Review of White Working Class

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  • Controversial
  • Eloquent


A generation ago, America’s educated professional and managerial “elite” honored and even idealized the lives and struggles of the working class. Beginning in the 1970s, however, the culture of elites and the white working class divided starkly, with the upper class treating the working class with condescension and contempt. Law professor Joan C. Williams succinctly explores the history and nature of the culture of elites and of the white working class. She explains why the elites’ lack of understanding of white working-class values and culture proves politically toxic. In her view, this division between the elites and the working class compromises US democracy, and undermines the pursuit of economic and cultural policies that promote equality and benefit everyone. 

About the Author

Joan C. Williams is distinguished professor of law and Hastings Foundation chair at the University of California, Hastings College of Law.


Williams begins with a simple question: Why does America need to talk seriously about class? Analysts saw the white working class’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump as a backlash against liberal elites and tacit support for white supremacy, but the issue has been simmering for years. Williams argues that educated elites possess little insight into the working class’s concerns and values. As the economic prospects of white working-class people collapsed, many elites ignored them and focused on the needs of the poor, people of color and LGBTQ people. While inevitably lumping widely diverse people under umbrella labels, Williams elegantly describes the differences between elite and white working-class culture, and argues that healing their divide matters to America’s future.

Her treatise’s principal flaw is a relatively brief, cursory treatment of how racism following the end of slavery shaped the rise of divided, nationalist politics in the United States, and how the class divisions she describes affect African-Americans. Then again, the book is named White Working Class.

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