Teens, Tech & Racism

teens

Reposted from USA Today:

The most racially diverse generation in American history works hard to see race as just another attribute, no more important than the cut of a friend’s clothes or the music she likes. But the real world keeps intruding, as it has the past few weeks with angry protests over the racially charged deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in nearby Staten Island, N.Y. “As a generation, we don’t acknowledge color, but we know that the race problem is still there,” says 16-year-old Nailah Richards, an African-American student at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn. “We don’t really pay attention to it, but we know it’s there.” Nailah is one of the Millennials, the 87 million Americans born between 1982 and 2001. They are defined by opinion surveys as racially open-minded and struggling to be “post-racial.”

Many young people still see the USA’s intractable problems as rooted in race. In a May 2012 report, Race Forward: the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that “a large majority” of young people in the Los Angeles area believed race and racism still mattered significantly — particularly as they relate to education, criminal justice and employment. In follow-up sessions in five cities in early 2012, the center found that “racial justice” was the most significant interest among young people. “Do I feel like I live in a post-racial society?” asks Izabelle. “Not at all. Not at all.” The borders of school districts often produce segregated schools as a byproduct of neighborhood segregation, and students are placed in classrooms and on academic tracks based on test scores that often correlate with socioeconomic status.

Social divisions, including racial divisions, “are not disappearing simply because people have access to technology,” researcher Danah Boyd says. “Tools that enable communication do not sweep away distrust, hatred and prejudice.” The mere existence of new technology “neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems. In fact, their construction typically reinforces existing social divisions.” For instance, when she sat down to look at the Facebook profile of a white 17-year-old girl at a private East Coast high school, boyd found that though her school recruited students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, most of those who had left comments on the student’s profile were white. “Teens go online to hang out with their friends,” she wrote, “and given the segregation of American society, their friends are quite likely to be of the same race, class, and cultural background.”

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