White People You Do have Culture

It is Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month (15 Sept – 15 Oct) and Disability History Awareness month. Washington State Office of Education Ombuds has One Out of Five: Disability History and Pride Project, check it out to learn more about disability history, allyship, and intersectionality. The blog Colorful Pages (subscribe to their blog too) has a list of books featuring Latinx characters.

Picture of a white background with two water glasses, one tipped on its side, the other a quarter full of water. Photo by Andreea Ch on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago, I overheard a white man tell another white person “I couldn’t fill out the school survey. We’re white, we don’t have culture.” The survey he was talking asked parents what we thought and how to balance the different cultures within the diverse school. I had to walk away from the conversation, I didn’t want to get into a discussion or education session about how white people do have culture even if they don’t recognize it.

White Culture

Everyone has culture whether you recognize it or not. A working definition of culture is it is the set of beliefs, customs, practices, values, and social norms that allow us to make sense of the world. Such as food preferences are often culturally generated. Beliefs, language, and communications are also culturally engrained. White people have cultural standards and norms, but they are so entwined in how our societies operate we forget they are white culture.

As an example, ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ English is a white standard that is now embedded into American culture. It is so engrained into our everyday life that anything other that English is seen as someone else’s culture. We don’t label English as white culture, it is invisible.

White Culture is Invisible

White culture is often invisible but felt everywhere. Here are a few more examples:

  • Sense of time and following strict schedules is a US white norm. Controlling time and using time as a commodity is a white norm.
  • Holidays we celebrate are mostly Christian or Eurocentric. If you pull open a pre-printed calendar most of the holidays listed are Christian, e.g. Valentine’s day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s day. (Side note, if you want to see a list of non-Christian/Euro based holidays and celebrations see Fakequity’s annual list of dates.)
  • Focus on fairness and meritocracy, belief in hard work and rewards.
  • Written language and increasingly visuals (i.e. Instagram) are superior forms of communication, and everything needs to be documented.
  • Ableism and charity. Being able-bodied is a way of contributing, and if you can’t you receive charity instead of inclusion.

There are many more examples of how white culture is present in our everyday lives but we often don’t label it as white culture. It is always present and invisible to labeling. When we fail to label it as white culture it defaults to being the norm and the expectation of how we function and judge interactions against. This also robs white people from feeling like they have culture.

Everyone has Culture

White people have culture – good and bad, like many other people. White people may not experience or feel their culture as intensely as other racial and ethnic groups because we’ve become accustomed to it being the norm.

White people need to stop thinking they don’t have culture. This erasure of believing you don’t have culture is scapegoating and not taking responsibility for the harm of white culture, and the opposite of that not seeing yourself as a person and as a white community. Every culture has good things in it and it is important to recognize those too.

The history and culture of whiteness in America is something white people need to understand. Dismissing it and saying there isn’t a white culture means white cultural norms aren’t being looked at and understood. I also want white people to see parts of white culture that allow them to heal from and find resiliency to move forward. Staying in the space of oppressing culture is how we end up with conversations like denying critical race theory, denying immigration, even things like climate change.

Instead of denying white culture, let’s find a way to be open about it and recognize cultural values.

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I am writing from the ancestral lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small action to hopefully repair and work to be in more justice based relations.