As part of “Look Different,” MTV’s multi-year Public Affairs campaign to address bias, the network closely studied American Millennials’ (14-24 years old) perceptions of subjects like fairness, equality, privilege and discrimination with a special emphasis on race. The findings reveal that equality and fairness are hallmark values of this generation, but their vision may be clouded by a lack of historical perspective.
Millennials are coming of age in a racially sensitive society.
- The majority (84%) was raised to believe that they should treat everyone the same and shouldn’t acknowledge racial differences.
- However, only 37% overall were brought up in families that talked about race (30% white vs. 46% people of color, “POC”).
A belief in equality has become this generation’s ‘first commandment’ – true across all races.
- 91% of respondents believe in equality and believe everyone should be treated equally.
The majority of Millennials believe that their generation is post-racial.
Most Millennials believe that racism is a problem for previous generations.
- 72% believe their generation believes in equality more than older people.
- Over half (58%) believe that as their generation movies into leadership roles, racism will become less and less of an issue.
Having a black President has helped confirm this belief.
- 62% (58% for POC, 64% white) believe that having a black President demonstrates that racial minority groups have the same opportunities as white people and 67% believe it shows race doesn’t have to be a barrier to accomplishments.
But they still feel the country is deeply divided.
- 70% of people of color vs. 64% of white respondents agree that America is still a deeply divided place despite having a black President.
Millennials feel that ‘colorblindness’ is something to strive for, yet also believe in ‘celebrating diversity’.
- 73% believe never considering race would improve society.
- 68% believe focusing on race prevents society from becoming colorblind.
- 70% say they don’t see racial minority groups any differently than they see white people.
But this seems counter to their equally strong belief in celebrating difference.
- 81% believe embracing diversity and celebrating differences between races would improve society.
Despite a universal belief in equality, real world experiences differ greatly.
- Half of young people of color feel that “individual microaggressions, when added up, have had a serious effect on me.”
- 60% of young people of color – including 74% of young Asian Americans – are often asked about their ethnic background vs. just 19% of young whites.
Despite the reality of their experience, their unwavering belief in equality trumps all else and makes it difficult for them to support affirmative action.
- 88% believe that favoring one race over another is unfair.
- 70% believe it’s never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities (65% for POC, 74% for white).
The modern day face of bias — defined as treating someone differently and unfairly because they are a member of a particular group — is subtle, but most Millennials see it in their lives.
Millennials believe discrimination today is more subtle than that experienced by previous generations.
- 60% agree that most of the bias seen is mostly subtle bias that is small but real.
- 94% of Millennials have seen examples of bias in their lives and and 79% admit they are friends with people with biases.
The majority of respondents (60%) say they have worked hard to eliminate biases.
- When asked, 41% admit they have their own biases now and 58% say they had biases in the past.
- Racial biases are the most frequently cited types of biases.
- 61% of Millennials overall report having been the target of bias (83% LGBT vs. 69% POC vs. 64% women).
Millennials believe open conversation about bias will reduce prejudice, but being raised not to acknowledge race means they struggle with how to talk about it.
Over half (54%) agree that it is hard to have a respectful conversation about bias in person or online.
- Nearly half (48%) believe it is wrong to draw attention to someone’s race, even when being positive.
- While 73% think we should talk more openly about bias and that constructive conversation would reduce prejudice, only 20% say they are comfortable having such conversations.
Millennials want to go beyond talking. They’re ready to take action.
Millennials agree that it is important to address bias when encountered.
- More than three in four (78%) agree that everyone has a responsibility to help tackle bias and a full 90% say that it’s important to make their community a less biased place.
However, the majority say it feels a little risky to speak up.
- 61% agree: “it’s easier to see the risk of calling out bias than it is to see the immediate benefit.”
- 79% worry that addressing bias could create a conflict or make a situation even worse.
The majority of this generation feels they don’t have the tools to tackle bias in themselves and others.
- 65% say they “wish that they knew more about how to address bias when they see it” and the same percentage is interested in a tool to help them work on their own biases.
- 80% would want to know if they had biases they were not aware of.
- 80% would want to know if they had ever inadvertently exhibited bias towards someone.
While MTV uncovered a commitment to equality and fairness among Millennials, with their lack of historical perspective, many young people have a clouded view of the bias that persists. Still, the news is heartening, with the majority of Millennials ready to not just talk about these issues, but to take action.
This study was based on qualitative research, including in-person focus groups and online discussion panels with participants ages 18-24 years old, and quantitative research, including surveys with participants 14-24 and 2,000 interviews with young people ages 14-24.