Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Karlee Ursta is a junior at American University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Race politics has been the “elephant in the room” for the 114th Congress. Jump-started by racially-charged protests in Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York City, and kept alive online by hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, America’s “race war” has posed new questions for black Millennials. How does one’s experience as a black American translate into Millennial issues?
To help provide some insight into the experience of Millennial people of color, we sat down for a discussion with Udodilim “U.d.” Nnamdi of Howard University here in Washington, DC. Nnamdi is currently a junior majoring in law and African American studies with a special interest in race politics.
MAP: What do you think is the largest challenge facing our generation today? How can Millennials unite social divides and work together to creatively solve these issues?
U.d.: It's difficult to pinpoint one specific issue plaguing our generation today, but on a broad scale I would say the continued existence of a white patriarchal system that dominates every sphere of political life is the most disturbing issue. Millennials can work to alleviate this issue by first recognizing its existence and acknowledging this system as the root cause of many other issues such as unemployment, the prison-industrial complex, school to prison pipeline, housing discrimination, police brutality, minority/ gender wealth & income gaps/disparities, etc. After one recognizes white patriarchy as the root cause, we can begin to dismantle and reform institutions built to oppress minorities while simultaneously working to improve the images/ perceptions of minorities.
MAP: You are a young, black woman who transferred from a predominately white institution to a historically black college. As a Millennial, how do you think race affects our attitude in the college classroom?
U.d.: As a millennial, race plays a huge part in shaping my attitude in a college classroom. Stereotype threat— or the situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their social group— is a constant concern, especially in a predominantly white classroom. One often feels the constant pressure to not confirm any negative stereotypes linking blackness to low academic performance.
I was used to viewing a student's relationship with school as rather business-like and formulaic. Everything appeared to be a calculation: "You get out what you put in." After transferring to an HBCU, I was greeted with a more community centered atmosphere, one in which faculty mentors developed organically and genuinely, instead of the forced networking style I had grown used to.
MAP: How do you think your student loan debt will impact your life for the next 5 or 10 years? Is this problem avoidable?
U.d.: I will have to make a lot of financial sacrifices and lifestyle changes in terms of where I live, how I eat, my expenses on leisure activities, etc. Since a large portion of my financial aid package consists of Parent Plus loans, it is even more important that the next few years of my life are focused on repaying back all of my loans as quickly as possible.
However, I believe student loan debt is a symptom of a broken system, not a necessary evil. After all, we see in countless European nations the low cost of higher education and the way nations, such as Germany, have reformed their academic systems to provide free or low cost institutions of higher learning. It is in America's best interest to lessen student loan debt as new graduates will have more disposable income to spend and inject back into the economy.
MAP: I’d like to segue into politics. Politics has traditionally been dominated by whites. Do you think the Millennial generation is the generation to change this? Why or why not?
U.d.: I would argue that people of color have long been working in politics and for political causes to improve the general welfare of minorities, but with little recognition. Many would rather work as grassroots community organizers and advance the plight of the minority working class than occupy political spaces that separate them from the masses. I believe it is time to shed more light on such individuals. I think the millennial generation can be the one to dismantle some of the institutional barriers preventing the inclusion of more people of color into the political system.
MAP: Our core goal at MAP is to make pragmatic cooperation a norm in Congress. How do you think intersectionality, particularly the intersection of race and politics, works into achieving this goal?
U.d.: I believe the intersection of race and politics can aid in advancing MAP's core goal of pragmatic cooperation, because with a more racially diverse Congress, one would hope that more issues that disproportionately affect racial minorities would be addressed (although as we have seen this is not always the case). There is a greater chance for bipartisan cooperation with such topics at the forefront, especially when minorities are the ones championing such causes in Congress. Due to the vested interest minority advocates have in issues affecting minority communities, they will be more willing to reach across the aisle and seek pragmatic solutions rather than being bogged down with pork bills, rhetoric, and partisanship.
MAP: One of the projects I have been working on is researching net neutrality. How do you think a free and open Internet will impact how Millennials initiate or express desire for political change? Is this type of communication still possible without net neutrality?
U.d.: A free and open internet is crucial to the way Millennials share and learn about social injustices, organize media campaigns, and gain visibility for their causes. Social media has played an enormous role in helping to organize people around specific causes and gather people for demonstrations on issues such as the Arab spring, Michael Brown, #BringBackOurGirls, #JeSuisCharlie etc. If internet service providers are allowed to begin charging for speedy access to certain popularly used social media sites, this will adversely affect Millennials’ ability to organize for social and political change. While it is possible to still organize individuals without net neutrality (i.e the 1960s civil rights movement), social media is a medium used to reach a wider spectrum of people in this day and age so the type of Millennial-led movements occurring now would not be possible without net neutrality.
Race in America is not a simple issue, but it is one that’s worth unpacking. Here at MAP, we support intersectional and multi-generational dialogue, and look forward to being a part of a new national conversation toward pragmatic cooperation across race, gender, and party lines.
Thank you to Udodilim Nnamdi of Howard University for her contribution to this post. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Karlee Ursta is a MAP Operations Intern and is attending American University where she she majors in International Studies and minors in Biology. She recently spent four months living in Ireland and traveling through Europe. Her career goal is to one day blend her two favorite subjects, science and politics, into something she can make a living off of.
As a tax-exempt nonprofit organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Millennial Action Project (MAP) is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislative bodies in regards to policy and legislation. It is important to note guest authors frequently take firm stances on issues and policy matters that are currently being debated by policymakers; when they do, however, they speak for themselves and not for MAP, its board, council or employees.