Skip to main content

Pacific Standard - June 3, 2019

Remember white people? Once upon a time, they dominated American life. But at some point in the 21st century, beset by low birth rates, they gradually died out.

Yes, that's an absurd notion. But new research suggests that, for some white Americans, it's a real fear—one that stimulates racial bias and political conservatism.

"White population decline does not merely trigger the threat considered in most studies of demographic change—that is, status threat," write University of Minnesota psychologists Hui Bai and Christopher Federico. "Our work suggests that it may additionally elicit fears that the in-group will actually cease to exist."

As the researchers note in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, it has been clear for some time that many white Americans feel threatened by projections that, by the year 2050, members of their racial identity will no longer make up a majority of the nation's population. Much research has found this is driven by fear of a loss of status—that whites will no longer play a dominant role in society.

In two studies, Bai and Federico tested how whites' views and behaviors are affected by that fear, and by two others: "collective symbolic threat," which they describe as worries about the white race "losing its unique identity and values," as its members assimilate into other cultures; and "collective existential threat," the fear that the race will eventually cease to exist. ...
Read full article at Pacific Standard