Who is Black Gen Z?

In BET’s latest study, we delve into the world of Black Americans aged 11 to 22. We explore who they are, their complexities, and the habits they’re forming.

From this research, several key themes emerged:

Black and…

Black Gen Z are honored to be Black, with 72% saying they’re proud of their heritage. But there is not a singular Black experience in America. Everyone has a different upbringing and unique influences upon their worldview. We found that 59% of Black Gen Z say they have hobbies or interests they’re passionate about and 46% have expertise in things that some people consider nerdy. They’re experimenting with activities that are not typically associated with Black culture – and expanding what it means to be authentically Black.

Their pride also shows up as a protectiveness of the culture. When Black teens and young adults feel excluded from the conversation, cultural appropriation becomes problematic. Close to half of Black Gen Z (47%) believe that cultural appropriation is not a good thing, and they’re most sensitive to appropriation when it comes to language, hairstyles, and fashion. For brands, it’s essential to get this right – 53% of Black Gen Z agree that brands need to respect their culture to earn their trust.

Driven but anxious

Like the rest of their generation, Black Gen Z are driven. While 69% look up to or receive advice from family members and 52% get guidance from someone in their wider community, the blueprint of how to get ahead is fuzzy. They’re determined to succeed and nervous about the future all at once. There’s a steeper climb to achieve their goals and not as much to fall back upon financially if they don’t.

The fear of “adulting” looms large. Only 1 in 3 Black teens and young adults feel their school or college does enough to help them feel prepared for the future. For examples of how to get where they want to be, many rely on social media. Social networks are the conduit of Black Gen Z’s entrepreneurial dreams – 42% are inspired by social media success stories of people with familiar backgrounds, 62% are interested in running their own business someday, and 42% say social media provides them an opportunity to make money. In the end, optimism reigns, with 62% believing they have the same chance to succeed as anyone.

Culturally proud and future–focused

As Black Gen Z rise in age, the representation of their culture in school curricula and extracurricular activities wanes. Just over half of Black children age 11 to 14 feel their school promotes and brings awareness to their culture through lessons, events or celebrations – but among those who are college age (19 to 22), just 1 in 10 would agree.

The Black community is nothing if not resilient. While stories of survival are foundational and necessary, Black teens and young adults believe it’s time to go from “survive” to “thrive.” They want to reframe stories of historical resilience and look to more future–focused narratives of Black excellence – highlighting modern–day trailblazers, celebrating Black achievements, promoting Black culture in school, and immortalizing Black heroics.

Faith–filled and faith–flexible

Black Gen Z are not afraid to push back on the rigidity of their parents’ or grandparents’ faith. Half of them worship as part of an organized religion, but that’s not to the exclusion of other forms of spirituality. They’re practicing their own version of faith that’s less reliant on religious doctrine. They can belong to a church, pray, read the Bible, and look out for their own “wellness” – social, spiritual, mental, financial. Some meditate to maintain mental health, some manifest to envision success, some are exploring faiths from other cultures. Based on what works for them personally, they combine a mix of practices to self–actualize.

This spirituality leads them to a stance of acceptance and flexibility about the spectrums of gender and sexual identity – in others as well as themselves. Even in gaming, Black Gen Z are more likely than Gen Z overall to use video games to explore another gender identity.

In their estimation, however, the institutions they rely on – like church, school, and sports – haven’t kept pace when it comes to accepting different gender or sexual identities.

Globally connected but locally focused

Smartphones are Black Gen Z’s windows to the world, connecting them to global ideas, people, cultures, and communities. They search for everything, everywhere – new people, how to succeed in their chosen fields, ways to hone their hobbies. More than half say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on. The most top-of-mind issues are those most likely to affect them personally or the people they know – gun control, police brutality, the environment, and women’s rights.

This generation of Black Americans wants to be depicted in all its complexity and uniqueness. They want their determination to succeed to be acknowledged and their challenges validated. While Black resilience should be celebrated, Black Gen Z wants to see current achievements applauded and new chapters added to the narrative. In faith, they believe in the Golden Rule, incorporating a variety of spiritual influences and a more open perspective. And finally, social media expands their horizons while deepening their connection to their immediate communities.