White people should be more afraid of other whites than they are of people of color
President Trump would have us believe that white Americans are endangered by immigrant drug dealers and gangsters, and the liberal politicians who abet them with so-called sanctuary cities.
At a recent rally in Ohio, Trump used lurid language to claim that gang members “slice and dice” beautiful girls like “animals.” Last week, his administration strengthened its crackdown on sanctuary jurisdictions, announcing a new policy that requires local governments to either cooperate with federal immigration agents or lose funding.
It’s obvious to anyone who’s listening that when Trump talks about this terrifying other he’s really talking about non-white people, not just any old foreigner; and indeed, Trump supporters in surveys conflate their fears of immigrants and dark-skinned people.
These fears, however, are not founded in reality. White people should be more afraid of other whites than they are of people of color.
I examined Centers for Disease Control statistics on murder, gun killings and illegal-drug overdoses among white Americans. My analysis shows that the white Americans who are most at risk of dying from these causes are those who live in predominantly white counties.
The CDC statistics cover 2011 through 2015, the most recent five years for which data are available, and encompass 2,962 counties and 99% of the U.S. population.
According to the data, rates of homicides, gun killings and illicit-drug fatalities are highest in counties where nine in 10 residents are white and where President Trump won in the 2016 election.
Such counties are not limited to one geographical region. They include Boone County, W.V.; Washington County, Utah; Baxter County, Ark.; and Brown County, Ohio.
Correspondingly, the white Americans who are safest from such deaths are those who live in racially diverse areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, where two-thirds of residents are nonwhite, where millions of immigrants live, and where voters favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nonwhites also are safer in these areas overall, though rates vary by location.
White Americans are nearly eight times more likely to die from illicit-drug overdoses than murder, the CDC statistics show, a proportion that undoubtedly reflects the heroin and opiate epidemic. But according to FBI data for 2015, when whites are murdered anywhere in the country, the murderer is five times more likely to be white than nonwhite. (This ratio counts only murder cases in which information about the offender is known by law enforcement.)
Overall, white Americans who live in predominantly white and Trump-voting counties are 50% more likely to die from murder, gun violence and drug overdoses than whites who live in the most diverse and Democratic-voting counties. The more white and Republican a county is, the greater the risk for white Americans.
Whites are so much safer where there are fewer whites and Republicans, in fact, that it raises the question of what exactly underlies this strong correlation between white safety and voting patterns.
It may appear logical that white Americans are more at risk where they are experiencing the most economic pain and supposed neglect by Democratic politicians. After all, much has been made of the role that economic anxiety played in white support for Trump, especially in predominantly white areas.
But census data do not back up such a correlation. White Americans enjoyed the largest real income and employment gains of any race during President Obama’s administration, particularly in Rust Belt states, where federal economic stimulus was strongest.
Perhaps Trump’s supporters are attracted to his macabre rhetoric and promises of draconian crackdowns precisely because they are most at risk of dying the kind of violent death he describes. But in this case, they are seriously mistaken about what endangers them — namely, themselves and other white Americans.
California can serve as an illustrative example of how safety increases with greater diversity. Five out of six white Americans in California now live in counties where whites are a minority. (Nationwide, this is true of only one in six white Americans.) White residents of California are generally safer from murder, gun killings and illicit-drug overdoses than whites elsewhere. Overall, the state’s crime rate is near a historic low.
California experienced political uproar over demographic change in the 1980s and 1990s, and the state generated the same anti-immigrant, tough-on-crime, racist panic that Trump and some Republican politicians are now fomenting.
California’s been-there-done-that advice to the rest of the country: Skip that stage. Safety comes with diversity.
Mike Males is senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.