Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to delete reference to public perceptions that the student facing Nathan Phillips appeared to physically intimidate him, which were based on the initial widely circulated video. More complete video does not show that the student physically intimidated Phillips. This story also has been revised to add that students chanting “build that wall” is not audible on video. (March 1)
Friday’s incident near the Lincoln Memorial in which a group of high school boys confronted an elderly Native American man sent a ripple of fear and anger across the country. The image of a group of high school boys clad in “Make America Great Again” hats, smirking and laughing resurfaced tensions that have been simmering since President Trump’s campaign began. At one point, some reportedly chanted, “Build the wall!” though such chants are not audible on widely circulated video.
While the general assumption is that younger Americans are more liberal, and therefore less likely to support Trump, we noted earlier this year that young white men are the only members of the millennial generation — generally but informally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 — who lean more Republican than Democrat. Millennial men and millennial women tend to identify as Democrats more heavily, as do millennial whites and nonwhites.
But among white millennial men, the picture is different.
These kids on the Mall, though, aren’t millennials. They’re members of a younger generation that doesn’t have a broadly accepted name. The previous administration dubbed them the “Homeland Generation,” but a recent survey from Pew Research Center labeled them Generation Z — presumably following Generation X and Generation Y, an early name for millennials. (The groups are defined here.)
More importantly, Pew also dug into the political views of that group, born in 1996 or later by Pew’s definition. The group mostly mirrors the generally liberal social politics of the millennials. In data provided to The Washington Post, though, we see this holds true even among the white men in the generation.
Consider the question of whether respondents think racial and ethnic diversity is good, bad or makes no difference. Nearly 6 in 10 white males who are in “Generation Z” hold the view that racial and ethnic diversity is a good thing, vs. fewer than 4 in 10 white males born before 1946 (the “Silent Generation,” per Pew’s labels). The drop-off is similar across Gen Z groups, but only among white men are the oldest members more likely to say diversity makes little difference than that it’s a good thing.
(There aren’t enough nonwhites in the Silent Generation to be statistically significant, which is itself telling.)
Or another question related to race: Which group is treated less fairly, blacks or whites? Gen Z white males are far more likely to say black Americans are treated less fairly, even compared to Generation X, those born from 1965 to 1980 under Pew’s definition.
White males in Gen Z and who are millennials are more likely to say government should do more to solve problems. The change over time here is stark, with responses among white men inverting neatly as the respondent gets older.
Pew’s research on the generation established a lot of comfort among members of the generation on LGBTQ issues. The oldest whites who spoke to Pew saw same-sex marriage as a bad thing; the youngest, including young white males, disagreed.
Mind you, on these four subjects, white males generally offered more conservative views than their peers. But compared particularly to older white men, their views on diversity and racial bias were starkly different.
It’s clear from Friday’s incident on the Mall that the young men who confronted the Native American protester had somehow internalized that their behavior was acceptable. It’s hard to read from that one scenario how they look at issues of race more broadly. But if part of the incident on the Mall reflected opposition to diversity, those views would be in the minority.
There’s some irony to that.