Spring 2011

Millenials & the Myth of a Post-Racial Society

Black Youth, Intra-generational Divisions & the Continuing Racial Divide in American Politics
Cathy J. Cohen

Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (2010) and The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (1999). She is the Principal Investigator for the Black Youth Project and the Mobilization, Change, and Political and Civic Engagement Project.

Since the election of Barack Obama, much has been made of the generational divide in the populace. Some have suggested that once the so-called millennials come to dominate the political domain, many of the thorny social issues that have caused great debate and consternation among the American public will be resolved. This line of reasoning implies that young people who embrace and personify a more inclusive society will eventually take over policy-making and thought leadership, moving both areas in a more liberal direction. Commentators point to the significant differences in opinion registered among various generations on topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion as evidence of the more inclusive worldview held by the majority of young people. According to a 2009 CNN.com story, “Fifty-four percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Monday said marriages between gay or lesbian couples should not be recognized as valid with 44 percent suggesting they should be considered legal. But among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent said same-sex marriages should be considered legal.” The article closes with a quote from CNN political analyst Bill Schneider that underscores the potential of young Americans to change the trajectory of equal rights in the country: “Young voters strongly favor marriage equality. They’re the future of American politics.”1 A USA Today story makes a similar argument, proclaiming that “younger Americans, more eclectic in their views .  .  .


  • 1Paul Steinhauser, “CNN Poll: Generations Disagree on Same-sex Marriage,” CNN.com, May 4, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/04/samesex.marriage.poll/index .html?iref=mpstoryview.
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