The Fears of a Tapering Majority: Mere Media or Growing Reality?

With Obama in Oval Office and Hispanic Americans expected to become the United States’ racial majority by 2050, news coverage of so-termed “white anxiety” has been anything but scant. Racial anxiety is hardly a new phenomenon — following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some whites took umbrage as their institutionally buttressed status as majority was increasingly threatened. Obama’s 2008 election, the 2009 economic recession and consequent American Tea Party Movement have once again brought the threats to white American’s majority status to the forefront. The question is: “Will a demographical shift bring about an ideological shift?”

CNN’s John Blake delves into this question in his March 2011 article “Are whites racially oppressed?”. Of the many reasons cited for the growing presence of racial anxiety among whites, the vast majority encompass the very ideals of upward mobility and equal opportunity that typify the “American Dream”, the same ideals that propelled the Civil Rights Movement.

“Call it racial jujitsu: A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority. They are adopting the language and protest tactics of an embattled minority group, scholars and commentators say.” (Blake, “Are whites racially oppressed?”. CNN)

Glenn Beck’s August 2010 “Restoring Honor” rally helped to showcase this new form of “white anxiety”, one that doesn’t necessarily appeal to the threat of minorities’s upward mobility, but rather minorities’s growing numbers. Alluding to the work and philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Beck’s “Restoring Honor” conjured a scenario wherein the dwindling of white Americans’ demographical dominance would, in essence, displace white Americans’ ideological dominance. This is elucidated by the Tea Party’s unwavering revisionist rhetoric — the need to adhere unyieldingly to the U.S. Constitution, a document that ostensibly works to reinforce the ideological and historical dominance of white Americans.

The economy is an ostensible catalyst in racial anxiety. CNN’s Blake discussed the economy’s role in this new racial dynamic with “White Like Me” author Tim Wise. Wise contends that, unlike middle-class minorities, middle-class white Americans were confounded by a newfound sudden economic uncertainty during the 2009 recession. But, more than mere financial vulnerability, Wise highlights the cultural implications of a dwindling majority: “‘We can no longer take for granted that we (whites) are the dictionary definition of an American.’” (Blake, “Are whites racially oppressed?. CNN)

One place, where culture and money meet, has undergone particular scrutiny — the university. Scholarships exclusively for white males and courses in “white studies” are just a couple of indicators of a changing racial dynamic in American higher education. Affirmative Action in the university admissions process has increasingly been met with resistance across the board, many contending it gives an unfair advantage to blacks and Hispanics.

The New York Times’ Ross Douthat explored several Affirmative Action figures in his July 2010 op-ed piece “The Roots of White Anxiety”. Highlighting Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford’s research in No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal” Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Douthat contends that the most disadvantaged of all socioeconomic groups vying for college admission are “the downscale, the rural and working-class [whites.]” (Douthat, “The Roots of White Anxiety”. The New York Times) Indeed, Espenshade, et. al.’s study found that, among the unmentioned elite private schools studied, blacks held an advantage equivalent to a 230-point increase in their SAT scores, while Hispanics held that equivalent to a 180-point increase (out of 1600).

As numbers shift and dynamics change, only time will tell if the “ideological American” will characteristically transform.