Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There is no white culture

This is just a random thought that's been rattling around, but was called to the front because it's peripherally related to this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It comes down to this: white is not the opposite of black. There, feel free to ignore the rest of this post.

"Black" connotes a whole culture, and John McWhorter (whose articles are the subject of TNC's post) points out that different people embrace or personify that culture to different extents (he goes on to equate this with black identity, so some people are more black than others. I'm not black enough to offer insight about _that_.)

Coates indicates (although this is much argued in the comments) that black nerds are (or were) harassed for being "too white". While I understand what this means, I don't actually think it's true. And not just in the sense that white people don't like nerdy stuff any more than black people, but rather that there isn't anything "white" to be. I mean, there are big chunks of white people that have an identifiable culture in common -- Southern whites, Scandinavian Midwesterners, cowboys (yes, I know, there are black cowboys), goths. But generic "white" is just "not black" -- or not much of anything. "White culture" is pap for easy consumption, sanitized of any cultural references at all. There's no one who identifies Applebee's as part of their culture, or the Jonas Brothers or bologna or Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades. They're just things and customs that some people might enjoy but that are useless for identifying "I'm in this group, not that group" or for taking vicarious pride in.

I realize that one can argue that "black culture" isn't monolithic, but rather that each cultural practice associated with black people are actually only representative of _some_ black people. And certainly there are cultural artifacts that represent subgroups of whites: heavy metal, bagpipes, sauerkraut, Star Trek. But I'm claiming that rather than belonging only to some subgroup, many or most elements of "white culture" don't have any cultural association.

Click here to return to Gnomicon home page