What is “white pride” and how does it manifest? Is any aspect of it salvageable, or is it hopelessly racist and xenophobic?
We live in a culture in which various minorities are permitted–encouraged, even–to express pride in who they are. Gay pride, black pride, Latino pride, female pride. Everybody’s proud! But the very phrase “white pride” brings to mind rallies of neo-Nazis, hooded Ku Klux Klan members burning crosses, and other uncomfortable scenes of violence and bigotry. Is this a double standard? Is there anything about “white pride” that’s good, that’s worthy of being saved?
In order to make that determination, we must first define what it is. What does it mean to be white? Whiteness is part of a constructed racial theory. White people tend to think of whiteness as being based on nothing but skin color. The truth is far more complex. As part of race theory (which is, in fact, a deeply flawed and discredited hypothesis rather than a scientific theory), white people represent the top of an evolutionary order. It is the superior race–the master race, to which all others are inferior and should ultimately be subservient. So, right off the bat, whiteness is part and parcel with white supremacy.
Despite the seeming primacy of skin color, though, whiteness can be granted or acquired based on behavior and circumstances. Italians, Greeks, Irish, Jews, and others were not originally considered white. “White” was a designation reserved almost exclusively to northern Europeans considered to be of good cultural and religious hygiene. The history of Irish immigrants to the US illustrate this very well: despite being very fair-skinned, the Irish were largely poor and Catholic, and rather than being treated as white, they were forced to live shoulder-to-shoulder among black workers. This was deliberate ostracism. They weren’t “good enough” to be white, despite having the proper skin color. Their whiteness was earned by, unsurprisingly, taking up the mantle of white supremacy and working to oppress their black peers just as harshly as other whites had.
This is not to say that skin color doesn’t matter at all. Rather, it is possible to have skin light enough that you can pass for white, until you are considered otherwise. A Jew or a Latino may pass for white in terms of complexion, but be given away by their names, at which point their white-passing privilege may be revoked based on the specific whims of more “genuine” white people. Again–the way whiteness is used here is as a tool of inclusion or exclusion based on a combination of skin color and cultural characteristics.
Pointing out the obvious, “black pride” might sound like it’s the same thing–it has to, by definition, exclude white people, right? The difference is that black pride exists in a cultural context where blackness is traditionally devalued, denigrated, and even destroyed. Black Americans descended from slaves brought from Africa had a culture, before it was stripped from them. It’s difficult to say what traditions ultimately survived, especially to the extent black culture has absorbed (or been forced to take on) elements of the surrounding white culture. What matters is that black culture is irrevocably informed by the experience of existing in a white supremacist culture. If black culture was dominant and default, there would be no need for “black pride” because there would be no need to nurture and protect it–it would already be everywhere and face no risk of dilution or eradication. And this is why “white pride,” as a shorthand for preserving the unique, desirable aspects of white culture, makes little sense.
White people and elements of white culture are already everywhere: on TV, on book covers, in magazines, on YouTube, in movies, making music, making art, making games, writing books, reporting the news, arguing on TV, on the radio, on the Internet. We may not think of these things as “white culture” but they are. It tends to escape our notice because we’re so accustomed to it. It’s simply “normal” to us.
The question, then, is whether it’s OK to be proud of that culture. Can we be proud of our art, of our history, of our accomplishments? Well, what is pride? The following definition should suffice:
a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
Do you feel “deep pleasure or satisfaction” toward the culture you identify with? If you’re white, does that make it “white pride”? It seems difficult to claim otherwise. There are certainly many elements of the culture I inhabit that I enjoy and appreciate, and I can’t deny that most of it is created by other white people. I am uncomfortable with calling that “white pride,” specifically, but the sentiment is close enough that we might as well call it for what it is.
Nevertheless, the common conception of white pride is of racists and xenophobes, because they go far beyond expressing an appreciation for their own culture, and instead advocate for isolation and “purity,” two things which are not only impossible, but also wrong-headed and xenophobic. Those who don’t favor isolation promote outright racial warfare, which is such an abhorrent and disgraceful concept that I won’t waste anyone’s time tearing it down. It’s positively inhuman.
Most white people wouldn’t want to be associated with these sorts, with good reason. But does it mean that being proud of our culture is off the table, that everyone else can celebrate their heritage, but we can’t?
The simple answer is: no. And the proof is that we already celebrate it without people getting particularly upset about it. The catch is that we can’t be exclusionary–and there’s no good reason for us to exclude people to begin with. This is what campaigns for media representation, such as the “OscarsSoWhite” meme, are about. It’s not that white people can’t have anything, but that we must recognize the dominant position we have in society, and take care to include others who have been historically marginalized and oppressed. If “white pride” means limiting people’s opportunities, holding up historical oppressions, and upholding a narrow view of one culture at the expense of all others, then it really does belong in the trash. Because when you get right down to it, the evidence that we’re proud of our culture and heritage is already all around us. We don’t need protests and pride marches to show it, nor should we try to exclude others based on where they come from and what they look like. If there is a white culture worth preserving, then it must open itself up to everyone who wishes to contribute, so it can grow and develop and change. Someday, it won’t be “white” anymore–it will have become something else.
And that will be just fine.
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