Bill O'Reilly is wrong: The "white establishment" is not a minority

Posted: November 19, 2012

Charles A. Gallagher is chair of the department of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University

Whites are back in the news. They never really left, but the way whites as a demographic group are currently being discussed in the media has shifted from marketing niches or political collectives (soccer mom, Joe Sixpack, suburban voters) to a population that is now in an accelerating death spiral.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly recently explained how the rug had been pulled out from older white men like himself, as the nation becomes strikingly less white and more racially diverse. The reelection of President Obama signifies, as O'Reilly sees it, that "the white establishment is now the minority."

O'Reilly's claim is simply wrong. (Full disclosure: I appeared on The O'Reilly Factor as a guest and was never invited back.)

As a sociologist, I take minority to mean two things. The first is that the group is a numerical minority. The second is that a particular group does not share equally in society's resources, and is mistreated or marginalized because of racism, sexism, religious persecution, or other arbitrary reasons.

Minority does not, however, always mean being smaller in number. Blacks in apartheid South Africa were considered a "minority" in terms of socio-economic power, but were a numerical majority. In the United States, women are often defined from a legal perspective as a minority even though there are more women than men.

The idea that whites are now a racial minority numerically in the United States is simply wrong. The country has 312 million people. Non-Hispanic whites account for 64 percent of the total population. And if we fold in those Latinos who mark "white" on the census, the number of white Americans shoots up to 74 percent.

It is likely that this number will remain stable or grow. According to Pew research among Latinos who married across the racial/ethnic divide in 2008, 81 percent married someone who was white. If these couples have children, they are likely to mark the "white" box for the race of their offspring. Not only is the United States still a white country, demography tells us that whites will continue to be three-fourths of the demographic pie for some time.

In terms of race and ethnicity, whites were the largest voting bloc in the 2012 election, accounting for 72 percent of ballots cast. The share for blacks was 13 percent, Hispanics 10 percent, and Asians 3 percent. It would appear that a candidate who appealed to an overwhelming majority of the "white vote" could very easily win the White House. So, even in terms of potential political clout, it is incorrect to say that whites are now a minority.

Concerns about the "white establishment" are further disproved when it comes to institutional power. For example, my university is quite diverse, although the majority of our undergraduates are white. But as department chair, I can see that the other 24 department chairs in my college are white, and whites - mostly white males - hold the school's key leadership positions.

In this regard, La Salle is like Penn, Temple, Drexel, Villanova, and every other college in the region. One only need look at the race of this region's university presidents to see which racial group is overrepresented in the upper echelon of academia.

The 112th Congress tells a similar story. The House is 83 percent white, while the Senate is 96 percent white. There are no blacks or American Indians in the Senate. White men hold more than 90 percent of the senior administrative positions in Fortune 100 companies and 95 percent of board positions at Fortune 500 companies. According to Forbes, white men make up 86 percent of the 400 richest people in the United States, although they are about 35 percent of the total population.

By any objective measure, this is still a white country, run by whites. The "white establishment" is not in the minority in terms of population size. It's the largest racial group by far, and the largest voting bloc. And the "white establishment" still has a near-lock on Congress, and runs almost all of our major multinational corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies. It is hard to conclude that this "white establishment" became the minority the day after the election.

I would frame O'Reilly's math in a different way. Of all the various demographic groups that voted for Obama, in terms of votes cast, whites were the largest voting bloc. In other words, the white establishment remains the majority, as it would have been had Mitt Romney been elected.


Chat live with Charles A. Gallagher on Monday at

1 p.m. at www.philly.com


E-mail Charles A. Gallagher at gallagher@lasalle.edu.

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