A group of very close friends and I were sharing our thoughts and feelings about the number of deadly clashes between police officers and black men. We talked about “black lives matter” and “blue lives matter.” We explored the issue from very different perspectives — that of blacks and that of police officers.
I shared what I have learned from Ta Nehisi Coates and others — how black parents must teach their children, first, that they may be stopped by a police officer when they are doing nothing wrong and, second, that they must be compliant and, even then, risk the worst. Another woman shared the experience of friends who are police officers, how they risk their lives and often are forced to make snap decisions. We talked about how unconscious bias plays a part in tragic outcomes.
One friend reflected on how she feels this issue will be solved by time itself. She expressed great hope that the issues will disappear when Millennials (born roughly 1980 – 2000) run the world.
Are Millennials the white knights here? Is it true that they “don’t see color”? This generation is more diverse and more comfortable with racial and cultural diversity than prior generations. Thirty-nine percent are non-white (14% African American, 20% Hispanic, and 5% Asian). A huge number are first- and second-generation immigrants. Is this reason to hope that racial bias will disappear? According to Pew Research, most people think so.
But is this too optimistic? NPR aired a piece titled, “Is The Millennial Generation’s Racial Tolerance Overstated?” Gene Demby questioned whether it is realistic to believe we are headed to a “colorblind post-racial future.” He cited a poll showing that Millennials believe racism is a thing of the past but pointed out that schools and neighborhoods are more, not less segregated, and the racial gap in household wealth had widened, not narrowed. While there is more inter-racial interaction in young people, is it not as prevalent as we might think.
An article in The Atlantic last year said the same thing. The author expressed concern about the changing definition of diversity. She cites a study showing that, in defining diversity, Millennials focus less on demographic features, such as race or gender, and more on “different cognitive viewpoints” and experience. While we know the business value of this kind of difference, this focus could slow the progress of racial and gender equity.
Defining “diversity” so broadly, says professor and author Adia Harvey Wingfield, can result in “diversity programs or affirmative action as a way of remedying ongoing historical inequalities [being] overlooked and dismissed.” A false sense that racial bias is a thing of the past can actually interfere with more progress. Wingfield points to the reality that in many professions, “racial, ethnic, and gender diversity are still hard to come by.” (Only 4% of U.S. doctors are black, Hispanics are less than 4% of lawyers and women are only 26% of the workforce in STEM fields.) “If we’re not focusing on diversity to address all parts of our society by including those who have been historically most disenfranchised,” she concludes, “then a broad type of diversity doesn’t really serve us well.”
And what about gender bias (the focus of my work)? In my workshops, participants often suggest that these young adults, as a whole, have little or no gender bias. They have grown up with parents sharing work inside and outside the home. They have grown up with play dates, group dates, and competition between boys and girls.
I am not, however, convinced that gender bias is absent in this group. Data show that gender equality is still a long way off. Will a false sense that gender bias is a thing of the past keep progress slow?
Give me your thoughts on both racial and gender bias and young adults.