White Responses to the Unwinding of White Dominance

The past 500 years have been a wild ride for White people.

Ever since the Roman Empire fell apart, Europe was split into a bunch of competing dictatorships. When the Black Plague hit, a third of the workers died, giving more bargaining power to those who remained. To quote Hal Varian, it was a great time to be alive if you were alive.

The resulting freedom and competition sparked technological growth that helped White people take over the world.1 Europe brought guns to a knife fight. But the trouble with technology is others can imitate it. Around 1945, White people lost their grip on global power, and White power has been unwinding ever since.

Today, as non-White people around the world get rapidly richer, many White people’s lives are stagnant. And they’re pissed about it. Anybody would be. We should empathize.

To be clear, White people are still super rich on average. But humans judge their circumstances relative to expectations. In America, while educated Whites have ridden the post-WWII global wave of increased prosperity, less-educated Whites have not.

On top of weakening White power, consider the intersectionality faced by White, rural, non-college-educated, Christian, straight men. Rural areas got poorer, job opportunities got worse, women took control, traditional sexual morality became bigotry, religion seemed more hollow, marriage got harder and divorce more common, and drugs became more available and lethal. Their national government transformed from a White ethno-state to one that accepts people from all over the world and vocally promotes the well-being of every identity group except them.

For many Whites who are educated and prospering, their place in the new multicultural social order is tolerable and more fair. But those who are not prospering are understandably resistant. Non-college-educated Whites’ average income in the US has fallen over the past 50 years. Although social progress is not zero-sum, it’s still been a net-negative for the losers.

The past decade has brought a resurgence of pressure to break down barriers to Black and Hispanic (Native) success. This time, the onus has successfully and appropriately been placed on the richer White majority to break down path-dependent systems that make it harder for non-Whites to succeed. However, we have to recognize that self-immolation doesn’t come naturally to people.

In Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Beverly Daniel Tatum brilliantly describes the coming-of-age experience for Black teenagers in a society that stigmatizes them. She offers 6 stages of progress toward racially aware self-actualization for Black people. Good.

But next, Chapter 6 – The Development of White Identity creates a false equivalence by describing six stages of progress toward White people becoming racially aware social justice allies/warriors.2 This is about how White people can help Black people thrive, rather than how they can thrive themselves. Whiteness is reduced to oppression. Describing a White person moving into the final stage of self-actualization, Tatum writes, “Her experience in a White anti-racism group helped her to stop feeling bad because she was White.” Blackness is basically good, and whiteness is basically bad.

Christians should be well-prepared for a call to help empower discriminated groups. We are called to selflessness and are warned about grasping for power in this world where we are foreigners. But it’s also a big pill to swallow. Like everybody else, White people reliably put themselves first. White people are members of a long, proud European-derived culture and history that unfortunately includes oppression. There are routes to racially-aware White identity that do not include Black allyship, as demonstrated by the success of Fox News.

Without denying the benefit of having White skin in America, one must acknowledge that many White people have been trounced by the past 60 years of history. Human flourishing of White and non-White Americans requires public policy and culture that provide win-win formulas that enable everybody to thrive.

  1. Plenty of references here. For example, see Guns, Germs & Steel and contrasts to serfdom in Russia and centralized government power in China

  2. The book’s description of the journey toward White allyship is useful, although it’s written from a non-Christian perspective. If one approaches life as a new creation—dead to self, alive only in Christ, and aware of oneself as an unworthy sinner—the feelings of guilt Tatum warns about should not be such a problem. 

Written on June 20, 2022