“I just don’t buy into the nonsense about discrimination.”
October 15, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

The Whiteness Project is a multiplatform investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.
posted by chunking express (103 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
so much cringe
posted by Bookhouse at 12:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I feel like I can state unequvocally that this is the entirety of my dad's side of the family. I can also state there is a reason why I don't visit them very much.
posted by Kitteh at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The beer-can hair rollers. I can't.
posted by duffell at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Not all of them are terrible -- the IT guy who didn't have any black friends seemed to acknowledge without prompting that something is wrong with his field since it only (to his experience) seemed to attract white dudes.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am looking forward to seeing what this project comes up with when it goes to places a little more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Buffalo.

There's a great collection of ignorant statements in this set of videos. I would hope that in places like NYC or Oakland or LA that we'd be able to find some white people with more of a clue.

I wonder, though, if those people would be highlighted by this project. People with a clue, people with more informed and subtle ideas about race and race relations, they're rare. In many cases, I worry that activists like these actually don't want to hear from well informed people.

The exercise here seems to be in highlighting the worst ideas. That's OK, especially because some of these terrible ideas are rampant. But where are the good ideas? Where is the savvy thought about how one can be white in America and not be part of the problem, while retaining one's identity?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:35 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh... they have names. So far, Rob and Alex seem like good dudes. Jason and Deanna should be ashamed of themselves (but of course they aren't).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:36 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


AWESOME. Notionally, things like this helps folks like me appreciate our status as one -disproportionately important- bloc among many. Time to watch!
posted by Going To Maine at 12:41 PM on October 15, 2014


I am looking forward to seeing what this project comes up with when it goes to places a little more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Buffalo.

There's a great collection of ignorant statements in this set of videos. I would hope that in places like NYC or Oakland or LA that we'd be able to find some white people with more of a clue.


I'm sure there plenty of people in Buffalo "with more of a clue" but you wouldn't see them featured because that wouldn't be very compelling.
posted by MikeMc at 12:42 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


That older guy flat out admitted that there was a conscious de-ethnicizing among different groups in New York in favor of grabbing whiteness as a status.
posted by deathmaven at 12:42 PM on October 15, 2014


Can we launch a Kickstarter to buy all of these people opening weekend tickets to see Dear White People?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there plenty of people in Buffalo "with more of a clue" but you wouldn't see them featured because that wouldn't be very compelling.

There are people in the collection already who have "more of a clue." They seem to be about as prominently featured as the racists. I'd expect a project like this would find the same mix of opinions/attitudes even in your Portlands or NYCs (maybe not the same proportions, but both ends of the spectrum would absolutely be there).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


The woman with the tattoos ... I just don't know. To act like your conscious decisions to modify your appearance are comparable to being non-white is bizarre. Yes, you "like to" change your appearance that way, but you did have a choice in the matter, and pretending that you didn't know you'd be stared at and treated differently when you had a HUGE SKULL tattooed on your neck? Seriously? I used to think the same kind of thing when I had dyed hair and more visible piercings. But then I grew up and realized that I could cut my hair and take out my piercings any time I wanted and *poof* disappear. It's still a choice.

Also it's interesting to me how few people talked about having an ethnicity instead of / in addition to whiteness. I acknowledge that I am a white person but I'm from an immigrant family with a clearly defined ethnic identity that makes me awfully uncomfortable with a single checkbox that puts me into the same category as Armenian, English, and Maltese people.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm really discouraged by this project, as a white person, because I really feel that it's important for white people to start talking to each other about race and about our own racial identities. We need to be able to do some of the work on our own so that we have a space where we can work on our racist attitudes or problems without making people of color deal with our racism in the course of educating us.

This project itself does not really seem like a step in that direction, unfortunately.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:49 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


> But where are the good ideas? Where is the savvy thought about how one can be white in America and not be part of the problem, while retaining one's identity?

I'm so glad you asked. As someone who is likely to be identified as "white", I like the idea of being a "race traitor".
posted by benito.strauss at 12:50 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Demarcating what whiteness means, culturally and otherwise, strikes me as a really important project. There have been satirical stabs (Stuff White People Like) that have only introduced more confusion to the discourse IMO, but something like this is very welcome. I first encountered the Whiteness Project in the context of people ridiculing it - as somehow being a racist project in itself - and I really, really can't see that. I hope it captures as broad a spectrum of white culture and viewpoints as possible. We will always be blind to some extent as long as we accept things as the default, rather than taking a step back and examining them as distinct phenomena in the same way some of us experience the "other".
posted by naju at 12:50 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh god, I can see this guy becoming a meme in 5...4...3...2...1.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


1776: American Revolution. Our first president and a number of founding fathers owned slaves
1860: Civil War and Slaves freed by Lincoln
1941: WWII and American troops fought but were in segregated units
1947: I went into the Army and our units still segregated --we had defeated Hitler and his racial theories)
1950: I went back into the Army (Korean War) and our military now integrated
1957: integration in the political sector of our nation
What to call "people of color"? aside from the bad words, Colored, African-American, Afro-American, Black...will this continue to change?
When I was in public school, if you were Jewish, you joined a boyscout troop at a Jewish Community Center; if Catholic, at a Church, etc. etc
Marry? you marry "your own kind."
When I lived in Greenwich Village, that was were you might from time to time find mixed couples...Only there. Now, anywhere in NY and elsewhere.
We are, though, tribal--evolution--and prefer groups of people like us: our tribe...We fear, distrust, are suspicious of those from other bands. Often, a different back is obvious by skin color
There is too, an alternative view of our history that claims that slaves were sometimes admired for things that were fairly repressed in white society and culture...and often feared for this "Difference.: That is one explanation for the minstral tradition in show biz...and sexual differences often claimed or believed racially bound, so that hangings etc in the South more often that not based on a Black assumed to had done something untoward with, about, or imaged, with a white woman.
Faulkner knew the legacy of slavery and also said it was a shadow on our history and one that would not ever go away.
posted by Postroad at 12:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


What to call "people of color"? aside from the bad words, Colored, African-American, Afro-American, Black...will this continue to change?

Maybe, but right now black for people of African descent generally and African-American for black Americans specifically is fine. If it changes, it's fine to just apologize the first time you're corrected and ask what the right term is.

We are, though, tribal--evolution--and prefer groups of people like us: our tribe...We fear, distrust, are suspicious of those from other bands. Often, a different back is obvious by skin color

Eh, this isn't really true. There's a lot of division within racial groups, and most divisions between racial groups had to be created, usually by policy. There were a lot of mixed marriages between black and white indentured servants in the 1600s in Virginia, for example. Those marriages were not just banned but became serious crimes once wealthy planters decided it was better to keep the black indentured servants working forever in heritable slavery.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most whiteness projects I am familiar with involve prison and face tattoos.
posted by vorpal bunny at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2014


I really feel that it's important for white people to start talking to each other about race and about our own racial identities. We need to be able to do some of the work on our own so that we have a space where we can work on our racist attitudes or problems without making people of color deal with our racism in the course of educating us.

Doesn't sound like a bad idea, though I'm curious how exactly it would be implemented. "A group for white people to talk about their whiteness. Not a supremacist group. Whites only please, no minorities allowed."
posted by naju at 1:14 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


We are, though, tribal--evolution--and prefer groups of people like us: our tribe...We fear, distrust, are suspicious of those from other bands. Often, a different back is obvious by skin color

People always say this sort of thing but what seems to be happening is that people are more and more absorbed into whiteness, which this site points out as well - Italians, Jews, and other people who were considered "other" (and lesser) are now feeling more comfortable being classified as "white" and there seems to be a value in clinging to that. It just reads to me as "come into the tent!" As an Asian American I have people telling me I'm "basically white" and it's awkward.
posted by sweetkid at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]




What to call "people of color"? aside from the bad words, Colored, African-American, Afro-American, Black...will this continue to change?
You call them what they want to be called, and it will almost certainly continue to change.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:22 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


though I'm curious how exactly it would be implemented. "A group for white people to talk about their whiteness. Not a supremacist group. Whites only please, no minorities allowed."

Actually, I took a fantastic student-taught course during college that was sort of along these lines. I don't remember the course title, but it was something like "Anti-Racist Thought for Allies." The course description stated that it was aimed at providing a space for people who identified as white to discuss anti-racism and white privilege, but it was open to anyone who was interested. If I recall correctly, everyone who ended up taking the class self-identified as white. It was taught by two (self-identified as) white students, and it was a real turning point for me in my understanding of white privilege in particular, and anti-racist work and structural racism in the US in general.

We read several articles (by both minority and white authors), and had a lot of really great discussions. I was definitely in a place where I was very defensive about my privilege, and it was really helpful for me to hear other people process and think about their privilege.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


As an Asian American I have people telling me I'm "basically white" and it's awkward.

Oh god. Flashbacks to college, when this was how people (jokingly? semi-jokingly?) introduced me to strangers. "You'll get along with him, he's basically white."
posted by naju at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]



The woman with the tattoos ... I just don't know. To act like your conscious decisions to modify your appearance are comparable to being non-white is bizarre. Yes, you "like to" change your appearance that way, but you did have a choice in the matter, and pretending that you didn't know you'd be stared at and treated differently when you had a HUGE SKULL tattooed on your neck? Seriously? I used to think the same kind of thing when I had dyed hair and more visible piercings. But then I grew up and realized that I could cut my hair and take out my piercings any time I wanted and *poof* disappear. It's still a choice.


The comparison point seems to me to be "how would you be treated if you were [another race] and had tattoos/piercings/etc. Which, well, the one black punk kid I know - he got sunstroke, fell off his bike on a heavily trafficked bike path in a rich part of town and was left to lie on the path until he fortunately recovered consciousness and made his way home. It's not that a white kid with piercings and tattoos gets treated so well, it's that they get treated a lot better than the equivalent person of color, plus do not need to deal with as much of that "oh, but punk/rockabilly/etc is Not A Black Thing". I think that with Afropunk and some other stuff, this has changed a little in some places at least.

I don't know how this project will play out - not everyone seems to have terrible understandings about race, but it seems like the ones that have not-terrible understandings about race grasp that the category "white" is a category that depends in a negative/harmful way on the existence of people of color. I can be Swedish-Scots-Irish-German and have those identities mean a variety of "positive" things (peasant bone structure, lutefisk and the willingness to emigrate to escape being conscripted by the Prussians, mostly) but when I am in my "white" identity, that identity only makes sense as something constructed by slavery, imperialism, Jim Crow, etc. White people often say that their whiteness feels empty to them, that they are puzzled or angry that it does not mean the same as being Latin@ or indigenous or something. But that's because "whiteness" is an empty identity - it's not the same kind of identity as those others. That's why it gets filled up with fascism and hatred, and that's why people joke about how "white" things are all "not being able to dance" and "liking mayonnaise" and so on. I have all kinds of regional and cultural identifiers - the aforementioned Swedish/Germanic/Scots-Irish thing, being from the midwest, etc - but inasmuch as those interact with whiteness, they do so in bad, toxic ways.

I am suspicious of projects about whiteness that treat it as a stand-alone identity that can have positive content. There's a pretty good Ward Churchill piece (I know, Ward Churchill, right, but just because he's not the ideal human being doesn't mean he doesn't have some good ideas sometimes) where he talks about how if white people want to get in touch with an "ethnic" identity, the thing to do is to seek out our own specific roots and history.
posted by Frowner at 1:26 PM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Sounds really productive, insectosaurus. I withdraw my snark because it sounds like that absolutely needs to happen everywhere.
posted by naju at 1:27 PM on October 15, 2014


Worth noting this project is from POV. Major funding for POV is provided by PBS.
posted by Emor at 1:43 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


places a little more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Buffalo

I don't know, man. It's the second largest city in the state, and was almost 40% African-American as of the 2010 census. I don't think Buffalo gets off the hook for being some kind of isolated backwater.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:51 PM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


>>though I'm curious how exactly it would be implemented. "A group for white people to talk about their whiteness. Not a supremacist group. Whites only please, no minorities allowed."

> Actually, I took a fantastic student-taught course during college that was sort of along these lines.


I was in a course in grad that had two similar sessions, one for white students to talk about their race and about racism while the students of color observed, another for the students of color to talk about their race and racism while the white students observed. (Students self-identified as either group.) There was time at the end of each session for the observing students to ask questions of the observed students.

It was definitely interesting (though there was a predictable number of white women crying because they didn't want other people to think they were racist even if they were saying racist things). We also had a good handful of international students who were members of the majority or in-power race/ethnicity in their home country and who weren't in the US, and it was interesting to hear their perspectives.
posted by jaguar at 1:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


where do they show their names?
posted by sweetkid at 2:03 PM on October 15, 2014


if white people want to get in touch with an "ethnic" identity, the thing to do is to seek out our own specific roots and history

That can be really tough, especially if you ancestry is spread across many countries. I have Irish, British and Bavarian ancestry, and though I do look shockingly similar to Ludwig II I feel no real connection to any of those countries. My roots have been in the USA for so long that for me to suddenly start identifying with, say, Irish customs (beyond drinking green beer) would feel fraudulent. So I'm left with just feeling American.

I agree that trying to forge some sort of non-racist white identity which ascribes positive and prideworthy attributes to American Whiteness is highly problematic at best.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


where do they show their names?

The URLs.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:15 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I first encountered the Whiteness Project in the context of people ridiculing it - as somehow being a racist project in itself - and I really, really can't see that.

I had a similar experience when I read about this earlier today in Salon. Almost as if, for some people, the fact that the interviewees' responses were presented in straightforward, sociological fashion, without comment or condemnation and lacking any kind of satirical framework, means the show's producers (and PBS) must in some way be sanctioning these awful views. It struck me as an oddly naive response.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:17 PM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


That can be really tough, especially if you ancestry is spread across many countries. I have Irish, British and Bavarian ancestry, and though I do look shockingly similar to Ludwig II I feel no real connection to any of those countries. My roots have been in the USA for so long that for me to suddenly start identifying with, say, Irish customs (beyond drinking green beer) would feel fraudulent. So I'm left with just feeling American.

I'm totally thinking this through as I go along here...but it seems like the question of "can there be a positive white identity" puts some pressure on what we usually tend to assume about identity - to wit, we tend to assume that everyone has a racial/ethnic identity that is coherent and can be traced back to some kind of point of origin (immigration, the Old Country, the mountainous regions, whatever). And we assume that everyone should figure this out and celebrate it in some way, and that lacking these kinds of "roots" is the same as lacking any kind of roots that can be celebrated or valued. We assume, too, that celebrating and valuing roots has to be sort of a group/mass/undifferentiated thing - I need to be able to assert kinship with all Swedish-Americans in order for this to be meaningful. So we assume that what white people need to do - and can actually do! - is seek and develop some kind of relationship to their whiteness or their "ethnic" identity that parallels the identities (forged in displacement, migration, injustice, slavery) of various other groups. We assume that this kind of racial identity isn't a highly specific artifact of very particular histories but is some kind of inherent aspect of being human.

What if it's not? What if I don't feel any actual kinship to my Swedish ancestors (about whom I know little prior to about 1895 and with whom I have no real connection) and that's okay? What if the roots I choose to celebrate are, like, being from the Midwest*, or being part of a long line of librarians or a long line of People Who Do Not Do Military Service or a long line of People With Really Bad Vision? What if I say that historical accident has made it such that the positive identities to which I have access just are not ethnic/European/immigrant ones? My European ancestors were lumpen farmers who didn't stay in contact with the old country and who almost all jettisoned their connections by the early 20th century. I can talk about their experience here in the US - and I do feel that those are my roots - but I don't really feel like I have access to a meaningful "ethnic" identity. And that's okay. (I have Danish-American relatives by marriage who do have lots of connections to Denmark, do all kinds of Special Danish Stuff, etc, even though their "we are lumpen peasants who left in the late 19th century" story is about the same as my family's.)

My point is not that white people can "escape" from whiteness by saying "well, I don't have any ties to Europe or any ethnic identity that resonates with me so I am not white" - my point is that whiteness, which is inescapable due to our implication in a bunch of racist historical processes, is not the same as a positive ethnic identity, nor does it parallel blackness or indigeneity or other identities of color.

*I don't think I can separate my identity as a Midwestern person from being a white person - my experience is always marked by my whiteness.
posted by Frowner at 2:28 PM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


One thing I've noticed my white privilege allows me to do is easily get away with refusing to answer or offering flippant responses (intergalactic being, etc) to questionnaires and surveys when my ethnicity is mentioned.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 2:29 PM on October 15, 2014


where do they show their names?

Why do their names matter?

I agree that trying to forge some sort of non-racist white identity which ascribes positive and prideworthy attributes to American Whiteness is highly problematic at best.


Only if you make it so. But Ain't-It-Awful sells more papers, and makes more careers than suggesting that there's plenty of good in White America.

Worth pointing out that we are in the middle of a depression, sorry, downturn, and people get a bit more tetchy than usual at such times.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:30 PM on October 15, 2014


Yeah, from the Salon thing:

Dow may have a point when he argues that white people who want “to participate in changing the racial dynamic in this country” are “going to have to deal with their own shit first.” The problem is, a lot of his subjects aren’t talking about their race—they’re criticizing minorities.


Yeah...the "criticizing minorities" IS their shit that they have to deal with.
posted by sweetkid at 2:31 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


So I'm left with just feeling American.

Not trying to gotcha you, but seeing as how overall American culture really focuses on white people, how does feeling American feel different than feeling white for you?
posted by 23skidoo at 2:31 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have Irish, British and Bavarian ancestry, and though I do look shockingly similar to Ludwig II I feel no real connection to any of those countries. My roots have been in the USA for so long that for me to suddenly start identifying with, say, Irish customs (beyond drinking green beer) would feel fraudulent. So I'm left with just feeling American.

Agreed - after reading Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White, I was left thinking that identifying as "white" in the United States means that one of your ancestors deliberately rejected their ethnic traditions and stopped them from being transmitted to the next generation for the purposes of assimilation.

It's certainly true of my Irish and Italian relatives, who refused to teach their kids their languages and placed great emphasis on their becoming deracinated "Americans".
posted by ryanshepard at 2:32 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]



where do they show their names?

Why do their names matter?


Because some people mentioned some of the participants by name:

(Oh... they have names. So far, Rob and Alex seem like good dudes. Jason and Deanna should be ashamed of themselves (but of course they aren't).

So I wanted to check those particular people. Not sure why that question is controversial. I didn't say the names "matter," I was asking for more info on a previous comment 
posted by sweetkid at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I accept and try to understand my position of privilege as a (very evidently) white person, but I think due to the weird circumstances of my socialization in America (I was kidnapped from my German mother at age 5 by my American grandparents and started school as what they call an ESL kid today), I've never felt like I properly belonged within the Southern white culture I was brought up in either--meaning, I've never really felt quite at home in what I might otherwise have come to see as "my own" culture.

I'm not saying, any of this makes my "whiteness" any less real in the American cultural context, or that I ever thought less of my more comfortably white-identifying peers on that basis alone, of course, but I've never personally felt very much at home in my "whiteness" (which is not to say I would prefer to identify as anything else). I would spend hours some days as a kid interrogating and challenging my grandparents over their racial attitudes (they basically argued they were too old to change their habits of thought and behavior now, but were genuinely supportive and encouraging of my own anti-racist views), but I'm not sure what to think about projects like this. I do think white people in America could stand to do a little soul searching, and point their critical eye more inwardly a bit, rather than casting about for others to blame for their personal problems as seems to be a tendency among some pockets of the white community, but at the same time, I am white (going back many generations to some very white places as I recently learned), and even if I haven't ever felt particularly welcome in the club I know that, but I'm not sure what the hell it all means to me, if anything. I don't want to have to consciously identify as anything. But then, it doesn't matter anyway because identity isn't just personally constructed but also socially constructed, and in that sense, I'm perfectly comfortable being white, since it reflects the reality of my position in society.

tl;dr: It's all so damn complicated.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:38 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


What we all need is an Adam Sandler movie where he becomes a black person for a week...
posted by asra at 2:40 PM on October 15, 2014


But Ain't-It-Awful sells more papers, and makes more careers than suggesting that there's plenty of good in White America.

That there's plenty of "good" (for some values of economic success, power, influence, literary and artistic merit, etc.) in white America is well established - it's trumpeted across the hilltops, it's the dominant mode of thinking and being every day in this country, in the media, in our workplaces and streets, etc. If this project fails to adequately trumpet white America's successes in the way we're already familiar with, is that a valid critique? I wouldn't be able to take it seriously, in the same way I couldn't if someone argued "white America has more people in top executive positions at Fortune 500 companies than any minority does, why don't they talk about that?"
posted by naju at 2:43 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think building a positive white identity needs to rest on "the Old Country" or one's ethnicity, though. There is a white American culture, and it's not totally Old Country customs (plus, you have to keep in mind that people immigrating from the Old Country are going to have different customs and values from people who stayed in the Old Country) and it's not totally Generic American, either.

I think concepts like Dimensions of Culture (and there are other models) can be really helpful in starting to realize what values are held by you, your family, your community, your race, your culture, and how you individually fit or don't fit into that culture (though that aspect may be my own individualism talking).
posted by jaguar at 2:44 PM on October 15, 2014


asra, will you accept C. Thomas Howell?
posted by StopMakingSense at 2:44 PM on October 15, 2014


a positive white identity

I am really weirded out by the idea of this. Also what is the white American culture? Pretty sure the answer would make me cringe.
posted by sweetkid at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


From the essay I linked above (it's worth reading the whole thing, but here's the conclusion as much as there is one):

"I have wanted to suggest that there is an ongoing but rarely named struggle among whites as a result of liberation movements and the declining plausibility of white supremacist narratives. Antiracist theorists need to acknowledge that the struggle occurs not only in relation to conscious choices and objectively determinable economic interests but in relation to psychic processes of identity formation, which means that rational arguments against racism will not be sufficient to make a progressive move. As whites lose their psychic social status, and as processes of positive identity construction are derailed, intense anxiety, hysteria, and depression can result. The most likely solution to this will be, of course, for new processes to develop that simply shift targets to create new categories of the abject through which to inflate collective self-esteem, and this is already happening in revivals of nativism, the vilification of illegal immigrants, a state-sponsored homophobia, and so on.

...

Perhaps white identity needs to develop its own version of "double consciousness"...White double consciousness is not the move between white and black subjectivities or black and American perspectives, as DuBois developed the notion. Instead, for whites, double consciousness requires an everpresent acknowledgment of the historical legacy of white identity constructions in the persistent structures of inequality and exploitation, as well as a newly awakened memory of the many white traitors to white privilege who have struggled to contribute to the building of an inclusive human community. The Michelangelos stand beside the Christopher Columbuses, and Noam Chomskys next to the Pat Buchanans...White representations within multiculturalism must then be similarly dialectical, retrieving from obscurity the history of white antiracism even while providing a detailed account of colonialism and its many cultural effects. This, then, is the challenge: to transform the basis of collective self-respect from global, racial vanguardism to a dedicated commitment to end racism."
posted by StopMakingSense at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think one could talk about, say, the positive aspects of a white Midwestern upbringing, or white Southern cuisine. But these are tied to distinct regional cultures more than White as a national identity. I'm at a loss when thinking about positive national white identity, mainly because the success, ambitions, and advances of white culture are tied so closely to privilege at the expense of other races. If I were to talk about, say, what white culture has done for indie rock or punk or dance music, it's definitely at the expense of minority musicians who were not given the same opportunities for exposure in the press and the same open-minded chances to excel.
posted by naju at 2:55 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am really weirded out by the idea of this. Also what is the white American culture? Pretty sure the answer would make me cringe.

So, looking at that Dimensions of Culture list, it's:
1. Universalism versus particularism.
2. Individualism versus communitarianism.
3. Specific versus diffuse.
4. Neutral versus emotional.
5. Achievement versus ascription.
6. Sequential time versus synchronous time.
7. Internal direction versus outer direction.
with white Americans tending to be on the universalistic (laws apply to everyone; rules before relationships), individualistic (personal freedom above collective responsibility), specific (compartmentalizing work and personal lives), neutral (controlling rather than expressing emotions), achievement (valuing performance over titles or heritage), sequential ("time is money"; punctual rather than time-flexible), and internal direction (people control their circumstances) ends of the spectrum.

Those are obviously not the only possible attributes of white American culture, but in that you can see how you end up with many positive aspects of the US: We value democracy and personal liberty; we believe that who you are at work shouldn't be affected by who you are at home and vice versa; we believe in dealing calmly and rationally with others; we believe that people have the ability to achieve success no matter what their circumstances; we stick to schedules and deadlines; and we believe we have the power to make positive changes.

We, of course, don't always live up to those values, and those values obviously have flipsides that can be harmful, especially when overgeneralized (like the idea that anyone can just bootstrap themselves out of any situation). But that's a decent framework for recognizing what's important to us as a culture, good and bad.
posted by jaguar at 3:00 PM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]



I don't think building a positive white identity needs to rest on "the Old Country" or one's ethnicity, though.

Ye gods, my ancestors were horrid both before and after crossing the pond. That's why I tend to go with "self-loathing southerner." It's easier than "These A-Holes I'm Related To Have Seriously Been On The Wrong Side Of History for Four Centuries"-ian.
posted by thivaia at 3:03 PM on October 15, 2014


with white Americans tending to be on the universalistic (laws apply to everyone; rules before relationships), individualistic (personal freedom above collective responsibility), specific (compartmentalizing work and personal lives), neutral (controlling rather than expressing emotions), achievement (valuing performance over titles or heritage), sequential ("time is money"; punctual rather than time-flexible), and internal direction (people control their circumstances) ends of the spectrum.

I'm not convinced this has anything to do with the color of my skin and frankly doesn't make me any less uncomfortable with this.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


And one of the reasons I do think it's important for white Americans (and white people in general) to be able to place themselves within a context for our beliefs is that it's entirely too easy to believe that our values are the unmarked "default" category, that all human beings really value X and anyone who doesn't is [lazy / weak / whatever]. If we can really start to recognize that individualism, for example, is a cultural value and not a moral imperative, we can start to relate to people from more collectivist cultures (i.e., all of them) in healthier ways and maybe see not only the positives but also negatives of our own belief systems.
posted by jaguar at 3:06 PM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


(Meanwhile maybe satire legitimately is more effective at exploring what it means to be white.)
posted by naju at 3:08 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am really interested in this but wish there were transcripts.
posted by corb at 3:10 PM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


(Meanwhile maybe satire legitimately is more effective at exploring what it means to be white.)

There are a few more privileges than just white privilege in that. But it is awesome.
posted by kitcat at 3:43 PM on October 15, 2014


Agreed - after reading Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White, I was left thinking that identifying as "white" in the United States means that one of your ancestors deliberately rejected their ethnic traditions and stopped them from being transmitted to the next generation for the purposes of assimilation.

With the exception of a deserter from the Franco-Prussian war and some dead-ends because family members stopped speaking to each other, my ancestors were the folks that later waves of immigrants attempted to assimilate into. My family folklore starts with Plymouth or the American Revolution, (no war heroes, just a long line of supply clerks and mule drivers). Then it moves west into occupied territories just prior to statehood, buys a farm, gets educated enough to make extra money teaching school, and stays there. A lot of this happened before or during the development of modern Irish and German identity in Europe. I don't know if any of my ancestors were nativists, but they were not part of the labor-based resistance to nativism that I see as central to "German-American" or "Irish-American" identity.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Transcripts would be great, it frustrates me when videos don't provide them. It's easy enough to take one as I watch though, so here's Jason (not a professional transcriptionist, maybe be errors):
Do I think it's beneficial for me to be white like have I gotten any privileges like that? I would say no, plain and simple no. You know with civil rights and everything I think a lot of times that other minorities sometimes get more benefits than I would as a white person.

For some reason some black people just kind of hold on to you know, back in the day, the slave thing, or they feel that they're not being treated right. Should slavery be something that because it happened we owe black people something more? Absolutely not. Like I say it had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with the black people living today. Maybe their great-great-great-grandmother went through it, someone they never met, but it's in the past. There's been injustices done forever in human existence and it's something that shouldn't happen. But it doesn't mean that I owe anyone anything.

I think it's hard to talk about race as a white person because I feel that maybe sometimes black people are just looking for a reason to tell you why you're wrong, or tell you why you owe them something. If I was in a room full of white people I would not feel uncomfortable talking about race, but if there were other minorities in that room then I might think a little bit different and I might be a little bit more careful opening my mouth to not offend anyone or to potentially get in an argument or a heated debate.

(The Whiteness Project: Jason
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm at a loss when thinking about positive national white identity

I feel that same sense of bewilderment. It's a lot easier for me to think about my personal identity in terms of how it differs from what I perceive as the mainstream. I can wrap my head around being Italian-American—as opposed to, say, white American—because I can point to the specific traits and history that make my experience stand apart.

But I have no idea how I'd define the whiteness to which I subscribe or am ascribed. The closest I can come is Park Slope stereotypes: something involving uptight bougie bullshit like CSAs, adults playing board games, and having a lot of opinions about how people should and shouldn't be using bike lanes. Oof.

But even though that definition begins to rely on in-group characteristics, and not just otherness, it still seems pretty divorced from an overarching idea of whiteness. And I think that's because establishing white double consciousness means moving away from white-as-default. You can't start by trying to say what whiteness is. You have to begin by redefining the mainstream culture to incorporate a mix of worldviews and traditions, because that's the only way that the particular and unifying qualities of whiteness can be made to stand apart.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:54 PM on October 15, 2014


Thanks so much for your heroic efforts, agents of KAOS! I will try to do a transcript from home maybe and pay it forward. :)
posted by corb at 4:08 PM on October 15, 2014


What to call "people of color"? aside from the bad words, Colored, African-American, Afro-American, Black...will this continue to change?

Maybe, but right now black for people of African descent generally and African-American for black Americans specifically is fine.


That's not a given. Some African-Americans don't like that term (regarding it as pretentious) and prefer "Black". Also, sometimes you may not be able to discern where someone (or their parents) were born so making the delineation based on geography can be tricky.

You call them what they want to be called, and it will almost certainly continue to change.

Absolutely and if that's not immediately known, I think "Black" is the safest option.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:30 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


But I have no idea how I'd define the whiteness to which I subscribe or am ascribed.

Scandinavian Black Metal
Werner Herzog films starring Klaus Kinski
Various ground meats stuffed into casings
Mayo (I fucking LOVE mayo)
The crime novels of James Ellroy

I think that pretty much sums it up.
posted by MikeMc at 4:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


ROB
I think about race a lot. I do feel a common bond with other white people because that's primarily who I find myself being around. Where I work there is one black man of prominence in the department, of a department of I'd say 50 or so people that I work with closely. I think about that a lot because being in IT, doing computer work, I'd say every job that I've worked at has been primarily white, doing retail computer work, working in the medical field, IT work. Really primarily heavily white so I think, well ok, do I just roll in a line of work that attracts white guys primarily like myself or is there something going on, that they won't hire people of color? I don't know, it really troubles me. And then I think, well I'm social, I go out, I go downtown, I play games with friends: I'm very socially active! Why do I not hang around with or see or why am I only primarily around white people?

(The Whiteness Project: Rob)
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


I like Rob. He's asking the right questions.
posted by naju at 4:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


MICK
I think they see me as a white person, as a married person, as a short hairy person that's overweight. I've been involved in several lawsuits against police departments in municipalities for unlawfully arresting african american male, I purposely try to defend people that are in those kind of situations. I'm not a racist or a bigot and I think it is very hurtful if someone assumes that of me just because I'm white or because I could be in favour of a policy that is de facto racist. I'm pro life and I think it's rather upsetting when I see people addressing the issue of the bad things that happen to African Americans in society when in my mind there's nothing worse in the context of race than 500,000 black children dying every year and so it just seems like a giant contradiction to me.

[screen text: 10% of white American adults believe that most whites are racist. 38% believe that most blacks are racist]
The Whiteness Project: Mick
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd be like "I'm white. I hate white people."
posted by symbioid at 6:16 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Shayna is also a good person I'd like to chill with :)
posted by symbioid at 6:20 PM on October 15, 2014


I'm at a loss when thinking about positive national white identity

I think what's deceptive is that there isn't a national anything identity, positive or negative. At least not one that's race based.

It's not like you could sit a group of black folks in a room and get them agreed to the tenets of what is "Black" culture. Even given a 7 point dimensionality scale, answers will differ because of ancestral history, close family experience, friendships, work history, etc.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:27 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


seeing as how overall American culture really focuses on white people, how does feeling American feel different than feeling white for you?

Feeling American, to me, is feeling a visceral connection to the country itself - the vast size of it, the whole idea of a cross-country drive as something that takes weeks and is almost never boring, the obvious cultural touchstones of (pork and beef) hot dogs, baseball, football, fireworks, Thanksgiving. Memphis-style BBQ. General Tso's Chicken. Being among various types of people from various races and cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds and it, for the most part, not being a big deal like it is in countries like Singapore or Malaysia. Feeling connected to American art forms like hip-hop and breakdancing. The belief, however naive, in class mobility. Tolerance of various and sundry religious without serious sectarian strife. All of these things are put into sharp relief when traveling to other countries, especially, and the sense of being American is palpable.

As for feeling white, I guess I don't know, exactly. No one has ever sat me down and told me how important my white heritage is*, how I should be proud to be white, etc., and there have been precious few times where my whiteness has caused people to treat me negatively in a way that would reinforce a sense of "being white." When I was fresh out of college and working in various hip hop studios and was the only white person in the room it was never called out. Nobody called me "white boy" or made any sort of deal out of it whatsoever, except for the one time that I showed up in a suit and tie to the youth center in East New York right after it had been, unbeknownst to me, held up at gun-and-knife-point. I got a definite "what are you doing here outsider" look that time.

My point, I guess, is that, for me, the "feeling" of being white in America is defined by the absence of a sense of racial identity. Which makes sense, because there's been no need for me to defend or protect my way of life or skin color. Invisible knapsack, etc.

* obviously that is implicitly endorsed by the way history is taught and the exceeding whiteness of our media landscape.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:29 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not like you could sit a group of black folks in a room and get them agreed to the tenets of what is "Black" culture.

I think if you get a group of mostly-similar people together, they will magnify the differences between themselves. But that same group of people would probably find more similarities among themselves when talking to another group of mostly-similar (but different race/ethnicity/gender/whatever from the first group) people. And that's where you start to tease out cultural differences vs. personality differences.

I'm white and American. I'd never felt particularly "American" -- I actively despise most patriotism in this country -- and then I lived abroad. Even living in another majority-white country, it forced a realization of "Oh holy fuck am I American" when contrasting my previously-unrealized assumptions about "how people are" with the reality of those particular people not being that way at all. I expect progress, I expect action, I expect optimism, I expect to be judged individually, I expect technological intervention, I expect intervention in general. I expect much less of that than an average American, I'm fairly sure, but I expect waaaaay more of that than most non-Americans and, from what I've seen, than most non-white Americans.

I think it's just hard, given how easily most white Americans can spend most of their lives exclusively among other white Americans, to experience that realization that one's assumptions about how the world works really are culture-bound.
posted by jaguar at 6:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


Yeah, one guaranteed way to feel how American you are is to live in a country very different from America, especially for an extended period of time.
posted by Bugbread at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


jaguar is right: you need to step out of the sea to be able to notice the water.
posted by jb at 7:18 PM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Even living in another majority-white country, it forced a realization of "Oh holy fuck am I American" when contrasting my previously-unrealized assumptions about "how people are" with the reality of those particular people not being that way at all. I expect progress, I expect action, I expect optimism, I expect to be judged individually, I expect technological intervention, I expect intervention in general.

I felt this too living abroad (in a majority white country) - I'm not sure why you're so confident this is an only-white American experience. It seems to be kind of a way of saying that white Americans are more a part of the "real" American experience than the rest of us.
posted by sweetkid at 7:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why you're so confident this is an only-white American experience.

I'm not, at all. I'm sorry if I implied it.

It seems to be kind of a way of saying that white Americans are more a part of the "real" American experience than the rest of us.

Again, I'm sorry if I implied that, it wasn't my intention. I think that most minorities in the US are very much aware of their own culture, and I think that most white Americans tend to think they don't have a culture. It's that feeling of not-having-a-culture that I'm trying to argue against; not realizing you have culture-bound thinking and beliefs is different from not actually having culture-bound thinking and beliefs.
posted by jaguar at 8:02 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm just surprised that you think white Americans embrace optimism, progress, action more than non whites - to me the civil rights movement in the 60s, for example, was all about optimism, progress, and action, to a degree that's sort of unfathomable to me. The drive of Asian immigrants to relocate to the US as adults, very far from their home country and culture, again, is optimism, progress, action.

I mean, this is the problem with trying to paint a "positive white experience."
posted by sweetkid at 8:11 PM on October 15, 2014


jaguar: "I think that most white Americans tend to think they don't have a culture."

While I agreed with most of your previous comment, I don't agree with that part at all. I think white Americans feel very strongly that they have a culture. What I do think, though, is that the image that most Americans have of their own culture is just an incredibly narrow slice of the actual culture, and a slice which progressive types don't think apply to them. Loving football. Eating at Applebee's. Going all out at Christmas. Complaining about traffic jams. BBQs. Cheerleaders. Lawns. Stranger Danger. All those things that most MeFites turn their noses up at. But when you go abroad, you realize all the other American culture stuff that gets overlooked. How dressed you should be to take out the garbage. Which gender, if any, should be responsible for taking out the garbage. How big a garbage can "should" be. The kind of stuff that isn't painted in Norman Rockwell paintings nor made fun of on MeFi because it's so ingrained that nobody notices it.
posted by Bugbread at 8:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think what's deceptive is that there isn't a national anything identity, positive or negative. At least not one that's race based.

I'm not convinced this is true. Obviously every individual is different, and aligns with that racial culture/identity to varying degrees. Some might not align with it at all. But I believe you can suss out the boundaries and characteristics of that broad identity, more or less.

I think it helps me see that a bit more clearly, having been an American-born Indian raised by immigrants. The somewhat derogatory term is "American born confused Desi", but there's some truth to it in that Indian culture is so distinct in so many ways from American culture, that there's an identity confusion and clash happening within a single person who grows up with both cultures. So I've had time to think about it and define in my head, and was forced at a young age to think about stuff like in what ways my parents were way different from my white friends' parents, and why. (Teasing out the differences between "American" culture/identity and "white" culture/identity can be exceedingly difficult, but I think it's possible and a worthy exercise.)
posted by naju at 8:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not a completely normal white looking woman. So you and I going out and doing something? You would get treated normal - I don't. So I don't go out thinking about my race, I go out thinking I'm a tattooed woman who's going to get discriminated against. So you can't put me in the same boat as 'hey when you go out do you think of yourself as a white woman?' No I don't. I don't get the same treatment as a normal white person does. I get discriminated against just as much as a minority does. That's why I said I can't use the 'hey I'm a minority card' because I'm not clearly a minority, but I am. But they would say 'but you chose to be'. Because I choose to make myself look different, I don't choose to be stared at, I don't like to be stared at. I choose to do this to my body because that's what I like to do, I choose to have a different color hair because I like my hair this color. If I go into a store I get treated the same way as let's say a black person does. I don't get greeted, I get looked at like I'm shoplifting, the same exact situation. I can promise you. So when you and I would go out, I can promise you that I would get the same exact thing that your partner would get. So I don't get the white person treatment.

[screen text: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't protect the 20% of American adults with tattoos]

The Whiteness Project - Andrea

posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:30 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm just surprised that you think white Americans embrace optimism, progress, action more than non whites

No no no, I don't! I do think many minority American cultures are much less individualistic than white Americans and much more strongly attuned to the downsides of intervention (e.g., not assuming that calling the cops or involving the authorities is always going to work out for the best).

- to me the civil rights movement in the 60s, for example, was all about optimism, progress, and action, to a degree that's sort of unfathomable to me. The drive of Asian immigrants to relocate to the US as adults, very far from their home country and culture, again, is optimism, progress, action.

Yes yes yes, I totally agree.

Minority American cultures are certainly going to overlap with a great deal of white American culture, because we're all part of American culture. And so much of American values come from immigrant values, I think, of all ethnicities and races and cultures. I didn't mean to imply as much of a split as I apparently did. I also think lots of non-American cultures embrace optimism, progress, and action, but often in much different ways than American cultures.

I mean, this is the problem with trying to paint a "positive white experience."

All cultures are going to have overlaps with others, though, as well as differences. I think one can say that white Americans tend to be more individualistic than Asian-Americans and that Asian-Americans tend to be more individualistic than Asians without being wrong. All of these traits exist on a spectrum.
posted by jaguar at 8:39 PM on October 15, 2014


What I do think, though, is that the image that most Americans have of their own culture is just an incredibly narrow slice of the actual culture, and a slice which progressive types don't think apply to them.

That's fair, and it's something I had been struggling to identify here without enough success to address, so thanks.
posted by jaguar at 8:41 PM on October 15, 2014


I also see Jewish culture as more similar to Indian American culture than other "white" cultures - especially in the connection to family.

I think one can say that white Americans tend to be more individualistic than Asian-Americans and that Asian-Americans tend to be more individualistic than Asians without being wrong


It's not that you're "wrong," it's just oversimplifying, and weirdly explaining people's culture back to them.
posted by sweetkid at 8:41 PM on October 15, 2014


I'm trying to explain white American culture, though. It's just that it tends not to be noticeable to white Americans except in contrast to some Other.

And yeah, Jewish and Italian and other non-WASPy cultures fall differently on the spectrum. I think the more recently a group was deemed "white," the farther away from the average-white-American value/belief system it falls.
posted by jaguar at 8:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Why do I not hang around with or see or why am I only primarily around white people?"

I have the same problems and questions as Rob.

I moved to the South three years ago. Despite now living in an area that's 20-30% black, I only know one local black person by name and only because he works for my husband. I often go WEEKS without seeing a single black person and that shouldn't even be statistically possible! (The reason I'm specifying "black" instead of the more general "nonwhite" is my best friend is a waitress at a Chinese restaurant and thus I usually see her bosses and coworkers a few times times per month.)

Whereas I knew and saw way more black people back when I lived in Seattle, despite that city being <10% black.

Is the South really still just that super-segregated??? Are all my tastes and interests so stereotypically culturally white that I'm inadvertently avoiding nonwhites? It's certainly not deliberate/conscious on my part.

It's perplexing and disturbing and I know that the lack of diversity in my day-to-day life must be warping my perception of the world but I honestly have no idea what (if anything) I should do about it. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 8:49 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


yea, and I mean this as just a point of discussion and not aggression jaguar, since I get where you're coming from, but most of the things you're explaining as white American culture just seem like American culture to me. And all nonwhite experience isn't the same. It just feels very exclusionary, like nonwhite people can't understandthe individualistic, progressive, optimistic American ideal because somethingsomething Asian families, even though we all grew up with the same notions of that ideal and it's basically the whole immigrant experience to work towards that.
posted by sweetkid at 8:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you not think non-white Americans have a different experience, and therefore different beliefs (even if only in degree rather than type), from white Americans? And that differing racial groups within the US have different experiences, and therefore different beliefs, from each other?

I do, but I also don't think those beliefs are as divergent as American (of any race/ethnicity) from non-American. I feel like I'm trying to talk about a spectrum and you're taking my remarks as binary, and I'm not sure how to explain or clarify in a way that makes sense to both of us.
posted by jaguar at 8:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Do you not think non-white Americans have a different experience, and therefore different beliefs (even if only in degree rather than type), from white Americans? And that differing racial groups within the US have different experiences, and therefore different beliefs, from each other?

I think there's some variation, sure, and I see your point about a spectrum, but you've generalized a lot in this thread about things that are generally seen as positive American virtues as instead positive white American virtues and I don't agree that all Americans don't aspire to that. We all learned about and have internalized exceptionalism to some degree and some of that is positive and some is negative. That was kind of my point with the example about the civil rights movement - you assigned progress, optimism and action to white American culture but I see those things as defining factors in the black civil rights movement. The black people who started that movement grew up with the same American ideals as whites as background noise, they just saw that they weren't getting the same benefits and rights and used their belief in progress, optimism and action to fight for change. To me that's very American full stop. It's sad to explain to us as nonwhites we don't share in that culture or are some degrees on a spectrum away from it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2014


The confusing thing here is there's an American spectrum and layer, and a racial spectrum and layer that may or may not overlap with that. So some of that American spirit of can-do definitely shines through in African-American civil rights experience, as well as white Southern experience (seemingly paradoxically), while African-American experience is still markedly distinct in all kinds of ways from other American experiences, and there are entire books written about it. There are ways we share similar identities while being distinct in other ways. It's difficult, but not impossible, to declare a Whiteness Project as something separate from an American Project. I feel like "Stuff White People Like" messed with this stuff in ways that were problematic - I know lots of non-white people who are into chicken wraps and CSAs and NPR and the National, and it was inadvertently offensive to those people to suggest that they were conforming to a narrow blinkered white culture. I don't know where I'm going with this. It's hard to talk and think about!
posted by naju at 9:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have some vivid memories of a time when I knew what "white" and "black" were (and "yellow" and "red", which were used at the time by the adults around me) but I didn't connect them with the people I interacted with - including myself. Most of my memories are along the black/white interactive point because my first and second grade teacher was black, most/all of my classmates were white, but there was this round table set off to the side filled with black kids. I wonder sometimes how this formed up - if it was some sort of attempt at racial integration or something, and if so how Mrs. Maple felt about it.

I didn't connect the color words with the people at that time, and I didn't really understand discrimination or civil rights (except that we should never discriminate, especially against the black, yellow, and red kids - and the fact this was somehow my responsibility to enforce was never questioned, nor was the invisibleness and unfeltness of me being white), or why the kids who looked very similar to each other but a bit different from me all sat in a different part of the classroom and didn't really interact with the "rest of us". And I wonder sometimes what implicit sense that gave me of how they were different from me, and I marvel at how seamlessly white was unmarked in my experience, and I wonder how Mrs. Maple felt about all of that, too; she didn't run the school, after all.

I was raised "colorblind," referring to the hijacked idea that people should be judge by the content of their character not the color of their skin, but with no recognition of the context, history, recentness (this was in the 70s), etc... of the words MLK said. And sometimes I feel like my experience of being "white" exists as a similar sort of vacuum, where there are all of these different opinions, and I have a ton of privilege because of how people perceive me, but the perception, when I'm aware of it, always feels weird; itchy and uncomfortable. I didn't feel "really white" until High School, when my nickname was Wonder Bread (white, light, and full of air) from my friends and I lamented mentally how pallid my "culture" seemed compared to my friends (yes, I was That Girl).

And then I discovered all of the weird Danish and German practices my family has, and got in touch with my roots a bit more, and realized how stylistically and ethically in line I am with Danish and Germanic culture, and became religiously Asatru, and now I'm happy to share my cultural practices - mostly food. Our food is awesome. Let me feed you things made of almond flour and flavored with nutmeg.

I said once when a class of us (mostly white, three people of color singled out to talk about race by the Asian teacher) "discussed" race that I felt no pride in being "white" although I acknowledged and owned my privilege, because as near as I could tell, "white" existed as a way to exclude other people and maintain power. The entire white section of my class reacted as if I said I hated myself (people took me aside later, and it cemented me as "the race girl"), and it was in that moment that I realized that for most of them, being white was who they were. They didn't have the same mixed, annoyed, itchy feeling I had with the term. They didn't feel like they wanted to stretch it out so it covered everyone and became meaningless. They thought it meant something, and needed to mean something, in order for me to like myself.

I honestly still don't know what I think. I still think discrimination is bad. I'm never sure if my attempts to deconstruct my own race and how it relates to the world is pointless navel gazing, or if there's some wisdom to be found one I wring through all of the ignorance.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:39 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's sad to explain to us as nonwhites we don't share in that culture or are some degrees on a spectrum away from it.

I think we may be miscommunicating because I've been (unintentionally) gearing my remarks to the liberal white American audience I assume is the average MeFite, and many of us are extremely reluctant to admit any identification with American cultures. Bugbreads's comment is a really good explanation of my own previous assumptions: That white American culture was Applebee's and mayonnaise. So I've been emphasizing the positive aspects of what I see as the white American identity not to valorize it in opposition to other identities, and certainly not in opposition to minority-race/ethnicity American identities, but to try to identify how many of the unexamined assumptions of mainstream American culture do actually combine in a way that constitutes an American culture, even for white people.

And I've been figuring that identifying the positive aspects of that is a way of getting white Americans who think they don't have a culture to realize that, Oh, hey, yeah, I do believe in that, ok, that may be a cultural attribute I have.

Pandering to white people in a white-dominant culture, though, is obviously going to trigger racist assumptions, and I'm sorry that I did. I'm not quite sure how to talk about white American culture without risking that, though -- which is not to say that people should forgive that triggering, just that I literally don't know if there's a way to define a majority culture without sounding like I'm denigrating other cultures, because of the racist system we're in. But I would like to try, and I think it's worthwhile to try, and I welcome any suggestions anyone has about how to do so. Because otherwise, I think, white Americans are going to let ourselves off the hook of understanding ourselves and then understanding other people without judging them inferior.
posted by jaguar at 9:53 PM on October 15, 2014


And I've been figuring that identifying the positive aspects of that is a way of getting white Americans who think they don't have a culture to realize that, Oh, hey, yeah, I do believe in that, ok, that may be a cultural attribute I have.

That is to say, there is so so so much that is wrong with being individualistic and interventionist and tech-loving and optimistic, but I think so many liberal Americans already know those negatives and may not realize (as I didn't) that they may still believe in those (moderate) values even while lamenting the excesses of those values.
posted by jaguar at 9:59 PM on October 15, 2014


Is the South really still just that super-segregated?

Yeah, but I wouldn't want to bet that southern metro areas are more segregated than northeastern/midwestern ones. Wasn't there an FPP in the last year or two with little dots showing segregation patterns?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:52 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


A recent analysis of 2010 census data didn't place a single southern city into the top 10 with regard to segregation. Buffalo made the cut, though.

Annoyingly slideshow-based article with maps here, direct link to an .xls file with the complete list here, separate analysis using census data here.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:04 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy crap!

Alex (the IT guy) is my brother-in-law!

I had no idea about this.
posted by Windigo at 8:45 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


A recent analysis of 2010 census data didn't place a single southern city into the top 10 with regard to segregation. Buffalo made the cut, though.

Buffalo? What a bunch of slackers.

Slate Ranking: No. 1: Milwaukee

Brown University Ranking: No. 2: Milwaukee

We've got that shit down to a science 'round here. And nobody is making any real effort to change anything.
posted by MikeMc at 11:14 AM on October 16, 2014


I don't think there's any benefits of any particular race or color. I've accomplished what I've accomplished because of the person I am, not because of the color of my skin. I don't think there's any drawbacks of being black either.

The world needs to become more colorblind. They really should just look at a person for who they are and not their background and where they came from.
I found it really eyeopening to see that particular women talk about possible advantages and disadvantes of one's race, and then immediately contrast that with what the world SHOULD do, as opposed to what actually happens in real life.
posted by Phredward at 11:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


And nobody is making any real effort to change anything.

What kind of effort would you suggest, and backed by whose authority?

In any event, at least they can't accuse Buffalo of cowardice!
posted by IndigoJones at 12:11 PM on October 16, 2014


What kind of effort would you suggest, and backed by whose authority?

Oh, maybe start with regional transportation, but that's a proven non-starter (don't want the crime train running out out to the suburbs you know).
posted by MikeMc at 12:24 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whites - Saturday Night Live
posted by homunculus at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Omnivore: In black and white
posted by homunculus at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2014


"but I'm from an immigrant family with a clearly defined ethnic identity that makes me awfully uncomfortable with a single checkbox that puts me into the same category as Armenian, English, and Maltese people."

Fuckin' Maltos, man.

(No mentions of Theodore Allen? Or did I miss 'em?)
posted by klangklangston at 2:35 PM on October 16, 2014


Invention of the White Race by Theodore Allen.

Happy to serve.
posted by BinGregory at 8:07 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


#notallpeoplefromBuffalo
posted by kat518 at 8:11 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some of the people in those videos might want to consider buying Racism Insurance.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


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