A few months ago, Jamelle Bouie of Slate detailed the results of an MTV survey on millennials and race. He thus summarized the findings:
“Overall, MTV comfirms the general view of millennials: Compared with previous generations, they’re more tolerant and diverse and profess a deeper commitment to equality and fairness. At the same time, however, they’re committed to an ideal of colorblindness that leaves them uncomfortable with race, opposed to measures to reduce racial inequality, and a bit confused about what racism is.”
The second sentence made my heart sink. I think I have a distorted view of how millennials understand race, as most of my friends have a solid grasp on how past injustices have created present inequities and how racism continues to manifest in our society, even as the overtly hostile kind declines. So reading that the majority of my generation actually doesn’t understand those things — and believes that colorblindness is not only a real possibility, but also the ideal solution for our race problems — felt like a sucker-punch to the gut.
So, inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ recent post on why we need feminism, here are just a few reasons why race still matters.
Because whether or not you’re aware of it, your race significantly impacts how you experience the world, how people treat you, and the opportunities you’re afforded.
Because only 67% of Latino students, 57% of black students, and less than 50% of Native American students have access to a full range of math and science classes, compared to 81% of Asian American and 71% of white students. (source)
Because students of color are punished more harshly than white students, even as early as preschool. (source)
Because the graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are notably lower than those for white and Asian American students. (When you consider the long-term implications of a diploma for employment, earning potential, and upward mobility — as well as its correlating health outcomes — this fact is particularly troubling.) (source)
Because the unemployment rate for black Americans is more than twice that of white Americans, even after controlling for education. (source)
Because a black man makes only 74.5% of what a white man makes, and a Hispanic man only 65.4%. (source)
Because many people fail to see the connection between the education and income disparities of today and the underresourced, segregated schools of 70 years ago, and slavery 90 years before that.
Because black Americans are 2.6 times more likely to be rejected for home loans than white Americans, even after controlling for income. (source)
Because the average white family has seven times the assets of the average black family. (Yes. That’s seven times.) (source)
Because even though black and white Americans have comparable rates of drug use, black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for drugs and get 13.1% longer sentences. Because drugs that are more often used by black people have far weightier punishments than those more often used by white people. Because SWAT teams are more likely to target black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods. (source)
Because black Americans are 3 times as likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white Americans and 4 times as likely to have force used against them. (source)
Because people of color make up 30% of the population but 60% of the prison population. (source)
Because 1 in 3 black men will spend time in prison. (source)
Because people of color make up 30% of the population but only 11% of lead actors, 12% of directors, and 8% of writers in movies. (source)
Because people still freak out when an actor of color is cast as a beloved character.
Because there are 0 Native Americans in Congress. Because the lack of information about Native American Fortune 500 CEOs leads me to guess that there are none. (source)
Because there are states in which books and classes on ethnic studies are banned because legislators believe that they make students resent white people. (source)
Because there are states in which a person can be stopped and asked for identification simply for looking like they might be undocumented. (You know who else did this? The Nazis.) (source)
Because there is still an NFL team whose name is a racial slur. (If the name doesn’t feel like a big deal to you: It’s like having a football team called the Phoenix N-words.)
Because no one thinks twice when I wear a hoodie at night, but that was enough to get Trayvon Martin shot.
Because people of color are subjected to microaggressions on a daily basis – and then told, if they’re hurt or offended, that they’re being too sensitive.
Because all too often, white people think that they get to define what is and isn’t racist. (See the comments section of pretty much any article about racism on the internet.)
Because as I write this, I’m aware that some people will perceive me as an angry minority — even though I’m presenting mostly facts, not opinions.
Even though people aren’t as overtly racist as they used to be, race still matters — and whether we know it or not, it impacts every aspect of our lives. And as this (much-abbreviated) list illustrates, ending racial disparities isn’t simply a matter of correcting individual attitudes. It’s a systemic issue that requires us not only to own up to our own racist thoughts and tendencies, but also to address them on a societal level — with the same measures to reduce inequities that millennials apparently oppose.
So, my fellow millennials, the way to fix our race problems isn’t to pretend that race doesn’t matter. Quite the contrary: It’s to acknowledge that it impacts every aspect of our society — and to find solutions to these problems accordingly.