A Portrait of Black Millennials' Understanding of Racial Dynamics in the 21st Century Open Access

Lee, Celeste Nichole (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/d217qq113?locale=en


In the 21st century, the dominant racial ideology suggests that we live in a colorblind, post-racial society in which most people do not see color or care about racial differences. Accordingly, this ideology suggests that racial egalitarianism exists in contemporary U.S. society. The ideals of colorblindness and post-racialism have gained great traction within the last decade, despite recent scholarship that calls into question the core beliefs of colorblind post-racial ideology and documentation of persistent racial inequality in nearly all aspects of American life. Currently, the U.S. presents a structural and ideological conundrum whereby race continues to matter in determining the life chances of ethno-racial group members despite dominant ideological assumptions that articulate the belief that race is irrelevant today. Prior research reveals that White millennials overwhelmingly embrace colorblind post-racial logic. Research on millennials of color, however, is virtually non-existent. This dissertation seeks to understand the ways in which groups of color make sense of and understand contemporary racial dynamics. Specifically, this project explores how Black millennials reconcile two competing realities: (1) an ideological reality dominated by colorblind/post-racial discourse and (2) a structural reality characterized by persistent racial inequality and disadvantage. Drawing on data from 61 in-depth interviews with Black college students from two historically white, public, state flagship universities --- one in the southern and one in the western regions of the U.S. ---this dissertation offers a reflection of the ideological frameworks that Black millennials espouse in an effort to make sense of racial dynamics in the 21st century. In stark contrast to existing data on White millennials, this research revealed that Black millennials draw upon colorblind post-racial ideology in very nuanced and contradictory ways. Nearly all of the Black millennials in this study reject the claim that the U.S. is a colorblind or post-racial society. Nonetheless, their understandings and explanations of racial inequality often draw upon colorblind post-racial ideological frameworks. Ultimately, Black millennials present conflicting understandings of racial dynamics that reflect ideological commitments to both race consciousness and colorblind post-racialism. These data revealed minimal regional difference in Black millennials' likelihood of investing in race conscious or colorblind post-racial ideologies. Early childhood and adolescence experiences with racial socialization, however, may have some influence on Black millennials' commitment to race-conscious ideological frameworks.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction. 1

Purpose of the Current Study. 5

Research Questions. 6

Theoretical Framework. 6

Racialized Structures. 7

Colorblind/Post-Racialism Ideology. 9

Significance of the Study. 14

Overview of the Study. 16

Chapter Two: Literature Review. 19

Rethinking Racial Attitudes To Account for Racial Ideology. 19

Classic vs. Contemporary views of Ideology. 21

Theorizing Dominant Racial Ideology in the 21st Century: Colorblind Post-racialism. 26

Theorizing Alternative (Non-Dominant) Racial Ideologies in the 21st Century. 30

Blacks' Racial Views. 33

Black Adults' Racial Views. 34

Black Millennials' Racial Views. 39

Summary. 41

Chapter Three: Methodology. 44

Research Aims. 44

Research Design and Rationale. 44

Studying College Students' Racial Views. 46

Regional Comparisons Between Youth in the South and the West. 49

Research Site, Sample, Data Collection Procedures. 52

Research Sites. 52

Sample. 52

Data Collection Procedures. 53

Analytic Strategy. 55

Summary. 57

Chapter Four: Black Millennials and the Continued Significance of Race and Racism. 58

Disrupting Post-Racial Discourse: Black Millennials Response to Colorblind, Post-Racial Ideology. 58

"Colorblind, Post-Racialism is a Lie Because People Still Have Negative Views of Blacks". 60

Colorblind, Post-Racialism is a Lie Because Blacks Still Face Inequality in Housing, Schools, and the Criminal Justice System". 62

Summary. 66

Chapter Five: How Black Millennials Explain Racial Inequality. 68

Explaining Racial Inequality: How Colorblind Ideology Shapes Black Millennials' Racial Views. 69

"Blacks Need to do Better": Black Millennials and Cultural Racism. 74

Wealth Disparities. 76

Educational Disparities. 83

Incarceration Disparities. 92

"Blacks Just Happen To Be At The Bottom": Black Millennials and Happenstance. 96

Black Millennials and the Other Colorblind Frames. 102

Regional Difference in the Adoption of Colorblind, Post-Racial Framework. 104

Summary. 105

Chapter 6: Black Millennials and Alternative Ideologies. 108

"It's the System": Black Millennials' Structural and Institutional Explanations of Inequality. 110

Unpacking Wealth Disparities. 111

Unpacking Educational Disparities. 115

Unpacking Incarceration Disparities. 118

Towards A Collective Racial Ideology: Unpacking Black Millennials' Race Conscious Approach to Understanding the Criminal Justice System. 119

"It All Goes Back To Racism". 119

"Blacks Have To Constantly Deal With Racial Profiling". 123

"If He Was White, It Would Be A Different Story". 127

"You Can't Trust the Police". 131

Regional Differences in Race Conscious Ideological Frameworks. 136

Summary. 137

Chapter Seven: Uniformly Race Conscious Millennials. 140

Who are the Uniformly Race Conscious 11?. 141

Finding "The Tie That Binds": Exploring Commonalities Among the Uniformly Race Conscious. 143

Parents, Racial Socialization, and Race Consciousness Among Black Millennials. 143

Racialized Encounters (Nigger Moments) Among Race Conscious Individuals. 156

Summary. 173

Chapter Eight: Conclusion. 175

Summary of Main Findings. 175

Contribution. 182

Limitations and Future Research. 184

Broader Implications. 185

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