“Millennials are driving a ‘post-racial’ country ”

When Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American president of the United States, there were plenty of conversations about whether or not our country was a “post-racial” nation. Now, on the heels of Obama’s re-election, similar questions are being raised about the “whiteness” of the Republican Party. Although voting statistics spur these conversations, they’ve always felt a little too jargon-y to me. As an early Millennial, buzzwords like “diversity” and “multiculturalism” have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but older generations never seem to understand how they actually function.

During the 1990s, which were my formative years, there was a big push by educators, parents and children’s media to promote cultural diversity. I remember hearing lectures in school or watching programs on television or reading articles in kids’ magazines talking about the importance of respecting all cultures and values.

Even as a young person, I knew that a lot of this stuff was heavy handed. I didn’t know—or at least didn’t understand—that we were only a few generations removed from the Civil Rights Movement, but when I look back to my childhood, I realize that none of that really mattered. Diversity was just a matter of fact, and it was evidenced by the heroes I looked up to and the media I consumed.

When I was growing up, there was no bigger athlete than Michael Jordan. He not only introduced me to the game of basketball, but he also became a symbol of what was possible with hard work and dedication—and yet his skin colour never mattered to me. In fact, I’m not sure that it even occurred to me. While idolizing Michael Jordan may not be unique, the fact that the media I consumed outside of sports was just as saturated with positive representations of African-Americans also seems significant.

Of the sitcoms that I watched growing up, few were as consistently entertaining (and still quotable today) than programs like Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Although having African-American families at the center of sitcoms predates the 90s-era fare that I loved, characters like Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks defied racial stereotype and proved that blackness and whiteness were, or at least could be, meaningless and superficial distinctions.

It might seem silly to point to these cultural artifacts as evidence that Millennials have normalized diversity as just a fact of life, but as someone who was raised during the time that political correctness became the rule of the day, I can say that finding ways for white kids to identify with black characters did much more in breaking down racial barriers than empty slogans and abstract platitudes ever could.

The country itself might not be “post-racial,” but for Millennials, the old divisions of race and ethnicity always seemed like it was better suited for the history books—it never represented the world in which we live or the media we consume.

By Mike Dell’Aquila; aged 29; Pennsylvania & New York, USA