Why The White Working Class Sees Itself As The New Minority | KERA News

Why The White Working Class Sees Itself As The New Minority

Dec 7, 2016

For decades members of the white working class have occupied the economic middle of American society. In 2016, though, many white laborers feel like a steady job and decent wages are harder to come by.

On Think, Krys Boyd talked with Justin Gest, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, about how these feelings have driven some white Americans toward the political fringes. He’s the author of “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality.”  

The KERA Interview

Justin Gest on …

… how white working class people feel:

“What’s so challenging I think for white working class folks today and in today’s America is that they feel a sense of marginality from other working class people of immigrant descent or of racial diversity. They feel marginalized from that group of people. They don’t feel like they can relate, or they feel like maybe they’re actually not wanted, that there’s too much tension between them. On the other hand, what’s so complicated is that they feel similar senses of tension amongst co-ethnic white people who are in big cosmopolitan cities or in bourgeois jobs. They are actually resenting them. White working class people have felt very much, I think, outnumbered and frustrated by this double sense of marginality.”  

… how they view white privilege:

“The problem is that white privilege and the structural advantages of whiteness in American society is the ocean that the fish are swimming in. When you’re swimming in it, you don’t know it’s there until it’s taken away. I think that’s what many people are starting to feel is the pinch of when actually you no longer have any sort of advantages that come with an American meritocracy that’s emerging, if it’s actually emerging.”  

… the myth of white upward mobility:

“There is this mobility is our society. You know, hard work does move you up, and that white working class people just aren’t working as hard as minority groups. But the truth is that inequality and that immobility affects everyone. It doesn’t discriminate as much on the basis of your skin or your religion or your ethnicity. We don’t have good enough school systems that create a level playing field. We don’t have robust enough laws on anti-discrimination to actually ensure that everyone’s getting a fair shot … Those kinds of policy moves that actually do level the playing field for people are not there. And they’re not there for black people, and they’re not there for white people, and they’re not for Latinos either.”