Classic Post - Racism, Language, and "White Pride"

 I published this years ago on my old MySpace blog (clearly prior to 2008 when you look at my comment on Presidents' Day).  I wanted to save it for the archives when I shut that blog down.  I realized I never reposted it.  The time is now.

So today I read an interesting bulletin about racism from one of my MySpace friends. The gist of the piece was how unfair it is to use words like "hillbilly" or "cracker" or "gringo" regarding white people with no repercussions, but it's racist to use the n-word. The piece dares to ask why it's not wrong to have black student unions and black history month and display black pride, but why it's racist to have white student unions or say that you're proud of being white.

I'll answer that bulletin first by defining racism. A great definition I learned in Sociology 101 was that Racism=Prejudice+Power. Prejudice is the exclusion or stereotyping or classifying by people's color or religion. Racism takes that feeling of prejudice and institutionalizes it. Prejudice means making stupid jokes about black people being able to dance or eating watermelon. Racism is the lack of CEOS of Fortune 500 companies. Racism is the pay gap between black and white athletes. Racism is the white kid in the suburbs who gets a slap on the wrist when he's caught with a bag 'o' dope, while the inner city black kid has the cops kicking in his door for the same offense. Racism is the subtle things as well. It's the fact that even though my closest friend at work is a black man, our friendship rarely ever goes outside the confines of the office because there seems to be an invisible barrier that keeps us from fully entering each other's worlds.

The words associated with racism are words of power as well. There was a time when the use of the n-word by a white man was meant to put a black man in his place. When you called a black person racist names, or referred to a man as "boy", you were asserting your control, your superiority over that person. Racist words have a very strong context. They still have the power to hurt because the words and phrases have so many years of hate history behind them.

Words like cracker and hillbilly are indeed cruel, but let's not forget that white people often use these terms against each other. Do they really have the same power behind them? The fact that white people don't get offended by these terms is a pretty clear indicator that they don't. Do white people really feel a strong sense of hurt by being called "cracker"? Remember The Jeffersons? George Jefferson threw the word "honky" around all of the time and the reaction tended to be, "Look at cute little George Jefferson insulting people because they're white." Not once did I ever see Tom Willis show real anger over the insult. There was the time in Cozumel when Kevin and I went riding and we were being assigned horses according to riding experience. I asked the guide what kind of horse he intended to give the experienced riders and he replied, "Oh just Psycho Horse, Gringo Killer..." I told him to give Kevin Gringo Killer. I took no offense, and let's face it, why should I? I was the "wealthy" American tourist paying this man to take me for a ride. If all this guy had was to call me Gringo, well have at it.

On the white pride thing, I will argue that there is such a thing as white pride. The thing about white pride is that it's fragmented. There is no unity among white people. We have Columbus Day (which is often considered a holiday for Italian-Americans even though the country known as Italy didn't exist in Columbus's time). We have St. Patrick's Day. We have Ocktoberfest. There are social organizations like the Sons of Italy and the polka halls. I see smaller European-related festivals advertised quite a lot. Sure people of all types might attend these festivals, but what race is the people behind these things, hmmmm?? Blacks get Martin Luther King Day. European Americans have all of the holidays mentioned above plus President's Day (what race were the Presidents?)

It seems to me that those who only identify with being white, and want "white pride" are people who really have problems sharing power. Most of them had little power to being with. The changing face of the United States has made them feel even more powerless. They feel held back by the advancement of people of color. The things that hold them back are the same things that hold many of us back, most of which have nothing to do with race. If people are going to feel victimized by what they feel is "reverse racism" and say that it's the root of all of their problems of why they and others like them can't get ahead, then they are no better than the people they criticize.

People like this don't make me proud of being white. I have no common ground or point of reference with these people. Not all white people in the US share a common culture. What do I have in common with some ignorant KKK dude from some rural backwater other than European ancestry? Why should I be proud of something I have so little control over. His way of life is very different from mine. I'm not going to be proud only of "being white" when that genetically-mandated trait is shared with the membership of the KKK, George W. Bush, and Britney Spears, and Charles Manson. To me, "White Pride" is meaningless. The color of my skin says nothing about who I am as a person.

African Americans do not have the same cultural touchstones that European Americans do. If your ancestors were brought over on slave ships hundreds of years ago, you don't have the luxury of declaring your pride in being an Ethiopian-American, or a Malawian-American, or a Zambian-American. You only know that your ancestors originated in Africa. Those ancestors were living in the United States far longer than many of us European-Americans. (How many people reading this had their ancestors immigrate to the US in the 20th century?) That history is the one thing they share. It is as much a part of American history as the Civil War and the Depression, but it's been mostly overlooked until the latter half of the the twentieth century. Being black unites people in a way that being white can't. The biggest cultural touchstone African-Americans have is race itself, and the shared American history that the books ignored for far too long.

Why the pride in race? It's the same reason we show pride in any ethnic background in the United States. It's because there was a time when being of a certain race or ethnic background was something we were told to be ashamed of. Just about any immigrant population in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were subjected to all sorts of prejudices. Having pride days and marches and festivals is a way of saying, "We're proud of who we are and we're not going to let you hold us back, or put us down because of who we are." It's a declaration of unity over a shared culture and history. It's the same for blacks as it is for the Irish.

Why no white pride parades and festivals? Do you really need one? White men are still running the show in this country no matter how oppressed they feel. What are you proud of? Are you proud of genetics? You're proud of a fluke of birth? You're proud of the heritage that may not be the same heritage as the person standing next to you who also managed to be born with white gene? What would a "White Pride" day accomplish other than to remind those less fortunate who is still in charge?

For anyone who asks me, "Why can't I use the n-word?" I will respond with, "Why would you want to?"

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