What’s The Matter With White People?
It’s impossible to generalize about “white people,” of course, and almost as hard to make bold, broad statements about the “white working class.” There are regional differences and differences in age; distinctions according to whether people are married or have children. The biggest difference seems to be whether you define that group by income, or whether you define it in terms of people without a college degree. The Democrats’ current political troubles have more to do with white people who lack a college education than those who lack income. In 2008, Obama lost white voters who didn’t go to college by 18 points, but he lost whites who made less than $50,000 by only four points. No wonder Santorum didn’t want us to go to college. (Intermarriage rates are also highest among the college-educated.)
Young or old, surveys and polls find that whites without college degrees are the most pessimistic Americans, with a majority saying they expect their kids to be worse off than they are. Are they all like Pat Buchanan, sulking because their country no longer looks the way it did when they were younger, and they are unwilling to share it with people who aren’t white? No doubt, some of them are. But the way that white people, particularly the economically vulnerable, react to the browning of America will have a lot to do with how we treat them. Yes, I said we and them. The forces of social justice have always looked out for the rights and singular insights of minority populations. We’re about to have a new one to think about.
I know white people still hold disproportionate wealth and power in this country. They make up an estimated 95 percent of the top 1 percent. But I’m more interested in the more than 99 percent of whites who are excluded from that top group. Whenever I am trying to figure out whether someone is more interested in equity or in racial score-setting, I ask myself, How do they feel about the top 1 percent having 40 percent of the nation’s wealth? Is it wrong, whoever the top 1 percent is, or is it only wrong because they’re almost all white? Would it be okay if the top 1 percent still controlled their gargantuan share of the nation’s wealth, as long as it was racially representative of the US population? It wouldn’t be okay with me, or with most Americans, I think.
Some in the white working class are finally, belatedly, waking up to the issue of economic inequality and the fact that they’ve been sold out by the GOP. We can either say, “Screw you, what took you so long?” Or we can say, “Welcome, let’s get to work.” You know my preference. I’m sure most people share it.