Our Changing Conversation on Race and Ethnicity: Fostering Dialog for Millennials

By Patricia Foxen, PhD, Deputy Director of Research, NCLR
enGRtub - ImgurThere is no doubt that our country is going through a profound period of reflection regarding the treatment of race. Last Friday, the elation produced by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage was contrasted, later that day, by the overwhelming sadness behind President Obama’s eulogy at Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. The death of Reverend Pinckney, one of nine victims killed in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church by a 21-year-old racist, reminds us how very far we still have to go in confronting and healing race relations.

Watch the moving speech below:

By his own admission, the shooter’s beliefs were largely influenced by organizations, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, that foment racial fear and hatred through disinformation. As history buffs know, such hate mongering, used by powerful actors to rationalize the social exclusion of entire groups of people, has long involved dehumanizing “others.” The contrast between this hateful imagery and the kind, generous spirit of those killed in Charleston made the violence all the more shocking. But while most Americans are appalled by the explicit and virulent racism the killer demonstrated, more subtle forms of structural racism and implicit bias continue to taint the everyday experiences of our nation’s minorities.

Latinos have not been spared from this “othering” process, as Donald Trump’s recent derisive comments on Mexican immigrants clearly illustrate. Thankfully, leading Latino organizations (including NCLR) responded swiftly to Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists, leading Macy’s and NBCUniversal, among others, to cut ties with the presidential candidate. However, the consequences of negative stereotyping of Hispanics and immigrants—which can range from bias and discrimination in housing, employment, and education all the way to violent hate crimes—have tended to be largely absent from our nation’s on-going discussions on race.

YvhqQYr - ImgurGiven the rapidly changing demographic landscape in this country, where non-Whites will become a majority of the population within the next two decades, and the various forms of racial and ethnic tensions that lurk beneath the surface, it is high time that we open up the national discussion to include everyone: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and White Americans.

In an effort to help in this process, NCLR partnered last year with MTV’s Look Different campaign, which helps young people think through and speak about race and other forms of bias. Recently, Look Different announced the July 22 release of White People, a groundbreaking television documentary that explores whiteness in America. In addition, the campaign’s website has added Look Deeper, a powerful interactive feature and safe space where young people can hold conversations about bias in their own lives and in the news. A Creator Competition will also allow people to submit ideas for video projects about racial privilege.

If we want to prevent the propagation of racism and exclusion in future generations, we must encourage youth to speak openly and honestly about race and ethnicity, and we must provide them with the language, tools, insight, and empathy to do so.

Want to Understand Race? Let’s Acknowledge Our Implicit Biases First

By Joseph Rendeiro, Media Relations Associate, NCLR

“Not to sound racist, but….”

“Why isn’t there a ‘White Entertainment Television’?”

“He’s so cute…for a black guy.”

In what seems like ages ago (aka two years) for the social media universe, a viral video called “Sh*t Girls Say” blew up on the Internet, inspiring hundreds of equally humorous parodies for every possible type of person, from Asian grandmas to hobbits. And while the videos were meant to be funny, highlighting extreme stereotypes in jest, reading video creator Francesca Ramsey’s thought process behind the making of her video sheds light on how something seemingly innocuous can offer legitimate social commentary. For Ramsey, the video is based on her real-life experiences and meant to both make people laugh and open their eyes to how they treat others of a different race.

Race is a difficult topic to address and often one that gets overlooked. Yes, we have Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. Societal changes have spawned younger generations that are generally more inclusive and recognize that racism is unacceptable. But the reality is that many of us continue to treat people, and oftentimes people of color, differently because of our own biases, which, to be fair, most of us don’t recognize we hold on to.

With the help of partners such as NCLR, NAACP, and a host of others groups, MTV recently launched the “Look Different” campaign, an initiative aimed at younger generations to combat inequality based on race, gender, and sexuality. The campaign spotlights implicit bias—attitudes that a person may hold about another group of people at an unconscious level—that can manifest in exactly the kind of language Ramsey uses in her video. These comments and actions may not be intentional or have any malice behind them, but their effects are nonetheless damaging for minorities.

LookDifferent_logoThe “Look Different” campaign is focusing on race and ethnicity first, providing teens and young adults with a number of tools to help them not only recognize bias but also address instances of bias when they witness or experience them. Part of NCLR’s broader body of work is aimed at teaching the public, and particularly youth, about the effects of racial and ethnic bias, so we specifically worked with MTV to ensure that stereotypes and biases about Latinos and immigrants were addressed. Users can learn about the common types of racial bias that they may engage in without realizing it. For example, the site explains the concept of microaggressions, which are seemingly harmless phrases that add up to make people feel as though they are different or don’t belong.

The overall goal is to change people’s attitudes with the language and tools necessary to discuss a subject that many feel is off limits. By challenging existing beliefs about topics ranging from undocumented immigrants to affirmative action, we hope to make teens and young adults think twice before they call something “ghetto” or say that their friend “only got into this college because he’s Hispanic.”

Words have an impact; it’s time we start choosing them more wisely.

Do you think that you are biased? Explore lookdifferent.org and discover how your views may shape your interactions with certain groups of people.