White America’s sad last stand

White America’s sad last stand

Donald Trump was born 70 years ago this month, at the very beginning of the baby boom. At that time, America was, in every sense, an unambiguously white country.

First, in demographic terms, nearly 90 percent of the population was categorized as white. Groups that in the not-too-distant past had been considered only partially or imperfectly or not really white – such as Irish and German Catholics, Italians, and Jews – had by now been largely granted white status, as part of a melting pot ideology which claimed to transform a multi-ethnic population into a society in which race and ethnicity were subsumed into a single American identity. (That this ideology could flourish in a culture that still featured massive legal discrimination against African Americans indicates the extent to which white America managed to avoid even thinking about the existence of black people.)

Second, the political, economic, and cultural dominance of white America was so taken for granted by white Americans that it was, as a social matter, invisible to them.  At that time, whiteness in America was what sociologists call an “unmarked category.”

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