In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section White Identity Politics

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Whiteness as an Invisible Identity
  • White Privilege, White Guilt, and Racial Sympathy

Political Science White Identity Politics
Ashley Jardina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0331


The attitudes that whites have about race have been a defining component of their political views since at least the American Civil War. Most of the social science research to date, however, has not focused on the attitudes white people have about their own group. Instead, it has examined almost exclusively the attitudes that white people have toward racial and ethnic minority groups, and especially toward black people. Indeed, the study of attitudes that white people have toward “out-groups” in the form of racial prejudice, racial stereotypes, and racial resentment has been an important and growing component of political science research. Less research, however, has attended to the attitudes that white people have toward their own group and the political consequences of these beliefs. On the one hand, this lacuna is somewhat surprising, especially given the extent to which work in political science has otherwise noted the important role of group identities—or the psychological attachments individuals have toward relevant social groups—in driving political preferences and behavior. On the other hand, a focus on related concepts like whiteness, white identity, or white consciousness has been limited because researchers have assumed that whites’ dominant status in Western societies means that they are less conscious of their race. In other words, because white people have historically composed the numerical majority of the population in the United States and in Western European countries, and because they have possessed the lion’s share of social, political, and economic power in the United States and Western Europe, whites have been able to take their race for granted in a way that racial and ethnic minorities have not. To the extent that previous scholarship has considered whiteness, it largely focused on whiteness as an ideology of oppression or whiteness as an invisible group identity. More recently, however, renewed attention has been paid to whiteness as a visible social identity, with scholars arguing that the growing demographic diversity, increases in immigration, globalization, perceptions of anti-white discrimination, and status threat make it more likely today that whites will see their racial group as a salient one with shared political interests. As a result, white identity is politically consequential for a range of political attitudes and behaviors, including opinion on immigration policy, contemporary political candidate and partisan preferences, attitudes about diversity and globalization, preferences for certain social welfare policies, opinion toward far-right parties, and more. It is also important to note that most of the research in this domain has been US-centric, but a growing body of work has attended to whiteness and white identity in Western Europe.

General Overview

Most of the important work on white identity politics falls into the identifiable schools of thought into which this bibliography is organized, focusing on either whiteness as an invisible social identity, whiteness as a social identity with measurable political consequences, whiteness as it relates to feelings of privilege or guilt, or whiteness as an ideology constructed as a way to create power hierarchies. The research highlighted in this section is not necessarily representative of the entire range of perspectives. Instead, these works should be considered exemplars of these more specific ways of conceptualizing white identity or whiteness politics. Jardina 2019 and Jardina and Piston 2019 explain how white racial identity as a social identity has become salient and politically relevant in contemporary US politics. Delgado and Stefancic 1997 and Allen 1997 focus on whiteness as an ideology created to maintain white power and status. This work considers how whiteness pervades laws, institutions, and individual white attitudes about privilege and advantage.

  • Allen, Theodore W. The Invention of the White Race: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. Vol. 2. New York: Verso, 1997.

    This book argues that the concepts of race and whiteness were constructed by the ruling colonial class in the United States as a way to maintain group domination over the labor class.

  • Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

    This edited volume contains a collection of essays that tackle the subject of whiteness from a variety of angles. Some of the work focuses on understanding the way whites conceive of themselves, other pieces consider how whiteness was established in history and law, and other pieces take up the concept of white privilege. Some of the research also focuses on the role of European immigration to the United States in the creation of whiteness, and some considers how whiteness is a product of racist pseudoscience, which argues erroneously that race is biological fact rather than fiction.

  • Doane, Ashley W. “Dominant Group Ethnic Identity in the United States: The Role of ‘Hidden’ Ethnicity in Intergroup Relations.” Sociological Quarterly 38.3 (July 1997): 375–397.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.1997.tb00483.x

    This paper argues that dominant status shapes the nature of identity among whites in the United States, making the identity largely hidden.

  • Jardina, Ashley. White Identity Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108645157

    This book provides an overview of many of the key debates in the study of white identity politics. It ultimately takes the perspective that white identity is a visible and politically consequential (e.g., predicting opposition to immigration, attitudes toward political candidates, support for certain social welfare policies, and more) social identity that has become salient in response to perceptions of group threat.

  • Jardina, Ashley, and Spencer Piston. “Racial Prejudice, Racial Identity, and Attitudes in Political Decision Making.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Edited by William R. Thompson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    This article provides an overview of the way in which social scientists have understood the role of white racial prejudice and white racial identity in political decision-making from the latter half of the 20th century to the present.

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