Some of us remember the case of Dayanna Volitich, a then 25 year old middle school social studies teacher in Crystal River, Florida, who, during the spring of 2018, was exposed for having radical opinions and attempting to indoctrinate her young, fertile minded students with her extremist views.
The searing and chilling image of a group of approximately 300 young White men (and some women) in khaki pants and polo shirts carrying tiki torches chanting “blood and soil,” “you will not replace us. Jews will not replace us,” marching in the deep depth of night in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia passionately proclaiming a vigorous defense of their heritage is still deeply etched in the minds of many of us.
The year 2015 gave us a group of loudmouth, abhorrent University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chanting “there will never be a nigger in SAE…” and other obnoxious, racially inflammatory lyrics on a bus as they headed toward a social function. That same year also gave witness to Dylann Storm Roof, a 21 year old misfit and drifter who took it upon his mentally unhinged self to sadistically slaughter nine church worshiping citizens (the majority of them senior citizens) as well as state senator, Clementa C. Pinckney at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
What each of these retrograde individuals had in common was the fact that they are members of Generation Y, more commonly referred to as millennials. The men and women born between 1981–1998. The devious Ms. Volitich was eventually terminated from her position after an external review by the Crystal River school district. The predominately male group of Charlottesville racist protesters were the target of ridicule, denunciation and widespread disdain. Some were even prosecuted (and rightly so) for engaging in violence.
One protestor, James Fields, a 21 year old White Supremacist from Ohio was charged with the murder of 32 year old Heather Heyer. The arrogant, callous racially bigoted Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat boys were required to move out of their house and off campus. The two of the ring leaders of the pathetically racist chant, Parker Rice and Levi Pettit were expelled from the university. Dylann Roof was sentenced to nine life sentences for his abominable crime. Fields was justly sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as well.
In addition to being millennials, (which is certainly not a bad thing!), one disturbing commonality thing each of these men and women had was the fact that they seemingly had no problem engaging in racially inflected invective or behavior that many of us equate with White supremacy.
Truth be told, many of us who are people of color, especially those of us who have reached the middle age chapter of our lives, I am referring to those of us over 45, are hardly surprised by the fact that there are White people who harbor racial animus toward non-White people. For the few non-White, in particular, Black people in this category who do (and I would assume the percentage in virtually negligible) I am not sure what planet they have been living on or when they awakened from their comatose state. What is in fact, notable and, quite frankly, alarming, is the fact that this group of young adults were/are supposed to be the generation that was more progressive and tolerant, if not outright accepting of others who were distinctively different from them.
Statistics and research have indicated that millennials are much more likely to avidly embrace and harbor progressive views on issues such as environmental protections, redistribution of wealth, LGBTQ rights, abortion, drug use and other liberal or left leaning policies. However, when it comes to racial matters, they (millennials) are not much different than previous, older generations. In essence, a sizable number have channeled and adopted the values of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. https://genforwardsurvey.com/assets/uploads/2017/10/GenForward-Oct-2017-Final-Report.pdf Given the fact that many people are deeply influenced by the environment they reside in and other encroaching factors, these results should not come as such a dramatic surprise.
None of us, especially those of us who work in academia, can abnegate the abundant number of racial incidents that have roiled college campuses over the past few years from Ivy League institutions to prestigious small liberal arts colleges. From land grant institutions to regional state universities. From community colleges to junior colleges. Indeed, some campuses became so volatile, that a number of administrators, among them a few college presidents, either decided or were forced to step down from their positions.
The truth is that even outside of the ivy-covered walls and leafy campuses of academia, the mainstream public cannot feign blind or willful ignorance to the increasingly ugly antics of some younger White people. Young White teenage kids recording videos of themselves espousing racially bigoted, vile language and posting them to you tube, snap chat, Pinterest and various other sites. High school students using code words to refer to their non-white classmates in demeaning and derogatory terms. Certain millennial employees referring to their non-White co-workers as “monkeys” “apes” “ beasts” “ugly “ or “stupid”etc… The disturbing incidents go on and on.
A number of studies do reveal that millennials, on average, are more racially tolerant than their predecessors. This is likely due to the fact that a disproportionate percentage of them are more likely to be non-White. Indeed, the number of bi-racial or multi-racial individuals in this category far exceeds any other age demographic with the exception of Generation Z or post millennials. Thus, research shows that the majority of people of color are more inclined to harbor more progressive viewpoints, in particular on social issues. Though when it comes to economic issues, the picture is slightly more muddied as some younger Blacks (not the majority) tend to be more suspicious of the public safety net and view certain social programs with an ambivalent, if not outright jaundiced eye. Such factors should make for interesting and intriguing debates as time progresses.
Some blame President Trump for the recent state of fractured racial affairs. In an era where resurgent White nationalism is rampant, there is no doubt that our current commander-in-chief has adamantly, sinisterly, eagerly and arguably, gleefully, provoked, agitated and stroked the economic, social and racial resentments of a wide swath of insecure Whites across the generational spectrum.
The obvious fact is that racism has been a pernicious force and malignant form of cancer in our nation long before Trump or any of us were born. That being said, he has certainly utilized and perversely exploited racist, sexist and xenophobic animus to his advantage. A sad and disturbing commentary to be sure.
We can only hope that most racially progressive folk who are older have the wherewithal or desire to attempt and successfully persuade our younger brethren that living and embracing a life that is that is filled with racial diversity and cultural pluralism can be a major asset for anyone and that striving to reach for our better angles is most desirable. Moreover, it is crucial that we do so. The stability and eventual survival of our nation will depend on us doing so.
Elwood Watson, Ph.D is professor, author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year. You can contact him via twitter at @bleachbred