Why I picked it up: Young adults are not monolithic. They present a variety of attitudes and behaviors. They are also more ethnically and racially diverse than older generations … a forerunner of the dramatic demographic change taking place (and leading to likely minority majority status by 2045). As museums strive to be more inclusive, and since young adults are more likely to visit museums than older adults, it pays to know this audience's attitudes on race.
What you need to know: It is, well, disheartening. Even among young adults there are ongoing, gaping divides between the attitudes of whites and those of people of color. This report highlights them, including:
Discrimination against whites.
I recently shared that research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found 55% of white Americans thought whites experience discrimination. GenForward asked a similar question, and found 48% of white Millennials think discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against people of color.
Yep. Half of white Millennials think they are just as discriminated against as people of color. That is only seven percentage points lower than the American topline results, so while it is better than what older Americans think, it isn't a huge shift.
(Interestingly, a quarter of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinxs agreed that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against people of color. I find this result a bit dumbfounding.)
There are, however, some more positive signs. Awareness of racial challenges and disparities appear to have increased among whites between July 2017 and September 2017 (a two-month period that included Charlottesville and other racial demonstrations). It is unclear, however, if that is a blip or sustained.
Additionally, the survey asked respondents what they thought the best way to make racial progress was. About a fifth of respondents said "organizing in communities," a number that was fairly consistent across race and ethnicity. Whites were similarly likely to say "community service and volunteering." Voting and non-violent protests also came up as good pathways.
Implications for museums: Like I shared when reviewing "Discrimination in America," many whites are not as open to conversations and actions that promote inclusion and equity as we would hope. Thus, museums promoting a more inclusive interpretation should do so with awareness and preparation for white pushback … even among younger visitors. This is work that we must do, and anticipating that pushback strengthens our work, allowing us to push forward steadily. Because that's the goal: ongoing progress, not reactive pushes forwards and then similar retreats.
Methodology comment: It is clear that the designers of the agenda had a hypothesis they wanted to test, and the survey instrument reflects that agenda, which is an anti-racism, progressive one (it included rather specific questions about Donald Trump and his purported racism, for example). This doesn't make the research bad, so long as the questions are presented neutrally and the results fairly. But it also makes this work easier to criticize if one were of the opinion, say, that whites face just as much (if not more) discrimination than people of color. Thus, when critiquing research, including studies you like or even my studies, instrument design is something to be mindful of and assess as necessary.
Read or skip? If you are deep in the weeds of inclusive practice, yes, read it. This will give you more nuance. If you have to pick one to read, I'd go for "Discrimination in America." This supplements that work nicely.
And if you have a Confederate symbol controversy raging or brewing in your community, the questions on those very things will undoubtedly be helpful (go to pages 20-22).
Full citation: "The 'Woke' Generation? Millennial Attitudes on Race in the US." genFORWARD. October 2017.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.