I rarely have use of the thumbnails. You can tun them off in Panel Options from the Layers panel’s flyout menu.
Either set Row Size to Small or turn off the thumbnail options you don’t want. I don’t recommend turning on Show Layers Only. This will remove the triangle letting you expand layers without sublayers. Layers with child layers can be expanded. There is a bug in Illustrator (been there since at least version 11) that won’t let you drag an object to a child layer from a parent layer if that option is on. Most likely it will never be corrected.
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Hoping I am not just stating the obvious and already discarded roundabout way(s).
You may (Direct)Select the top letter, find it by the coloured square by the ring to the right, lock it, and repeat.
Or you may select (both) and Ctrl+X+F and look at the top, if the stacking order does not matter.
Edit: Hi Scott.
I definitely need to improve my "select" skills (I can never remember how to click to "'drill down" through objects that are directly on top of each other) ...and the transparency grid view (something I hadn't encountered yet, thanks!) will help me more easily determine where there are white "background" objects.
Thank you, Gentlemen!
For my part you are welcome, boinkly.