continues offline as well.

World Trust's film Cracking the Codes has been used as a tool by educators, faith communities, and other organizations seeking racial justice education and diversity training as a catalyst for change.