A recent article in the New York Times is entitled: “Faces of Power: 80% Are White, Even as U.S. Becomes More Diverse.” The article states that about 40% of US residents identify as BIPOC. The article contrasts this statistic with the following data:
94% of governors are white.
92% of senators are white.
76% of the elected members of the House of Representatives are white.
96% of the U.S. News and World Report’s 25 highest-rated universities have white leaders.
White CEOs lead 76% of the 25 highest valued companies.
In the music industry, 86% of the people who most influence what music is produced and heard are white.
In the other entertainment industry, TV and Hollywood, 88% of the top 25 executives are white.
88% of the people who lead the 25 highest valued fashion companies are white.
94% of professional football, baseball and basketball teams have white owners.
I think it is fair to say that whites do indeed ‘see color.’ They see white as ‘the color’ that they trust and select their leaders accordingly. I suspect that much of this is still driven by the experiences of racial segregation that existed among working class whites in the early part of the 20th century. In spite of family stories that they all lived in one all-Irish or all-Polish ghetto, the classic 1993 study by Massey and Denton ( American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass), used actual census data to show that white workers, in fact, actually resided in very mixed white ethnic neighborhoods with Italian, Jewish, Ukrainian and Irish living side by side. The families did not remember this, because they only paid attention to the houses of their relatives who often lived in close proximity.
The experience of living in segregated white neighborhoods had a profound influence on voting. Whites knew that, no matter which ethnic white person was elected from the district, all the ethnic groups would benefit from the monies their representative brought to the district (e.g., libraries, paved roads, parks, etc.). Blacks, however, were forced to live in black-only districts. They were able to elect black officials, but the whites saw that any monies those officials secured went exclusively to black neighborhoods. They viewed money that went to libraries, schools and parks in the black neighborhoods as money not available for whites.
Today, that residential segregation continues. The vast majority of whites no longer live in urban neighborhoods. Thanks to federally supported programs, those whites now live in the suburbs. Blacks and Latinx people, however, still reside in poor urban neighborhoods with far fewer services and poor-quality school buildings.
As the data indicates, white voters continue to view BIPOC candidates as people who, if elected, will not act best serve white interests. They continue to see elections as either-or situations where the winners will serve only the interests of whites or BIPOC voters. This is visible in the voting for state-wide elections of governors and senators. Whites elect white officials.
This voting behavior is compounded by the fact that the media continues to misrepresent issues that impact both whites and BIPOC people. That media is heavily white-dominated as can be seen in the Times report: 90% of the biggest 15 new companies have white leaders and 10 of the most-read magazines have white leadership. The results of this white leadership are in evidence in the 2017 article, “The media ends up racializing poverty by presenting a distorted image of black families.” The article notes that whites constitute 60% of poor people in the country, but the media depict poor white families in only 17% of the articles. This represents little change from the 1990’s, when I tracked a similar pattern. At that time 62% of people on welfare were white, but a Yale study of TV stories about welfare revealed that 100% of the video featured black women!
The statistics presented in the Times article are not likely to change until whites move away from their preference for choosing white leaders. Although the U.S. population is becoming more racial diverse, this does not necessarily affect the power structure. For more than two hundred years, whites owned and operated sugar plantations in the Caribbean Islands with a labor force of enslaved kidnapped Africans. During that time the whites were outnumbered by as much as 10 to 1.
Unless whites find a way to accept and choose BIPOC leaders, we will continue to see the nation run by one racial group – the same racial group that has held power since European colonists set up a country that where only whites could be citizens and hold power.
Until recently, I would have said that I see little indication that things are likely to change in the way whites act. I expect that is still accurate in terms of those who are 50 years and older. I am encouraged, though, by the large numbers of young whites who are in the streets supporting BLM. These young whites are actually following BIPOC leaders. Hopefully, this reflects a change in how these whites view race. Hopefully, these young whites perceive that their self-interest is intertwined with that of their fellow BIPOC citizens.