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Racial Stasis

The Millennial Generation and the Stagnation of Racial Attitudes in American Politics

Racial progress in the United States has hit a wall, and the rise of white nationalism is but one manifestation of this. Most Americans continue to hope that the younger generation, which many believe manifests less racism and more acceptance of a multiracial society, will lead to more moderate racial politics—but this may not be happening. Overtly racist attitudes have declined, but anti-black stereotypes and racial resentment remain prevalent among white Americans. To add, the shape of racial attitudes has continued to evolve, but our existing measures have not evolved in step and cannot fully illuminate the challenge at hand.

With Racial Stasis, Christopher D. DeSante and Candis Watts Smith argue persuasively that this is because millennials, a generational cohort far removed from Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era, lack sufficient understanding of the structural nature of racial inequalities in the United States and therefore also the contextual and historical knowledge to be actively anti-racist. While these younger whites may be open to the idea of interracial marriage or living next to a family of a different race, they often do not understand why policies like affirmative action still need to exist and are weary about supporting these kinds of policies. In short, although millennials’ language and rationale around race, racism, and racial inequalities are different from previous generations’, the end result is the same.

Author Information

Christopher D. DeSante is assistant professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington. Candis Watts Smith is assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


“The time is right for Racial Stasis. The optimism placed on White millennials for their alleged capacity to be free from racial in-group/out-group thinking is unrealistic, and we are due for a reevaluation of our reliance on racial resentment as our central measure of racial attitudes. DeSante and Smith provide a valuable addition to the literature that will surely spark debate about how we conceive of and measure racial attitudes and how we assess the role they play in shaping political preferences today.”
— Deborah Schildkraut, Tufts University

“A thorough and powerful mapping of the ways the millennial generation is thinking about and engaging with racial ideas in a qualitatively different way. DeSante and Smith not only show scholars how ill-suited old measures of racial attitudes are to the racial grammar of new generations, they develop and test a new measure for our era. Original, bold, convincing, and timely, Racial Stasis is an important book.”
— Vesla Weaver, Johns Hopkins University

Audience: Professional and scholarly;