The demographic and economic reasons we should expect more violent white supremacy

“It is possible that Dylann Roof is not an outlier at all, then, but rather emblematic of an approaching storm,” wrote Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in an amazing piece called A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof which I highly recommend you read in full.

I want to expand a little upon something I wrote recently about white supremacy using Christopher Cantwell, who represented the grassroots movement for violent white nationalism in the VICE documentary on Charlottesville, as an example. In my post I asserted that America’s white nationalists are going to murder more non-whites. The reason I believe this is demographic. Young white men are not doing very well relative to other demographics. They’ve stalled out education-wise, meanwhile every year a college degree becomes more of a requirement for employment prospects, marriage prospects, and social standing. They’ve stalled out regarding social skills, which today’s economy also disproportionately rewards. America has created a large and growing cohort of young white men who do not, and should not, expect to achieve any of the hallmarks of American success that their fathers’ fathers did. They will not get good jobs. They will not get married. They will not buy houses. They will not retire. And they blame women and ethnic minorities for this fact. As their sheer numbers and alienation grow, I believe it would be foolish for us to expect them to retreat quietly into obsolescence.

Between 1979 and 1983 the US lost 2.4 million manufacturing jobs and 270,000 auto manufacturing workers lost their jobs. At the start of the 1980s America employed 450,000 U.S. steelworkers. By 1990 that number was 170,000, and the remaining steelworkers’ wages had dropped by 17%.  declined from 760,000 employees in 1978 to 490,000 three years later. Economist Erik Hurst told Econ Talk Podcast host Russ Roberts that between 2000-2005, the American economy shed four million manufacturing jobs. Coal mining is dead.

In other words, America’s pretty much lost all the jobs that men are better suited to than women by nature of their higher average physical strength and stamina.

One World Economic Forum study shows that between 2008 and 2013 annual median incomes in 26 advanced economies fell 2.6%. Many economists blame automation (plus global trade) for slow job growth and stagnant wages across the developed world.

That income earnings increase nearly linearly with educational attainment is one of labor economics’ most well-established empirical findings. Not only do earnings increase linearly, but today, a college degree is twice as valuable as it was in 1980. In 1980 a BA or higher meant less than 40% more earnings than a high school diploma. Today a BA or higher means 80% more earnings than a high school diploma.

Over the last forty years the gender gap in educational attainment in the U.S. has flipped, according to a recent NBER working paper. According to Hurst, 70% of men ages 31-55 don’t have a BA. Today women graduate from high school more often than men. Women make up 58% of college graduates. Women hold more Master’s degrees than men. There are 135 women for every 100 men in graduate school.

In other words, at the same time education was becoming a requirement for high wages, education rates slowed for men and grew for women.

And at the same time, between 1948 and 1980, America’s workforce changed dramatically. Where our economy was once based on blue-collar work, including factory work, transportation, and farming, in that period white-collar work, particularly professional, technical, and clerical jobs, began to dominate. Combine that with a 1970s recession, which motivated women to work who otherwise wouldn’t, and we’ve seen a decline in men’s wages combined with a rise in women’s professional progress.

Where does that leave men? In Men Without Work, America’s Invisible Crisis author Nicholas Eberstadt found that in 1948, men made up a little more than a tenth of working age (20-64) Americans without jobs. By 2015, however, they made up nearly two-fifths of this population. 

“Low-education men compare their lives to the past and don’t like what they see,” Brookings’ Richard V. Reeves wrote. “Where their fathers got a decent-paying job without a degree, they now can’t. Where there fathers were considered the automatic ‘head of the household,’ today women compete with them in the labor market. And the gender gap in median wages has narrowed. Many white men, especially those of modest education, feel as if they are being overtaken and left behind. So rather than ‘It’s the economy, stupid,; in truth, ‘It’s relative status, stupid!’”

In 2000, 8% of 21-30 year old men with less than a BA did not work at all in the previous year. Today that number is 18%. It hit 18% in 2010 and has stayed there. Just under 1/5 of 21-30 year old men with less than a BA are idle, 90-something percent are unmarried, and 70% of them are living with their parents.

Hurst expects we’ll see a continued decline in the employment-to-population ratio.

In my post about Cantwell, I wrote:

Cantwell is trying to start a race war by telling weak-link whites that they aren’t losers because they suck, but because they’ve been under attack. And it’s working. America’s weak-link whites have long suspected that they’re under attack. They chant about white genocide because they think it’s real. They don’t feel the erosion of white supremacy in America as the natural and right loss of unearned, corrupt power. They feel backed into a corner. And people who feel backed into a corner will lash out violently, and feel justified doing so. Today’s crying and afraid is tomorrow’s church shooting.

Of course the church shooting I referenced was that by Dylann Roof, who recently became the first person the United States of America has sentenced to die for a federal hate crime.

In GQ, Ghansah wrote of Roof:

He found solace in the belief that he too was part of the dispossessed. The embittered white men who feel like they have no real future in the 21st century. Roof knew this fear so well that he even wrote in the manifesto that he finished in jail: “How can people blame white young people for having no ambition, when they have been given nothing, and have nothing to look forward to? Even your most brain dead white person can see that there is nothing, to look forward to? Even your most brain dead white person can see that there is nothing good on the horizon?”

“To understand Dylann, you need to read The Hidden Injuries of Class,” Wachter said. What that book revealed was “how white working-class people in Boston, in South Boston, the more you interviewed them, what came out, especially after a few beers, is how inferior they felt to all the Harvard, Cambridge, bright, educated people.” In Wachter’s mind, Dylann wasn’t stupid, but he felt displaced. It was a case of class resentment. “And here’s the funny thing: If I had a dinner party right here with just white Ph.D.’s, it would not be socially acceptable for me to make any slur to an African-American person or a Hispanic person or a Muslim, but if I refer to poor whites as rednecks—”

“Or crackers or white trash,” I interjected, saying the words he didn’t want to say.’

He grimaced but acknowledged them.

“That would almost be socially acceptable to say those things. It just shows you how alienated they are. And these poor white working-class guys, they must realize this. See? So maybe Dylann’s family is a good example of downward social mobility. And Trump showed us this, that we underestimated how vulnerable and precarious self-esteem is for white, working-class people in this society. They not only see the white elites, but then they see…”

“They see us, black people, coming from behind, eclipsing them.”

Ghansah also wrote about what she’d found researching the white supremacists of today online. “There are thousands of them,”Ghansah writes. “Like Roof, they are brought into the fold because they have found something that explains their laggard social progress to them.”

They are young. They are undereducated. They are “extremely socially awkward,” which disqualifies them from low-education white-collar and service-sector jobs. White supremacy offers them friends. “These young white supremacists call this reversal ‘weaponized autism.’ What once alienated them now helps them relate to others, people like Dylann Roof, over a common desire to start a race war.”

They are “armed to the teeth. They often brag about their arsenals of guns, because these are the guns that will save them in the coming race war,” which they look forward to.

I believe there will be more Dylann Roofs because math means there will be more men who fit his profile. More and more men are dropping out, not getting jobs, not getting married, not buying houses, but instead staying in their parents’ homes reading each other tells themselves what they desperately want to believe, that they are victims. That the women and the blacks and the Hispanics took from them what is rightfully theirs, what their fathers had, or at least their grandfathers: the hope of a job, and wife, and a house without having to learn social skills or go to college.

These men view the erosion of their privilege as an attack. Some of them feel like their very lives are threatened. They are men without a future, so they are men who have nothing to lose. Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors 573 days after committing his crime and said without hesitation, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”


We already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. I thought I needed stories of vengeance and street justice, but I was wrong. I didn’t need them for what they told me about Roof. I needed them for what they said about us. That in our rejection of that kind of hatred, we reveal how we are not battling our own obsolescence. How we resist. How we rise.

We are not battling our own obsolescence. Nothing but war will stop the transition from a farming, mining, and manufacturing economy to one that rewards high education and social skills. But we are going to have to figure out what to do with our millions of Dylann Roofs. Because otherwise nothing but war will stop them from violently revolting against theirs.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.