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Review Essay

What Is White America?

The Identity Politics of the Majority

In This Review

White Shift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities
White Shift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities
By Eric Kaufmann
Abrams Press, 2019, 624 pp. Purchase
White Identity Politics
White Identity Politics
By Ashley Jardina
Cambridge University Press, 2019, 384 pp. Purchase
Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland
Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland
By Jonathan M. Metzl
Basic Books, 2019, 352 pp. Purchase

The U.S. presidential election of 2016 altered the prevailing American ideology of race. Donald Trump’s coy, borderline white nationalism helped turn people who previously happened to be white into “white people”—coded as white in an essential way, just as, for instance, black people are coded as black in an essential way. Many observers were slow to grasp the political ramifications of citizens who happen to be white voting first and foremost as white people. In the immediate aftermath of the election, commentators rushed to ascribe Trump’s victory to economic disarray in the heartland and to a subset of voters lamenting their loss of jobs and stability. It took a couple of years for journalists, pollsters, and scholars to find a sounder explanation: by and large, most white Trump supporters were not voting out of economic self-interest; rather, they were resentful of social changes that threatened their taken-for-granted position atop a social hierarchy—despite the fact that the vast majority of those who held political power were white (and male), white families’ wealth was still six and a half times as great as black families’ wealth, and black families headed by college graduates had about 33 percent less wealth than white families headed by high school dropouts. 

Three new books seek to validate this explanation and to answer a few crucial questions. What do these white people want? According to these authors, they want Trump, Brexit, guns, tax cuts, Republicans, Social Security, and Medicare. More than anything else, they want to protect their place atop society. 

And what don’t these white people want? Immigrants, Obamacare, and money for public schools. And above all, they don’t want to be called bigots by multiculturalists; that kind of talk threatens them and encourages them to embrace white nationalism. They cannot imagine a multiracial society in which white people—however defined—peaceably take their place among others who are not white. 

And who are these white people? That’s what these books

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