TODAY’S EPISODE: Looking to Gen Z to end racism? Maybe get your glasses checked
There have been so many times that I’ve seen people post something online about social awareness or activism among younger people and talk about how they will usher in the end to bigotry and hate.
But I’m not sure we should be so quick to assume that the older racist people retiring or dying off means that racism is going to slow down much. Because those older racist people keep handing down racist beliefs to their kids and grandkids, and they keep feeding racism to younger people in general in tough times and during impressionable periods to convince them not to change the status quo and perhaps to reverse it in time a bit.
Now, I’m not saying Millennials and Gen Z aren’t an improvement in oh so many ways on the Baby Boomers in particular but also in comparison to Gen X. They really are. In a number of social, environmental, and other areas, they look like they might break some bad habits of previous generations. Also might institute some bad habits and poor decisions of their own, but that’s life.
But for the purposes of the subject matter you usually see here at BGIM Media, I will confidently say this: There seems little sign of Millennials denting racism so far, and I think there is little chance that Gen Z will put much of a dent in racism—assuming they manage to dent it at all.
And sure, Millennials and member of Gen Z have more friends of color than my Gen X cohorts and I did—and again, certainly more than the Boomers or even older generations than them. But that doesn’t always mean racial awareness and a true desire to usher in an anti-racist society. If you are a white person who is Millennial or Gen Z, chances are you still don’t really see how deeply embedded white supremacy and white privilege are in your day to day lives.
You know one of the things that I see on newer social media like TikTok? Interracial millennial couples trotting out their biracial kids like accomplishment trophies or making some of the most banal observations about how their relationships are changing things. Unions between people of different races—and those between Black people and white people are no exception—are nothing new. And sexing up a Black person or making biracial babies doesn’t inherently mean you aren’t racist any more than a toxic guy loving women means he can’t also be misogynist.
I don’t think that we’ve moved the needle nearly enough on unconscious biases or on racial naiveté that we’re going to see a seismic shift even with Gen Z
People who think I’m being too glum might look at the way Millennials handled LGBTQ+ issues better than generations before them and how Gen Z seems to be even more accepting of the wide range of gender, sexual, and other identity choices.
And I will grant you that one. Sensitivity to pronoun choices and openness to accepting and exploring more fluid identity constructs seems much stronger in Gen Z than I’ve ever seen before among any group of people. But that doesn’t mean crap for racism.
I will repeat: LGBTQ+ support and similar areas of embracing identity and sexuality does not have any impact on lowering racism.
Why? Because as much as the struggles and pains of bigotry toward LGBTQ+ people and bigotry toward people based on race might sometimes look similar and even be similar, they are far from the same. I could break down all the ways in which they can typically differ in practice and how they’ve different in terms of historical treatment, but I don’t need to.
I just need to point out that there are white LGBTQ+ people and non-white LGBTQ+ people. And white people still overwhelmingly will split the two into different groupings. In fact, when they categorize an LGBTQ+ as non-white (especially Black or Indigenous), that sexual and/or gender identity may become irrelevant. In fact, it might not even get respected anymore as valid for that non-white person.
I suspect a white Gen Z youth will show more support for fellow white Gen Z LGBTQ+ youth because they connect in terms of whiteness. They see each other’s humanity and difference, but only within the context of whiteness. Older white generations may be warming to embracing LGBTQ+ identifications and concerns, but that’s because they see their white kids and grandkids dealing with these issues.
As ever in the United States, race is often the defining factor of worth (we could talk about class, disability and others, too, but race is what we handle here mostly). With white supremacy in effect—and it is very much still in effect in the United States and so many other parts of the world—race still “matters.” Whether you get to be at the table or build your own table or even be allowed to be in the vicinity of a table depends on your race and in particular on the color of your skin. The darker you are, the less you are valued.
And while it’s hardly scientific, my Gen Z daughter points out plenty of racism among her peers.
And, as long as we’re mentioning the scientific, the research seems to be backing me up that we shouldn’t assume too much about racial change coming from Millennials or even Gen Z.
For example, despite positive racial attitudes, racial discrimination is prevalent among millennials; it may be that they are just as racist as their parents overall; and it’s quite likely they may be more racist than they think (intent vs. impact, y’know). Meanwhile, it seems that Gen Z isn’t nearly as anti-racist as so many of us like to think.
I do think that racist attitudes in terms of discrimination and abuse might see some decline as Millennials and Gen Z gain ever more sway. But the underlying privilege of being white is still a hell of a drug, and that is going to hold back a lot of the progress those two generations can make, especially as their non-white members realize that siding with whiteness may bring them more comfort and gain in harsh times than doing the right thing.
I do hope I’m simply being pessimistic. But a lot of people thought the flower children of the 1960s were going to change the world for the better. Instead a ton of them became the kind of Boomers (which is to say, most of the Boomers) that so many of us are complaining about for ruining everything. Millennials turned out to be a lot more susceptible than people thought to going conservative and buying into the GQP nonsense. Gen Z is still very impressionable.
Let’s do our best to help uplift these two younger influential generations to make positive change, but let’s not assume they are just gonna do it—whether right now or long-term. Let’s stop looking for a savior generation and all band together to get to work—to get our house in order on race and so much else.
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]
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