What is White Culture?

I really need to go get in the shower, but I just have about eighty things I want to chew over instead, obviously.

Again, I’ve said before that the problem with “whiteness” is that we’re so timid in talking about it, I think for fear of appearing racist, that it leaves only the white supremacists to define what it is.

And yet, if a white person can stand in America and recognize basic elements of other culture, why do we have such a hard time recognizing and articulating our own?

I think it’s three-fold.

1.  Among good-hearted whites, there’s this belief that noticing race and remarking on it is somehow rude and subtly racist, when it’s not always.  So, we work to not notice our race and to pretend that it doesn’t matter (one doesn’t have to be a genious to see why this approach might piss off non-whites), just as we’d like to pretend that race in general doesn’t matter.

2.  One element of white culture, I think, is that, while people of other cultures here in America know that they do things certain ways because they are cultural, white Americans assume they do things certain ways because that’s the way they’re done.  We don’t recognize it as being a product of white culture, but assume it’s just naturally how things go.

Oops, no, in retrospect my third point was just going to be a reiteration of points one and two.

Anyway, I think it’d be interesting to try to articulate elements of white culture.

Shall we try?  White America, what does it look like?  Here are my guesses.

–Our cuisine is based on meat, starch, and sweets.

–We tend to live in extended family networks, but believe a family to be a father, a mother, and some children.

–We’re religious.

–We believe in somewhat rigid gender differences.

–We expect our children to go through a period of teenage rebellion during which point they are totally out of control and a problem.

–We believe in social mobility.

–We cow to authority even when we don’t always respect it.

–We believe boys and men should be strong and somewhat emotionally distant.

–We believe that women should be modest.

–We believe that men and women should get married.

Shoot, I’m late. More later.

13 thoughts on “What is White Culture?

  1. Hmm. I want to make some distinctions about ethnicity, or how consumer culture diffuses and mediates cultures beyond national, race and ethnic origins. I want to not sound so pendantic.

    Because those examples are as applicable here (Australia) across several cultures & race categories. OTOH there’s cultural trends being popularised by the white majority USA media, stuff like gaming and modes of rhetoric.

    For example: am I doing “white American culture” when I air guitar? Or chat with a blogger bringing religion into political debate in ways that would seem strange here, even to members of the same religion?

    I think of those things as American more than white, having been introduced to them thanks to USA media.

    Individual white Americans I’d think of more as having sub-cultures and ethnic traditions; additional to the race category of whiteness in general public American cultures.

    p.s hi i like your blog.

  2. Which white culture are you describing here?* Or even which white USian culture? There are so many of them. Which is why the concept of “white culture” seems so goofy to me.

    *German- and Anglo-Saxon-American cultures, for instance, may expect men to be “somewhat emotionally distant,” but Mediterranean-American cultures have different expectations. Just for starters. I could go on and on….

  3. (Note: I’m basing my argument based purely on pop culture).

    I’ve thought about this before, when people take on the stance that, say, if there were a White Entertainment Television (WET, as opposed to BET), there would be an uproar, yet no one says a peep about television unabashedly aimed at a specific race.

    I was probably about 8 or 9 when I first heard this, and in my private-school-attending white-bread-town-living little mind this made sense. Even up until college I’d never given much thought to race in general, other than knowing I bore no resentment against other races, religions, etc.

    But I took a class that, while I rejected some of the professor’s assertions about what is/is not racist in media, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and it’s basically another way of phrasing what you just said: To whites, white culture is called culture. The aforementioned WET is called CBS, NBC, Food Network, The Lifetime Channel, SpikeTV — I could go on and on. Now there are plenty of white kids watching BET and MTV, both of which have unabashedly made its millions on the shoulders of black performers in the past several years. Whitey got a hold of BET (via the Viacom takeover) too, excising Tavis Smiley’s show and others who spoke of issues to the black community that rarely get play elsewhere.

    I’ve rambled on enough, and there are cultural studies professors who could make a much better argument as to differences in general. But I think that in the pop culture realm (music slowly becoming an anomaly) we’ve simplified “white culture” to simply “culture.” Case study I’d like to see: What is the black/Hispanic/Asian viewership of Everybody Loves Raymond?

  4. If you modify point one to maybe meat, maybe fish, definitely starches and sweets and veggies…..you might be describing (sub)urban Indian culture…

  5. As a proud member of Scotch Irish American Southerner White Trash culture, I have long campaigned for a SIASWT Appreciation Month. We’d have banjo music and Willie Nelson and we’d honor the genius who invented concrete blocks to put Trans Ams and trailers on, we’d have chicken fried steak (representing the subculture of Texas White Trash, which I am also a part of) and learn about our heroes like ……..fill in the blanks here.

  6. Interesting post. Found your blog through Church of the Bad News.

    There’s a regional element, too. White culture in Georgia is not the same as white culture in Boston. I know this, having lived in both places. In fact, Southern culture is a thing all its own.

  7. What nm said.

    I have MUCH more in common culturally with a southern black Baptist woman than I do with a white male atheist from Oregon.

    “White America” is a nonsensical term.

  8. What Outfox is talking about isn’t nonsense, though. There is a USian mass culture, whose engine is the marketing of consumption. And that mass culture is, at least as a default, pretty darn white. Or rather, it is a culture in which white is unmarked and color is marked; being in the middle class is unmarked and other social/economic levels are marked;* dressing like everyone else is unmarked and unusual clothing is marked; and so on. If we keep in mind that the goal of this mass culture is to get us to buy things, it can have a great deal less impact on us.

    There is also, in the US, a shared political culture, but it has gotten infected by masscult marketing techniques in the past couple of decades and isn’t as good a unifier of various non-political cultures as it used to be.

    *This is the double whammy that makes a TV show like The Wire so completely marked that it can’t pull in viewers despite being the best thing ever.

  9. I have to say, being a (whisper) Yankee (ducking for cover) by birth, that Southern “white” culture and Northern “white” culture are indeed very different. I too think culture is regional, and what you think of as “normal” (no matter what your skin color) will vary from place to place.

    For one thing, I grew up in a town that was mostly Catholic. Catholics, all on their own, come with an entire set of cultural oddities. As I’ve mentioned here before, we had fish on Fridays. A grand portion of the town went out to eat fish fry on Friday evenings. Fish sticks or patties were served on Friday in school lunches. This is definitely a cultural phenomenon that I don’t see in the Southeast. Maybe down New Orleans way, but as a rule…

    We didn’t go to church on Wednesday nights. However, we did, as kids, get out of public schools on Monday afternoons to attend “church school” at the parochial academies when we were either preparing for our first communion or confirmation.

    “Snow days” was a term built into our Yankee cultural lexicon that is only vaguely understood to Southern natives. Winters meant having bulky down snow suits and heavy insulated snow boots because consecutive weeks of 20 degrees and below weather were normal.

    When I lived in Arizona for a few years back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, we had “Rodeo Days.” Schools were closed for 3 or 4 days because I guess there were so many families that participated in rodeo events that it warranted closing the public schools.

    I know these aren’t representative of “white culture,” but they are making my point all the same. My white cultural experience as a kid in Western New York State was vastly different from the white cultural experience for a kid from Middle Tennessee.

  10. When I lived in Arizona for a few years back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, we had “Rodeo Days.” Schools were closed for 3 or 4 days because I guess there were so many families that participated in rodeo events that it warranted closing the public schools.

    there’s places in the northwoods where they still do that for the opening day of deer season — if only because they wouldn’t be able to round up enough teachers for even the reduced number of students who might show up

  11. I actually talk a fair bit about white culture, but I just haven’t used that particular term for it. Once again you’ve got me thinking; I just may sprain something.

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