How Minority Millennials Are Driving Politics

Whether we agree with them or not, young blacks and Latinos are leading us into the future

  • Share
  • Read Later
Eric Thayer / Reuters

Thousands of New Yorkers marched in silence down Fifth Avenue in New York June 17, 2012 to demand an end to the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" program, which the protesters say disproportionately targets black and Latino males.

Last Sunday, I was one of the estimated 40,000 people who attended a “silent march” in New York City organized by the NAACP to protest the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, which disproportionately impacts black and Latino males. One young black woman marching directly in front of me was holding a sign that said, “silence is violence.” When I asked her what it meant, she said, “A lot of us have problems with the whole silent march thing. The problem is we have been silent too long.” It seemed she was not alone — there were other young blacks and Latinos who chafed at the request that they march in silence, chanting slogans like “New York cops, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”  I was heartened to see that they were not conforming to the stereotype about their generation being passive and unengaged politically.

In fact, in the past few months, minority millennials in particular have noisily shifted the political landscape.  These shifts are important because recent studies have suggested that a generational divide in the United States is widening our racial divide, but recent events show that this may simply not be the case.

(MORE: Will Black Voters Punish Obama for His Support of Gay Marriage?)

Take for example the stunning change in African American support for gay marriage following President Obama’s announced support. Before, only 44% of blacks who responded said they were in support of same-sex marriage and 51% were against it. Following his announcement, polls showed that 59% of African Americans supported gay marriage. When the Pew Forum actually broke the results out by age it became clear that those born after 1982 are almost twice as likely to support same-sex marriage as are those born anytime before 1963.

According to Oneka LaBennett, a professor of American Studies at Fordham University whose work focuses on the political beliefs of young blacks, their support for gay marriage puts them in step with their white, Latino, and Asian peers. As LaBennett points out, support among blacks and Latinos for extending equal housing, employment, and hate crime protections to gays actually exceeds that of white youth. Majorities of African American and Latino youth also support civil unions, marriage and adoption rights.

(MORE: What the Reverend Jesse Jackson Has to Say About Gay Marriage)

Then there’s immigration. Although 90% of Latinos always supported the basic provisions of the DREAM Act, those keeping the issue at the forefront were members of the loosely organized immigrant youth justice movement which waged a two-year campaign to convince President Obama to halt the deportation of young people. Members of this movement staged sit-ins, held workshops and informational sessions and identified allies who could help them achieve their goals. Many who participated say that they were inspired to do so in May of 2010 when four undocumented college students walked 1,500 miles from Florida to Washington, D.C. as a way of bringing attention to their plight.

Whether we agree with them or not, minority millennials are showing that they will not be silent and leading us into the future.

MORE: Read TIME’s Cover Story: “Not Legal, Not Leaving”