White Culture

It was a terrible idol.

He’d seriously considered writing about white culture days before, but the drumming of responsibility, duty, and work weighed on him so that it was not possible. Considering carefully the nuances necessary to tease out a well-considered and thoughtful opinion, he decided to do it. The go ahead was clear, the points seemed helpful, and the necessity plain.

First, he simply considered his own experience of being white in Midwestern America. He thought about holiday parties, often with extended family and being the only time of the year you would see them. Laughs and joy would be had, it would be a bit awkward at times, and in the end you would leave a bit sad and a bit relieved because while these people are your family, they are also people you really don’t know that well. Somehow, mysteriously, they are important to you because of blood tie, but you may not always care for who they are.

He also considered food he grew up to know, sweet corn in the summer and chili in the winter. Casserole dishes mixed seemingly distant foods in wonderful medleys, and there was always potato and pasta salad at every event he could remember. Deep dish, Chicago style pizza, and Chicago hot dogs (the only way to eat them) were a part of Americana to him, though he knew those on the East Coast would disagree about what constitutes a good pizza. He considered how pumpkin pie was a staple in his family, and also how he would have arguments with friends about which pie was best, often each choosing the pie their family gravitated towards.

That was another aspect of culture for him, separation and unit breakdown. He could remember how separate he felt from members of his family, how each group would have their own customs, but there were also large family customs when everyone got together during the holidays. This was true of most families, but families differed. The hierarchy of white culture was quite strange with its penchant for individualism, even in the ways families related and were created. He knew this wasn’t the case for all cultures, but he enjoyed the separation, he thought it good. “Boundaries are a good thing,” he considered, “and while sometimes our boundaries are too thick, I appreciate my autonomy.”

Being a Chicagoan, he felt an incredible penchant for dualism. It often feels like Chicago has only two seasons, winter moving to summer, hot, muggy, and wonderful on the beach, Navy Pier, and zoos (of which there are two), and summer moving to winter with its snowstorms, plows, salt, skiing and sledding. We have two baseball teams in Chicago, also, the crosstown classic, when they play each other, being a highlight of the summer for many. It seems there are two opinions for everything, and there are arguments about whatever we may disagree on, but we don’t let that come between friendship.

Yet, with all this, he sometimes wondered if he missed out. His culture doesn’t have some of the things other cultures do. Midwestern white culture doesn’t seem to run deep, to him, and it doesn’t include song, dance, or dress. When thinking about it, he often got jealous of other cultures who had very specific styles of music or dance. It hurt to consider how often whites had taken from other cultures, likely because we don’t have things there. We like something, so we take it, but it isn’t as if we borrow it to bring it back later. Quite often we have outright stolen aspects of other cultures to try to fill the voids of our own.

Having read the book Being White some time ago, which was about whites relating in a multi-ethnic world, he remembered hoping to receive some secret to white culture that he hadn’t known before. The book, while wonderful, instead cast vision and gave practical advice for how whites could use their voice and power to lift other cultures up, to battle for equity. He hadn’t considered that before, and strongly did so now, that is because of reading the book, but also, he still longed for a culture, a style of living that feels like home. He immediately thought it slightly foolish, but only slightly. It was misplaced longing, he always felt longing, it just attached itself to the idea floating in his mind.

He considered also how white culture in America was, essentially, American Culture, and how as American Culture changes they either must do the same or fight against it. What would he do if he felt someone from outside his culture was changing it, but they felt that they were only changing American Culture? The deep connection between the two was troublesome, how might white culture be separated from American Culture? To be a white American meant to be American. Reciprocal reasoning meant that being American means to be a white American. It wasn’t great reasoning, but it was there. Blood and soil arguments can be understood, even if rejected for poor logic, when considering this line of thought.

It isn’t, he considered, that whites may move backwards, either. Although some have a connection to a European nation of some sort, too many are so interbred that they know not how to embrace German, English, Italian, Norwegian, Native American and many others in lesser degrees (his own pedigree). Should he simply choose? Would that, if he had not grown in that culture, not be appropriation? It would be slightly better, he supposed, than choosing to embrace Latino or Japanese culture, having no background or claim to either, but only slightly.

So, they feel quite stuck, he realized. The assimilation of new peoples means their culture, what they have held to, American Culture, will change. Assimilation does that, culture and ideas from both move across the boundary until they look similarly enough to communicate, meet in the middle, and work together. It is who they are, as whites, that feels under attack as things change on a national level. When America changes, they can’t change with it, but being a white American means they are America, so who are they when America changes? When their culture, American, changes, but they can’t change because of their whiteness, what happens?

It was a terrible idol. He pondered how white nationalism was not simply a belief, but a god within that moves them to strike out to defend the earthly kingdom that has been built for them. Even Christianity was used in the creation of this idol, warped into an American nationalism movement that has very little Christ in it. The church was the backbone of America, the spine of American culture, connected deeply with what it meant to be American, and therefore what it meant to be white. If the church was not this structure for America, what was America? Lost, he imaged they might say, and no longer great.

Understanding things a bit more, he thought he felt sympathy for them who were losing something so dear. It will be good to lose it, for the idol of America in white culture to die, for the church and white culture to be separated from what it means to be American, but it will still hurt, and they will have to mourn. Mourn for what was, what they thought they might have but cannot, and should not, and mourn for what has been done to advance this idol. It’s hard to come down from the mountaintop, and it’s harder to come down from the mountain you created.

With that, it occurred to him that really, all cultures are hurting in their own way, and they are striking out at each other to mask and cover the pain. Although it helps nothing, there is a driving force within that moves everyone to hurt each other. The idol must die, but some feel they must be the ones to kill it, and that is an idol of itself. Really, everything was an idol, he mused, slightly off topic. If it isn’t directly focused on God it’s an idol. We should be each wanting to be and not be because we are walking with God as Enoch did. Anything separate from that was a focus misplaced. We should all go live in the wilderness.

What does it look like to live together, he considered, it must be to be more aware of another’s pain than their sin, and our sin instead of our pain. If we could all focus on that, individually and sociologically, we might see some peace.

The pride of whiteness poked its head up as he decided to end the article, hoping that whites could lead the way in changing their thinking. Well, there will be a long way to go.

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