What Characterizes “White Culture”?

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

“Tell me something you appreciate about white culture,” he snaps.

I digress and take a breath, “You know race and culture are separate, right? The white race is not necessarily white-dominant American culture.”

No one can seem to get “white culture” right, even the National Museum of African American History & Culture apologized for stating values like “hard work” and “objective, rational linear thinking,” are distinct to “white culture”.

First, we will include the thoughts of someone who opposes the idea of “white culture”. Richard Thompson Ford, a Black Professor of Law at Stanford Law School asserts,

“The idea of White culture — indeed the idea that any set of cultural practices belong to any race ignores or repudiates the defining development of the modern world: the cosmopolitan mixing of older, face-to-face cultures made possible by the expansion of communication and migration.”

To summarize Mr. Richard Thompson Ford’s in less Standfordy words — white people talk to people who are beyond the label “white”, therefore intermixing culture, therefore a culture can not be dedicated to a specific race.

Again, Mr. Richard Thompson holds the perspective of a lawyer, and if you have ever gotten to know a lawyer you will quickly pick up on their extremely analytical nature. They often use logic to piece together their analysis and do not flinch at the thought that sometimes emotions don’t matter when coming to conclusions.

Again, you don’t have to thoroughly agree with Mr. Richard Thompson, but you may find bits and pieces of truth.

Mr. Richard Thompson did, however, assume, or perhaps he chose not to address the idea of —

dominance.

Dominant White Culture

He did not address the way dominance plays a role in whiteness. How white elites dominate resources, decision-making power, and take other folks' puzzle pieces. Puzzle pieces being —

  • Their voice
  • Rights
  • Resources
  • Access to capital
  • Fair labor conditions

White dominant culture creates unfair conditions for people of all races. The only reason the word ‘white’ proceeds dominant culture is that a majority of elites in this country (United States) and the world are disproportionately white.

If you’d like to see the dominance of “whiteness” with your own eyes check out Forbe’s 2021 list of the richest people in the world.

8 of the top 10 richest people in the world are white Americans.

Mona Chalabi, data analyst and contributor of The Guardian leverages data to unravel what exactly “white culture” consists of.

She quotes research from the CDC, and the data reveals white populations drink more alcohol than Black and Hispanic communities.

To Mr. Richard Thompson’s point, other data related to white culture, incorporate other cultures. Mona Chalabi reveals, “white Americans were almost twice as likely as black or Hispanic Americans to have done at least one arts activity in the past year. Their definition of an art activity was pretty broad — it included “jazz, classical music, opera, musical and non-musical plays, ballet, and visits to an art museum or gallery”.

Without a doubt, black Americans develop jazz extensively in this country so it’s not something that can be exclusively enjoyed by “White Culture.”

What the data does give insight to, however, is the fact white Americans may have more recreational time, headspace, and funds for enjoying the arts.

Okay, we can’t mention jazz without bringing forth the beautiful resilient, and one and only Billie Holiday. If you have not seen Lee Daniels’ film honoring her courageous, complex, life story, please do.

The film shines a light on the fact that today, in 2021, anti-lynching laws are still non-existent.

Let me repeat,

Even in year 2021, the United States government does not consider lynching a federal crime.

Why?

Can we still call ourselves “The Land of the Free” and fail to address and reconcile this country’s history of lynching?

Speaking of freedom, did you know that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world? Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, explains the dramatic uptick from 1972 to 2012. In 1972 there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons, in 2012 there were 2.3 million people.

There are more people incarcerated in the United States than the rest of the world combined.

As of April 24, 2021, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons staff statistics report,

62.1% of U.S. prison’s staff members are white.

Do you think the data reveals white-dominant leadership in prisons?

To give us more thoughts, Mike Murawski, an independent consultant brings us 20 years of working in the education and museum space. He creates this visual reminder of how to interrupt white dominant culture, pulling from the writing of the BlackSpace Manifesto and more.

Thoughts?

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Zara holds a BA in Political Science/International Affairs. She’s passionate about destigmatizing mental health and empowering women, Latinos, & POC to lead.

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Zara Macias

Zara Macias

Zara holds a BA in Political Science/International Affairs. She’s passionate about destigmatizing mental health and empowering women, Latinos, & POC to lead.

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