Not One of Us

I started watching a confused video at The Atlantic about a purported End of White Christian America, and then leapt through the computer and throttled the person at the other end for not using the words “white” and “Christian” consistently. It’s almost as if those were shorthand.

Because they are. He means WASPs.

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Robert P. Jones doesn’t seem to be intentionally fear-mongering–his other articles on the subject are, as is his book, more measured. Yet his book’s title and this video irresponsibly play right into the white replacement trope with over-simplification. His audience lumps themselves into his categories because they think that they are a) white, and b) Christian–even if they aren’t using the same definitions–and are thus tricked into thinking their group is threatened.

The population of the United States of America is, statistically speaking, primarily white and primarily Christian. The U. S. Census Bureau, a nominally reliable source, says that those self-identifying as white are 76.6% of the population, which is NOT a minority. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study records 70.6% overall, and 70% of white respondents, as Christian, which is NOT a minority.

His numbers are arrived at primarily by eliminating the “white and hispanic” population from the definition of “white,” though removing Catholics, Mormons, and others from the definition of Christian also helps. The confusion here and elsewhere may simply be a difference in how social scientists and the rest of us define membership in a group: the former considers to be members of a group those who consider themselves to be members; the latter considers members those whom the members of a group consider to be members. Or it may lie in the decision to conflate race and ethnicity–that is, using Hispanic origin as an alternative to white. Despite attempts by the Census Bureau to insist that race and Hispanic origin are distinguished from each other, we do tend to see checkboxes as radio buttons, and so they become practically identical.

In any event, the distinction is being made between British North America and the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies–a distinction where the French and Dutch colonies (and Canada) exist only as rounding errors. So despite an Iberian obsession with race as intense as America’s in places such as Mexico and Brazil, many Americans just consider them all not our kind of people.

One aspect of our national project is the continual attempt to define exactly who is really American. We do that with statistics. They aren’t neutral.

Words matter.

So do numbers.