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Is Tolerance a Non-Issue for Teens?

by Linda Lyons

A large road sign recently placed along the New York State Thruway near New Paltz declared, "THIS COMMUNITY DOES NOT TOLERATE RACISM AGAINST MUSLIMS, ARABS AND PEOPLE OF COLOR." The Thruway Authority removed it four days later, explaining to the well-intentioned locals that law prohibited the sign from being displayed on the side of the road because it did not fall into the category of "gas, food and lodging."

Less literal, but perhaps even more significant, are encouraging signs of growing levels of acceptance of other cultures, religions and lifestyles among 21st-century teens. Not only are these teens far more willing to accept homosexuals as part of mainstream society (see Acceptance of Homosexuality: A Youth Movement), teens appear to be more inclusive of others in all aspects of their lives. Eighty percent (80%)* of all teens say they are offended by racial stereotypes in movies, white teens and black teens agreeing in identical numbers. As for other racially motivated issues, three-quarters (73%)** of all teens familiar with the concept of affirmative action agree that ethnic and minority groups deserve extra help in college admissions. In the latest Gallup Youth Survey, 87% say affirmative action programs should be continued. Only 56% of their adult counterparts favor those affirmative action programs for minorities and women.

Seventy-nine percent (79%) of American teens say they "feel comfortable being with people whose ideas, beliefs and values are different from their own." All teens answer similarly to this question, regardless of race or gender. Also, when asked about college living situations, more than eight out of 10 teens*** say it will make no difference to them whether their college roommate is black, white, Hispanic or Asian.

When Gallup asked teens about their views on personal relationships between people of differing backgrounds, 73%^ believe that interracial dating is "no big deal." Teens also give high approval ratings for marriages between Hispanics and non-Hispanics (94%) and Asians and non-Asians (93%). And when questioned about marriages between blacks and whites, a majority (91%) approve -- up dramatically from 52% in 1977.

If teens raised a highway sign today, it might well read: "RACE IS A NON-ISSUE. NEXT?"

All findings are based on Gallup Youth Surveys with national samples of close to 500 teen-agers, ages 13 to 17. For samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points.

*Interviews conducted June through September 2001.

**Interviews conducted December 2000 through February 2001.

***Interviews conducted July through October 1995.

^Interviews conducted in October 1997.

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