Should I Have White Pride?

2016 brought white nationalism into the mainstream discussion. Now we have to answer questions we used to ignore.

Writing them off. Throughout my lifetime, liberals have felt that we didn’t really need to argue against the more explicit forms of white racism. The KKK was bad; Jim Crow was bad; the Nazis were bad — that was pretty much all you needed to know.

Of course you’d run into arguments where racism might play a more subtle role and be harder to isolate: Affirmative action is unfair to whites; neighborhood schools are more important than desegregation; the over-representation of blacks in prisons or among the poor is due to their own broken family structure and lack of middle-class values; and so on. Whites who weren’t necessarily hostile to blacks or to civil rights in the abstract often found these points convincing, and some skill was required to defend the liberal view without alienating people who might be with you on some other issue.

But if the conversation came around to “I just think they’re genetically inferior” or “I’d like to send them all back to Africa” or “The Jews run everything anyway”, you didn’t need any skill. Just stop the conversation and write those people off. That kind of dinosaur racism was dying a well-deserved death, and those who still spouted it were probably turning off a lot more people than they convinced.

Many forms of white grievance just merited a one-line answer. Why isn’t there a White History Month? Because in American schools every month is White History Month; teachers don’t need any special reminder to mention George Washington or Thomas Edison.

You particularly didn’t need to argue against explicit racism during political campaigns, because all major national candidates considered racism toxic. That’s why there were “dog whistles“: Even a candidate as conservative as Ronald Reagan couldn’t appear to side with white racists, so he went to a town made famous by civil-rights murders and came out in favor of “states rights”. That was as far as he could go without risking a backlash from whites who found racism disgusting.

The new world of 2016. But the 2016 campaign sent us a clear message that times are changing. It was never any secret who white racists were supporting for president, and Donald Trump did relatively little to distance himself from them. When David Duke, an unrepentant former KKK grand wizard, endorsed him, Trump’s first reaction was to refuse to reject that endorsement:

I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.  And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

His speech to the Republican Convention centered on a non-existent immigrant crime wave: brown Hispanics and Muslims are coming for your family. Indiana-born Judge Curiel couldn’t possibly handle the Trump University fraud case fairly, because “He’s a Mexican.” He called for an explicit religious test on immigrants and tourists. He retweeted stuff from @WhiteGenocideTM. Trump’s ostensible appeals to black voters were typically delivered in white suburbs to almost entirely white audiences, and consisted of negative stereotypes of black life:

You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?

He even touched what (since the Holocaust) has been the third rail of American political racism: antisemitism. In what Senator Al Franken called a “German shepherd whistle“, Trump’s closing-argument commercial connected Clinton to Jewish financiers, echoing an earlier tweeted image of Clinton, a pile of money, and a Star of David — which also originated with white supremacists. (Trump has never explained how so many racist memes come to his attention. Does he follow Twitter users like @WhiteGenocideTM?)

Since the election, Trump has gotten far more agitated by a polite appeal from the cast of Hamilton to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us” than by a roomful of white supremacists shouting “Hail Trump!” and giving straight-arm Nazi salutes. When asked about the neo-Nazis during his interview at The New York Times, he said, “Boy, you are really into this stuff, huh?” When pressed, he said “I disavow and condemn.” But it wasn’t at all something he felt he needed to clear up.

So Trump doesn’t treat racism as toxic, and in fact it hasn’t been. He won anyway, or perhaps he won because. And that puts us in a new world. White nationalist and white grievance arguments are entering the mainstream, and we have to answer them now.

White grievance. The essence of the white-grievance argument is that mainstream culture imposes a double standard on whites, and puts us in impossible situations where anything we might say or do is wrong.

At that neo-Nazi conference Trump eventually got around to disavowing, the speaker who started the “Hail Trump!” chorus was Richard Spencer. He put the white-grievance argument this way:

In the Current Year, a white who takes pride in his ancestors’ accomplishments is evil, but a white who refuses to accept guilt for his ancestors’ sins is also evil.

In the Current Year, white families work their whole lives to send their children to universities where they will be told how despicable they are.

In the Current Year, the powerful lecture the powerless about how they don’t recognize their own “privilege.”

In the Current Year, a wealthy Jewish celebrity bragging about the “end of white men” is “speaking truth to power.’

In the Current Year, if you are physically strong, you are fragile. Black is beautiful, but whiteness is toxic.

In a lot of ways, I’m Spencer’s target audience: I’m a white man whose German Lutheran ancestors settled in rural Illinois just before the Civil War. I think I come from good people — nobody who shows up in history books, but ordinary folks who worked hard and did right by their neighbors and raised their kids to do the same. My parents’ hard work (and mine; I got scholarships) sent me to universities (Michigan State and the University of Chicago), where I did indeed get introduced to the dark side of American racial history and some of the advantages being white had given me.

Like Spencer, I don’t believe that whites are despicable or that whiteness is toxic. I do think slavery was a very bad thing — not sure whether Spencer agrees or not — but my personal feelings about its legacy are too complicated to sum up as guilt. (BTW: I think right-wingers went off the deep end responding to Lena Dunham’s short conversation with her Dad about “the extinction of white men”, and I’m not sure why her Jewishness is relevant. I don’t feel the least bit threatened by her animated video, and I’m confident that no actual white men were harmed in the drawing of it.)

So why don’t I have the kind of white pride Spencer is trying to promote and defend? And why don’t I feel aggrieved by a culture that doesn’t approve of expressing that pride?

My pride. I’ve got some. As I said already, I feel pride in my ancestors.

I also feel pride in being an American. I write a lot on this blog about American history and the Constitution and the tradition of our laws, and I hope my words convey the amazement and wonder I find in it all. Naturally, we have villains as well as heroes, and I try not to pretend otherwise, but none of that ruins it for me. In some ways it’s even better once you understand that none of the characters in our story were gods, that they were humans with all the flaws you can see in humans today. Many of the great things they did were also terrible at the same time, and at the end of it all, somehow, here we are.

I love the English language, and what other writers have done with it. Not just the giants like Shakespeare or Faulkner, but anybody who can turn a good phrase. If you ever happen to be in the room while I have my nose in a book, don’t be surprised if I suddenly jump up and interrupt everybody else’s conversation with: “Oh, you have to hear this!” and then start reading aloud.

I take pride in Western Culture, the whole dead-white-male tradition of the so-called “Great Books”. I have loved Plato since I stumbled across a translation of “Apology of Socrates” in junior high. The abstract beauty of Euclid, Periclean democracy, the cosmopolitan Stoics, infinitely logical Spinoza, and that long, long dialog (continuing to this very moment) between what we want to believe about the world and what we can make sense out of — irrationally, I feel like it is all in some way my own, as if in rediscovering it I had thought of it myself.

I even feel a certain amount of ethnic German pride, though American Germans have been playing that down since the world wars. I can’t speak the language, but I read it well enough to appreciate its unpretentious logic, where you can reason a word out syllable-by-syllable in the same way you might sound it out it letter-by-letter. (Wahrscheinlichkeit, for example, breaks down as true-seeming-ness: probability.) Watching the World Cup, I started rooting for the German team as soon as the Americans were eliminated.

If you ask white supremacists about their “white pride”, they’ll point to a lot of this same stuff: White people wrote the Constitution, created German and English, and are responsible for nearly all the Western classics. The pride I just expressed, they would claim, is white pride.

And that’s where they lose me.

My identity. Ancestry is largely genetic, I’ll grant you. But the other pieces of my identity aren’t. When I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack, for example, I feel both American pride and English-language pride; the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda is Puerto Rican and most of the cast is  something other than white doesn’t diminish that.

One of the things I love about my national heritage is its lack of boundaries. If you have something good in you and you want to bring it to America, we’ll take it and make it our own. Is Einstein too Jewish for Hitler? Fine, we’ll take him. English literature is the same way: Joseph Conrad‘s first language was Polish, but who cares? Heart of Darkness is an English classic. Western culture is great because it is porous and permeable; anybody who masters it, like Salman Rushdie, becomes part of it, no matter where they were born or who their parents were.

Without that permeability, I couldn’t claim most of Western culture either. Plato and Homer were Greek; they’re no relation of mine. (If Plato ever talked about my Germanic ancestors, he would have used the Greek word barbaros, from which we derive barbarian.) Descartes was French, Tolstoy Russian. So why should it bother me that Edward Said was Arab or Haruki Murakami is Japanese? I envy the things Martin Luther King did with spoken English and Ta-Nehisi Coates does with written English. Should I not learn from them because they’re black?

Anybody who claims Western culture as “white” doesn’t really get the point of Western culture.

White identity is artificial. But there’s an even bigger problem with identifying as white, which the last section only hinted at: Most of the historical heroes I would want to claim had no idea they were white.

The Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock didn’t think they were white, they thought they were English. Columbus wasn’t white, or even Italian; he was a Genoan working for Spain. (Spain itself was a new idea then, having just formed from the union of Castille and Aragon.) Shakespeare, Milton, and Cervantes weren’t white. Whiteness just wasn’t a thing yet.

When it did it become a thing? When the white/black distinction became the basis of slavery.

Blackness was invented at the same moment. The dark-skinned people who were loaded onto the slavers’ ships weren’t black, they were Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon and dozens or maybe hundreds of other ethnicities. They spoke different languages, ate different foods, and worshiped different gods. They became black when their new masters imposed a common experience on them and saw them as interchangeable.

Something similar, if much less extreme, happened to the Poles, Czechs, Irish, and other Europeans who came through Ellis Island. They were allowed to keep a little of their previous identity, but considered backwards if they took it too seriously. (You can see that process happening in the background of all those making-of-the-Mafia movies. Lucky Luciano had become an Italian-American, but the previous generation of bosses — Maranzano, Masseria — were still greaseballs.)

Imagine trying to organize a White Heritage Festival. What food would you serve? What ancestral costumes would you dress your staff in? The reason those questions seem so silly is that there is no white culture. There never has been.

Whiteness is about being the master rather than the slave. That’s the sum total of it.

Why white pride is different from black pride. Whiteness and blackness were created at the same moment, by the same act of enslavement. But they were not created equal. White identity and black identity are both in some sense artificial, but there is no equivalency between them.

When Africans were enslaved, the masters did their best to erase any prior African identity. Italian immigrants could form their own neighborhoods, like Little Italy in Manhattan. On the frontier, entire regions were settled by Germans or Swedes. But the cotton plantations did not recognize any prior tribal distinctions, and any attempt by the slaves to practice a non-Christian religion or preserve a language the masters did not understand was put down harshly.

Slaves of all tribes were all housed together, and encouraged to breed like cattle. To the extent they were taught anything about their African motherland, they were told it was a land of savages who were little better than animals. How generous the white man had been, to bring them to a Christian land and teach them civilization!

When you grasp even that much about the black experience in America, you understand the job black pride needed (and still needs) to do: On the one hand, it needed to celebrate the polyglot culture the slaves made for themselves, how it continued after Emancipation, and its contributions to the larger American culture. And on the other, it needed to reach back beyond slavery, and recapture a sense of Africa as a place of origin, with its own history and traditions.

There is no similar task for white pride. I know exactly what part of Europe my ancestors came from, and German ethnicity is there for me whenever I want it. If I eat schnitzel and drink beer during Oktoberfest, no one will condemn me. I could put on lederhosen and dance to an oompah band if that would do something for me. If I want to go deeper, I could read Faust, recite the poetry of Rilke, or attend a Wagner opera.

Similarly, you can celebrate your Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day, and make something more out of that identity if you need to. If Italians want to congregate on Columbus Day, critics might dispute their choice of hero, but not their right to a holiday. A few miles from my apartment, there’s a Greek festival every year on the day of some saint whose name I can never remember. It’s a good place to get baklava and spanakopita.

The various European identities were never completely erased, and are totally recoverable. In most cases, you can visit the original country, where the original culture may have evolved since your ancestors left, but was never overwritten by colonialism. There is no hole for white pride to fill.

Dark whiteness. But there is a dark place white pride can go to, and in practice it quickly goes there. Whiteness and blackness originate in slavery. So in the same way that black pride focuses on healing the injuries of slavery, white pride can celebrate that enslavement.

Maybe there is no white culture, but there was Confederate culture, the lifestyle of the slave-master. Spend any length of time on a white-pride web site, and you’ll run into the stars-and-bars, and “heroes” like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. You’ll run into white people whitesplaining that slavery wasn’t really so bad, that the house slaves were practically members of the family, that blacks were better off on the plantations of Charleston than they are in the ghettos of Detroit, and so on.

Strangely, I never hear any black people, no matter how poor they are, waxing nostalgic about the old plantation days — just white people claiming that they should.

Guilt and responsibility. Probably the most persuasive part of the white-grievance argument is that people are trying to make us feel guilty for things we haven’t done. I personally had nothing to do with enslaving the blacks, committing genocide against the Jews of Europe, or stealing the homelands of the Native American tribes. All of that happened long before I was born. So why do liberals want me to feel guilty about it?

a white who takes pride in his ancestors’ accomplishments is evil, but a white who refuses to accept guilt for his ancestors’ sins is also evil.

This objection is based on a gross (and I think intentional) misreading of the liberal position on race.

Guilt is personal, not collective; if you didn’t do it, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But responsibility for making the world more just is collective.

Blacks were brought to America by force. They had their ethnic identities stripped away by force. Their labor built a great deal of this country and its wealth, both during slavery and during the times that followed when they were an exploited underclass. In exchange, they received very little of that wealth. Today, many continue to live as an underclass, with slim opportunities to make a better life.

I didn’t do that to them. No living white individual did. But American society as a whole — all of it, not just the white part — bears a responsibility to correct that injustice, or at least to stop perpetuating it.

How to do that, what would be fair, and what stands a chance of working — those are all open questions. Many legitimate points of view are possible. What is not legitimate, and what individual whites ought to feel guilty about, is taking a sucks-to-be-them attitude and sloughing off responsibility entirely. That’s not just something our collective ancestors did long ago. That is something we might be doing as individuals right now.

So what are we being asked to do? Not to feel guilty, but to open our eyes and stop rationalizing that American society is already just and everybody is exactly where they deserve to be. To recognize the ways that the game has been rigged in our favor. And to participate — fully, intelligently, responsibly — in figuring out and implementing plans to achieve a more just society.

Personally, I find that a project that I — as an American, a German-American, a participant in Western culture, and yes, even as a white — can take pride in.

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  • Db  On November 28, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Lest we forget upon whose backs our earliest accomplishments were built:

  • Db  On November 28, 2016 at 10:21 am

    my previous comment was actually a response to: Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism -a linked sift article

  • Donna victor  On November 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Exceptionally good post. One small quibble…reading “Race and Reunion” by David Blight…he does suggest at least to some extent our white ancestors both north and south pretty much shoved the “Negro” problem aside in the compromise of 1876…so there definitely was the attitude”sucks to be you”

    • weeklysift  On November 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

      You prompted me to add a word. “That’s not JUST something our collective ancestors did long ago.”

  • David in Maine  On November 28, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Crystal clear and important. Thank you.

  • tfm1066  On November 28, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Today’s essay, about “white pride”, is excellent. Even in your blog, which is regularly very good, this one stands out. Seven years ago one of our sons and his partner adopted two African-American children, siblings. I might have said all along that I was attuned to racial injustice in America and concerned with correcting it, but I have been astonished at how much more I think about the subject now that I have two grandchildren whose quality of life may be threatened by it. The subject deserves ur continued attention.

  • Bonnie McDaniel  On November 28, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Very good essay. Thank you. I linked on Facebook, if that’s okay.

  • joeirvin  On November 28, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Excellent, Doug!

  • prairiemaryblog  On November 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

    You’re only considering the people you know. Nothing about the Asians who built the railroads, nothing about the Native Americans whose land it was.

    • Paul mohney  On October 1, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      one thing at a time….inequality springs eternal

  • Nick  On November 28, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    You always articulate my own thoughts better than I can and this may be the best example of that so far. Thank you for this!

  • SCL  On November 28, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    It’s a strawman argument to talk about slavery or the holocaust. Of course white people can say they aren’t responsible, it happened a long time ago. What white people are responsible for is the oppression that’s happening right now, in the current moment. Predatory criminal justice systems, corporate control of native lands, misrepresentation in the media, wars that benefit whites at the expense of everything else. If we wanted to, we could make a list of a thousand despicable things that white people are doing right now. No need to distract people with arguments about slavery, plenty of oppression happening right now.

    If white people stopped oppressing minorities for their own benefit, then it would be the time to have white pride. But we are criminalizing blacks, exploiting latinos, and taking advantage of everyone and anyone. White people have all the advantages, we take them, and complain whenever anyone criticizes us. What is there to be proud of?

    • DB  On January 11, 2017 at 11:58 pm

      I’m a 45 year old white man who is very well educated and a professional business person. I have a distinctly unique view on racism, racial pride, and what it is to be discriminated against. I was employee number 6 of a six person organization. I was the only white person of the six, the other five were black. What I experienced at that organization was unbelievable. To describe the discrimination, hatred, and racism would only paint me into a corner as someone having an axe to grind. Because a specific race of people lived through a horrible span of time DOES NOT allow people within that same race to mistreat people of other races, no exceptions. I tolerated the abuse for five years, had audio recordings and emails of the abuse I suffered by these black people. The only mistake I ever made was no suing.

  • Ean Behr  On November 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    You, Doug Muder, are a staunch Modernist, existentially speaking, I can tell. Your post is carefully delineated and clearly expressed. The fact that you would even feel the need to respond to Spencer’s claims and respond to them in the thoughtful way that you did tells me that absurdity is not your default worldview setting. And why would it be, really? Not only are you white, but male and straight to boot. The trifecta of surety in the world today…well, our part of it, anyway…until now, that is.

    Dr. James Cone, the founder of black liberation theology puts forth a concept of a way of existing in the world which he refers to as being “ontologically black” and this may be the first taste of it that most whites in America have ever had. To be ontologically black (in my interpretation of Cone’s idea), one has to experience the overt and covert menace to one’s psychological and physical being at every moment of every day, all while looking out upon a world that, for others, is mundanely safe. It is, moreover, to be expected to operate in this world as if it were fair and one were safe even though the facts on the ground do not concur. And it is, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, to forever keep alive the hope that someday things will be safe and fair because absent such belief life becomes impossibly hard.

    I don’t know about you, but all the speculation about how Trump could possibly have happened that I’ve heard has come exclusively from white liberals and progressives. What little I have heard from people of color is not only a resounding lack of shock but outright indifference. The only commentary I’ve seen points to a firm belief that a Trump presidency will have a negligible effect on their lives. And I would add that, if anything, it may be a blessing in that now that we white folk don’t feel so safe anymore either, there might actually be some widespread progressive mobilization that includes everyone.

    All of which is to say that the Modernist sensibility that has heretofore been the ground of our being, may not serve us all that well in this new world. Trying to make things make sense in the way that has always served us so admirably in the past may leave us perpetually behind the curve, perpetually reactive and that is a dangerous place to be now even for us.

    • jh  On November 30, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      I think there may be shock but it is the kind of shock that whites would be insulted by. They aren’t shocked at the racism or the support. They don’t expect white people to be decent human beings. They mouth the words because they know that white people want to hear that they are good people. But in the privacy of their own homes or friendships, they don’t have a problem going “I knew that whites were racists all along. I wonder when they will admit it in public.”

      What changed in this election was this – the blatant support of a racist and a white supremacist. Before, it required code words so that people of color couldn’t go “look at that” and it provided plausible deniablity.

      What I find amusing are that Trump voters are aghast at being considered racist. They voted for a racist but somehow, they think they are not racist. That shows how well whites are at not acknowledging how racist they really are.

      That’s why we have calls to understand the plight of the hillbilly white. Because even the liberals feel sympathy for the white trash. There are all these calls to humanize the Trump voter or to not make them feel bad or ashamed. Why is that? Did anyone hear that when President Obama won and the rumor was that blacks just voted for the black guy? (Hidden racism and I would also argue projection. Whites voted for white guys but they never seem to consider this same argument could be used against them. But most people of color would tell you that obviously whites voted for Bush jr because he was a good white boy.)

    • Monala  On December 5, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      “What little I have heard from people of color is not only a resounding lack of shock but outright indifference.”

      As an African-American woman, I will tell you that while I don’t feel shock at the results of the election, neither am I indifferent. I feel an intense fear about what might come with Trump and his white nationalist supporters at the helm. Their attitudes are neither new nor surprising, but they have been unleashed and legitimated in a way that terrifies me.

  • blotzphoto  On November 28, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Well done as usual

  • Eric Mulfinger  On November 28, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for another great post. You’ve probably read this, but this book was a great read too.

  • krohde2014  On November 29, 2016 at 3:25 am

    You touched on this, but the idea of being white is a construct (as is the idea of being black) and I have never identified as white although I know that is how others identify me. I think of myself as Scandinavian-American with some other roots as well, and can identify certain parts of my personality that are due to my ethnic heritage. I wonder how it might change things if people like us stopped identifying as white and identified with our ethnic or regional roots? I don’t think Germans refer to themselves as Aryan anymore. White isn’t really anything cohesive, it is defined by what it is not and that changes. Most ethnicities now considered white were not always thought of in that way. Some Arab Americans recently got thrown out of being “white”. (Trevor Noah’s recent autobiography is an interesting look at the whole craziness of race from an African point of view.) An interesting thing in Cuba is that African identities there were carried forward so that many Cubans think of themselves as descending from particular African tribes and even have customs and religious practices directly handed down. I think that has helped them in being a somewhat less racialized and more multicultural society.

  • jh  On November 30, 2016 at 11:52 am

    You will note that while whites may extol the kindness of the white master to his black slaves, they will rarely volunteer (read never) to be that slave. For them, their entire cultural identity is tied up in not being “losers”. For them, being poor, being non-white, being female – they are all losers by definition. That’s why they find it galling that they have to compete with them and they might lose. They never consider the centuries of white afirmative action as being unjust towards anybody else. They think that was their just reward. That’s why they despire President Obama so much. Because they believe that President Obama must have cheated and that’s why he won twice.

    That’s why they constantly point out the overall ethnic makeup of sports such as basketball as if that somehow means that affirmative action in schools and colleges or at workplaces should be dismantled. They pretend that the black athletes did not have skills and were just put there because they were black. Why? Because that’s what they want. They don’t want to work for their job or succeed despite struggles. They want the silver platter. They want to automatically be given the job despite having inferior credentials or average credentials. That’s why they suspect every other minority disenfranchised group of cheating. Because they are the cheaters in this society.

    And this is why they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. They want to be winners and they believe they were cheated by the losers such as the Mexicans, the Indians, the Muslims, the women, the Blacks and so on. In their world, if a “loser” wins, they must have cheated. They want the game to be stacked in their favor so they can be “winners” because they aren’t interested in a fair game, they are interested solely in winning. You will note, they will show that sea of red on the electoral college map but they will not mention that HRC won the popular vote by over 2 million. Even now, the lies are going round that Trump won the popular vote because their was voter fraud. Why do they find that so easy to believe? Because they are the ones who have the cheater culture and that’s the filter they use to interpret their reality. It’s also the way they get to weasel out of any responsibility as members of the US to gain justice for people who aren’t like them.

    • kfr  On September 26, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      THIS is an excellent comment. May I share in public spaces relevant to the topic with attribution? Or without, of anonymity preferred?

  • Mary Robb  On December 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Hello Doug. I am a high school Social Studies teacher in Andover MA. I teach a course called “Democracy and Media Literacy.” My colleagues and I created this course and are so proud of it. I have to tell you that we have used The Weekly Sift in this course so many times, sharing your articulate reflections with our students. They have generated compelling conversations, heated debates and mind changing revelations. This particular post? Easily one of the best you’ve done. I have been struggling to find the words to properly express where I am on the issue of race, and you just did it for me. Thank you so much for this work that you do.

    Here’s a link to a recent “Greater Boston” episode that featured this class.

  • ccyager  On December 12, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Wow. This post should be required reading in all schools, all grades, every year. With discussion. Thank you.

  • Valerie Bower  On February 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, partly because of the vitriol floating around social media, and partly because of the alt-right calling cards (actual cards) floating around my small Nebraska city. I wondered if anyone had tackled “white pride” from this angle already…you did, and beautifully. Thank you.

  • mt10001  On April 28, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    First of all, I’m perfectly aware that I’m responding to a post written in 2016, but I just stumbled upon it now and am guessing you’re still receiving notifications of comments responding to it so are still somewhat likely to read it.

    One of your central arguments here (which, to be fair, many others make as well) is one that I find completely untenable, which is the argument that “whiteness and blackness were created at the same moment, by the same act of enslavement.” By that logic, one could also argue that Pluto didn’t exist until the 1930s and now no longer exists today. No, Pluto existed for billions of years before the 1930s and still exists today — it’s just that it wasn’t DISCOVERED until the 1930s and we mostly don’t think of it as a true planet (maybe a dwarf planet) today. But, again, whether or not Pluto exists is independent of what we call it. By the same token, white people existed before slavery, even if they didn’t THINK OF THEMSELVES IN THAT CONTEXT. So is race a purely social construct (which is basically what you’re arguing here) or a biological reality? They’re not mutually exclusive. Race is a social construct based on a biological reality just as “planet” is a social construct based on a physical reality.

    While I’m not going to get into “white pride,” and it’s not a term I ever use, what I said above also leads me to think that it’s a bit ridiculous to claim that the totality of white people as a group is enslavement. To use another other-worldly analogy, let’s say, ultra-hypothetically, that aliens landed on Earth tomorrow and started colonizing our planet and taking some humans back to their home planet as slaves. Clearly, this would be wrong of them to do, just as whites enslaving Africans was clearly wrong as well, but would this really mean that enslaving humans was the only aspect of these aliens’ identity? I mean, just for them to have the technology TO BE ABLE to colonize the earth means that they must have accomplished SOMETHING other than slavery.

    So, yes, when white people defend themselves by pointing out that white people wrote the Constitution and wrote the Western classics, etc., I don’t think that’s invalid. But those who produced those accomplishments “had no idea they were white”? That’s irrelevant. To use one more analogy, Golden Retrievers don’t know they are Golden Retrievers. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

    • weeklysift  On April 28, 2019 at 3:32 pm

      What I find ridiculous is the idea that “race” really means something in biology; that there are a definable number of races that are somehow separate. In reality, there is a continuum of genetic differences and no clear place to draw lines. Why are dusky Greeks or Spaniards part of “white people” rather than “black people”? What biological trait unites them with Nordic peoples rather than with Arabs or Africans?

      No, the idea of “white people” and “black people” is fundamentally social, not biological. That social notion began with slavery. Nothing you’ve said really touches that argument.

      And surely you can see the circularity in the idea that the fact that we wound up on top in this particular era of history shows that we deserve to be on top.

      • mt10001  On April 28, 2019 at 5:35 pm

        Hmm, I just wrote another response and it’s not showing up here. Are you not receiving it?

      • weeklysift  On April 28, 2019 at 5:36 pm

        I don’t see it.

      • mt10001  On April 28, 2019 at 5:41 pm

        Again, hmm. Maybe that’s because I included a link in there. I’ll try again without it.

      • mt10001  On April 28, 2019 at 5:43 pm

        “Why are dusky Greeks or Spaniards part of “white people” rather than “black people”? What biological trait unites them with Nordic peoples rather than with Arabs or Africans?”

        I can’t pinpoint exactly where on the color spectrum (no, not skin color, but the actual color spectrum) one color ends and another color begins, but that doesn’t mean that individual colors don’t exist.

        “No, the idea of “white people” and “black people” is fundamentally social, not biological.”

        Not to dig her up again, but then surely you had no problem with Rachel Dolezal claiming she was black. If you believed that she was lying and NOT black, then you must know, on some level, that race has a biological basis.

        “What I find ridiculous is the idea that “race” really means something in biology.”

        Then you must REALLY find this ridiculous: [google “metric on the space of genomes and the scientific basis of race” and click on the infoproc result]. I like, by the way, how in one of the comments, someone responds that “you have made only a case for genomic clustering” to which someone else aptly points out “which suggests that there is a biological basis for common sense notions of race/ethnicity.” And, in case it matters, the original post here was clearly not written by a white person.

        “And surely you can see the circularity in the idea that the fact that we wound up on top in this particular era of history shows that we deserve to be on top.”

        I’m not really sure where you’re going with that. I don’t think I said anything about anyone “deserving” to be on top. I just said that your argument that “whiteness” is nothing more than slavery is untenable, as is a belief that any pride white people feel is therefore invalid or an homage to slavery. Basically, it’s like you’re using the idea that white people didn’t always THINK OF THEMSELVES as white to reject white positives while including white negatives. But back to the concept of being on top, I totally support the concept of equal opportunity and letting the chips fall where they may, but that also means that everyone won’t always like the outcome. And that can includes whites to, which is something they have to deal with when considering the fact that, in this country at least, on a per capita basis, they are NOT “on top” — Asians and Ashkenazi Jews are. And for whites that do have a problem with that, well, that’s tough for them as well.


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