Why call this section on the attitudes and experiences of White Americans The View from Above? Not because all White Americans have an easy life. First of all, no one does. All the money in the world won’t insulate you from many of life’s trials. And not because all White people are economically and socially well-to-do. According to the Census Bureau, 40% of Americans who live below the poverty line are non-Hispanic Whites (see Table 3, page 13). That’s the largest single group.
Note, however, that three-quarters of the U.S. population is White, so White people are under-represented among the nation’s poor. As we saw in The Vertical Dimension of Race: Social Power, Whites have greater access to all kinds of resources, on average, and have fewer problems (unemployment, poverty, chronic disease, etc.) as a result. And as we saw in The History We Inhaled, White people have consistent advantages, on average, when it comes to things like job applications. Over time, that really adds up. White women still deal with sexism, of course, and White people with disabilities face challenges in that regard. When it comes to issues of race, however, even White people who are disadvantaged in other ways still have an advantage for being White.
Combined with our extremely high level of national racial segregation, this means that most White people develop their views of race in a very specific context, a context that shapes much of what they are told, what they experience, and what they believe.
That doesn’t make them bad people, but it does mean that we can should understand White perspectives by understanding their context.
Of course, as with any group, there is no one White perspective, no official White stance. Research results, however, reveal a large mainstream of racial opinion among White Americans, a surprising amount of agreement given the heterogeneity of the group on so many other issues. There is something about the White experience in the U.S. that shapes the racial views of most White people. If you’re White, please reflect critically on the research results to discern whether, and if so, how, they describe you. If you aren’t White, please read the research results with empathy to provide you with additional information about how and why many White people hold the views they do.