Talking Race and Religion in Politics with Dr. Robert Jones, Author of “The End of White Christian America”
By Allison Raymond
On Wednesday, February 9th, students in Professor Joy Reid’s Race, Gender, and the Media class had the opportunity to speak with Robert P. Jones, PhD. Dr. Jones is the CEO and Lead Researcher at PRRI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public policy research, and author of The End of White Christian America.
The topic of that week’s class was religion and race in politics, particularly the divide of white, working-class Americans in this previous election cycle. When asked why he chose to write his book, Dr. Jones cited the ongoing tensions among Americans when it comes to politics. “All political fights, about Obamacare or something else, felt like fights to the death,” he said. He equated it to an old married couple fighting about the dishes in the sink: it starts out pretty calmly, but when it escalates, they realize they aren’t really fighting about the dishes–they are fighting about a much deeper problem.
The deeper problem in this situation, Dr. Jones claims, is the shift in American culture. In 2016, a PRRI poll found that only 43 percent of Americans identified as white non-Hispanic Christians, down from previous years. “This is a huge change, and people are having trouble adapting to that,” Dr. Jones explained. When asked why he thinks so many people are anxious about the increasing diversity of America, he said “people are seeing other people’s gains as their loss, when that really isn’t the case.”
We also talked about white, working-class stereotypes, and why this issue is less talked about than minority stereotyping. When the phrase “white working class” is used, most people picture a white, non college-educated, religious southerner, but that is statistically not true. Professor Reid asked Dr. Jones why this issue isn’t covered as much, and he answered that some of it came down to funding. “The future of America is clearly in minorities, with their growing population, so more funding is available to research those topics.” But he also suspects that it has to do with the hesitancy of having a conversation about race. “If we turn the attention to white Americans, then we have to talk about race front and center, and many Americans don’t see being white as being ethnic, so they don’t want to have that conversation.”
The popularization of stereotypes, in part, is due to the bipolar nature of our democracy. “What’s really dangerous,” Dr. Jones explained, “is how parties have aligned to include race and religion instead of just a political view.” People will describe themselves as a “white Christian Republican”, or a “hispanic Democratic atheist” when describing their worldviews. So we typecast Republicans as white religious working class and Democrats as diverse and unreligious. These views only worsen the polarization of America.
Thank you to Dr. Jones for taking the time to talk to us about these important issues! To read more about the real “white working class,” see this Washington Post article.