South Carolina student suspended for racial slur. Are millennials racist?

A University of South Carolina student was suspended after writing a racist slur on a whiteboard. Are American college students 'colorblind' or apathetic to racism?

Travis Long/The News & Observer/AP Photo/File
Duke students from left, Michaela Stith, Ashley Croker-Benn and Jasmine Roddey rally during a university-wide forum outside the Duke Chapel on campus Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Durham, N.C. Duke officials said Wednesday that they are trying to find out who hung a noose outside a building that houses several offices, including those focused on diversity. More recently, a student at the University of South Carolina was caught writing a racist slur on a campus whiteboard. These incidents and others have highlighted concerns about racism in colleges and among the youth.

A University of South Carolina student has been suspended after a photo showing her writing a racist slur on a campus whiteboard went viral.

The incident is the latest in a series of high-profile racist episodes in colleges in the United States – a series that has some critics questioning whether today’s youth really are more tolerant and open to diversity than previous generations. Other experts have said that such incidents are a mark of the nation’s struggle as it transitions into a place where, for the first time in its history, whites are no longer the majority.

“A lot of people, even of the millennial generation, grew up believing that this country would always look a certain way, and that the people who were in charge of major institutions would always be of a certain color,” Ed Dorn, a civil rights history professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told The Christian Science Monitor last week. “But the color line is shifting, and in a few decades this will no longer be a white man's country.”

“That makes them uncomfortable, angry, and anxious,” he said.

In the photo that circulated this week, the USC student, whose name has not been reported, is shown writing on a whiteboard with a red marker. The writing criticizes and cites reasons behind the school’s poor wi-fi service. The first reason is a racial slur.

Just this Thursday, a student at Duke University admitted to hanging a noose made of rope from a tree on campus. Less than a month ago, a video hit social media showing fraternity members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon chanting racist verses.

To some, these are signs that today’s generation have not learned from the mistakes of the past – nor are they showing a greater understanding of what racism is and what it takes to end it.

“As children of the multi-cultural 1980s and 90s, Millennials are fluent in colorblindness and diversity, while remaining illiterate in the language of anti-racism,” Mychal Denzel Smith, a journalist and social commentator, wrote in an op-ed for PBS.

Part of the reason is that the generations who taught today’s youth about racism “generally decided to ignore [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] diagnosis of the problem – white supremacy – and opted to make him a poster-child for a colorblind society, in which we simply ignore construct of race altogether...,” Mr. Smith wrote.

In effect, he noted, racism has become a taboo subject.

More than 80 percent of millennials surveyed said they were raised to treat everyone the same and to not acknowledge racial differences, and the majority said that “colorblindness” is an aspirational goal, according to an MTV report on youth perceptions about race and racism. The report is part of the company’s “Look Different” campaign, which aims to identify and find solutions for racial and gender bias.

But even as 73 percent said that people need to talk more about bias in order to find solutions for it, more than half say that they never or rarely discuss the subject, the report found.

There is a desire to become more open, however. More than 50 percent of respondents agreed that it was hard to have a respectful conversation about bias, but nearly 70 percent said they would love a chance to have a judgment-free discussion about bias, according to the report.

More than three-quarters said everyone has a responsibility to address bias, and a full 90 percent said it is important to make their community a less biased place.

Reactions to the incidents at Duke, Oklahoma, and most recently in South Carolina seem to support the report’s findings. All three incidents prompted public outcry from their respective student bodies and administrations.

Protests were held. At Oklahoma, the school shut down the fraternity chapter, while the national president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon condemned the members for their act. At South Carolina, the student has been suspended and investigations into the incident are ongoing, USA Today reported.

“Respect for all is at the heart of the Carolinian Creed, the code by which we agree to abide. Racist and uncivil rhetoric have no place at the University of South Carolina,” the school’s president, Harris Pastides, said in a statement. "We have taken appropriate actions to suspend a student and begin code of conduct investigations. The Board of Trustees has endorsed this prompt course of action.”

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