Same as the old boss.
Lately I’ve been both tired and also comforted by the growing sense that everything we face as radicals has played out before. It’s validating to know that we’re fighting the fight of our ancestors, to know that we’re not as special as we sometimes like to think. They made it through this and so can we. But it’s also a little maddening sometimes: you mean we’re still dealing with this bullshit?
All of this is lead in for a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, which polled adults aged 18 to 24 on everything from religion and morality to economic issues and the 2012 election. They also posed questions on race and ethnicity: Does government pay too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities? Is “reverse discrimination” a problem in today’s society? Is demographic change a good thing for American society?
The results weren’t heartening. 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.”…
For a lot of young white people, I think, racism has become completely untethered from history. They’ve been taught “colorblindness” sans a sense of what it means to grow up in a country where white supremacy was once the ruling ideology. “Reverse discrimination,” then, is a catch-all for frustration at rules they don’t understand (white people can’t say the “N-word”), and double standards that seem unfair (e.g., “Why can’t we have White History Month and a White Entertainment Channel?). It’s understandable, but also a little depressing.
Independent of the eery but unsurprising statistical evidence, there have also been the recent, anecdotal controversies swirling around fellow-Obie Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls, with its whitewashed Brooklyn (also fellow-Obie Kendra James’ takedown is a must-read), the renewed acknowledgment that, yes, even cosmopolitan hipsters who should know better can be really freakin’ racist, and a number of streams of evidence pointing to the disturbing ‘lingering cultural capitalism of racism’ in wide cross-sections of good ol’ White America. All in all the recently-raised profile has renewed and heightened my sensitivity to noticing it in my every day life, because dang is this stuff pervasive.
And its prevalence in the particular White counterculture I more closely associate with is of course nothing new as well. Racism’s manifestation as a badge of identification, not with a fascistic or Jim Crow feudalistic barbaric order, but with a disaffected, rebellious, irony-chic White counterculture was apparently really well described by Lester Bangs, the rock journalist of Almost Famous fame, back in the ’70’s. The similarities between then and now are striking, and personal, and provocative. For if those of us who are charged with providing a societal alternative are this consistently deluded, what can we expect to really change, from generation to generation?
This is all background for a dissatisfying non-conclusion: I am at this juncture really unsure as to what kind of meaningful, sustainable action can be taken to try and combat this stuff in my own community. I may be kidding myself that we have a shot at winning the kind of ground I hope we can. Maybe this really is just a battle that gets fought in every generation, with the slimmest of margins having been won by the previous. But I’m hoping we can start to do better than that, and soon, because I just don’t think we have the margin of error that we used to, and we really can’t afford to keep screwing up as badly as we have.Peace and Love,