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May 09 2013

I Get Mail – Multiculturalism

Dear Avicenna

Other people have the idea that minority groups are allowed to be homogenous, but that white people have to be forced into being ashamed of who they are. How can one person claim that multiculturalism is for non-white people while not demonising white pride.

Let’s get this straight.

White people aren’t being forced to be ashamed of who they are. In fact you are doing white people a grave injustice by lumping all white culture into one giant category.

Oktoberfest is different from St. Patrick’s Day despite both festivals being centered around stereotypical amounts of booze. Easter in the USA is completely different to Easter in the UK and Easter in the UK is different from Easter in the Czech Republic.

Again tradition is different too. A Christmas Dinner in the UK may involve turkey or ham or lamb… But in the Czech Republic (just 2 hours away by flight) it would involve fried carp and potato salad.

How can you consider all  this variety in “white” culture under a single banner? Even Indians don’t consider themselves as homogenous. The Chinese may have a strong chinese identity but they still do recognise regional differences (but not to the extent that Indians do.)

Okay, what you mean is not “White Pride” but “Majority Pride”.

The problem is there are white people who CLAIM to represent all white people who do things that make white people ashamed of who they are. The kind of people who are “proud” of being white are the kind of people who hate other people because of the colour of their skin. That applies to every group of people who are proud of what skin colour they have. In all honesty? The white people who insist on white pride are the sort of people who have little to be proud about. It’s the same in every group of race supremacists. They steal the achievements of real people and denigrate the achievements of others in order to elevate their achievements by proxy. It’s like claiming that you personally are witty, erudite and intelligent just because you watch Stephen Fry speak.

The sort of people who want race “pride” events are not the sort of people who participate in “culture”. A quick look on a white pride site and what do you see? Whinging about uppity black people? Jews? Mexicans? Sometimes you get the “Chinese people look the same” or a “Indian people smell spicy”. Basically?

Is ANYONE proud of being like that? We don’t get to hear about western classical music. We don’t get to hear about ballet. Or Shakespeare. We don’t get to hear about any of these things unless it’s the “See! Shakespeare is white! I cannot name any black people who wrote literature like him! Ergo I am superior!” argument.

Let’s put it into context. The Carnival in Notting Hill is a mainly Afro-Carribean celebration.

White people can show up and have fun. Even participate. No one stops them from taking part and in fact the Afro-Carribean community welcomes them.

The opposite “White Event” is the BNP rally. The problem is they aren’t proud of “British Culture” they are proud of being White. The kind of people who aren’t proud of Stephen Fry (a National Treasure IMHO) but who are happy to go around saying “Them Brown People Shouldn’t Be Allowed!”.

Let’s take another example for local cultural events that have been perverted. First the nice. St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s day in Ireland outside of the Troubles was a general day for celebration. It was Irish Culture on display and anyone could participate in it. In the USA it’s taken on “troubling connotations” where people with none of the cultural baggage of Ireland drink whatever hellish concoction that green beer is heavily, speak like the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, and sing revolutionary songs in support of terrorists while claiming to be deeply in touch with the simple ways of Ireland. Because Dublin isn’t a thriving city but a sleepy economy filled with stereotypically lazy and stupid Irishmen… THAT! Is the most racist thing I could think of about St. Patrick’s Day. The cultural appropriation of Irish Culture by Americans who have no grasp of the issues and the casual sectarianism.

By contrast? St. George’s day for a long period of time was a good day to get punched growing up as a British Indian. I still dislike the day because of how I was brought up to fear skinheads and the violence that the day used to be associated with. England’s Culture was not on display.

That’s how you do a good event vs. a bad one.

The issue isn’t that “White People Shouldn’t Be Ashamed of their Culture”. It’s that white people’s culture is so pervasive and enjoyed by “everyone” so as to be the norm. The Ballet doesn’t run on one single weekend. It runs throughout the year. Same for a Shakespearean theater.

And that people who insist that they have days for “White People Only” fail to realise that celebrating a festival among minority groups tends to be an inclusive event while a similar festival declared as “White People” tends to be exclusive.

It’s simple. If there is a Diwali celebration, go down. See how you are treated.

And then imagine how I would be (as an Asian) treated at a white pride festival.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Seriously. I’m not quoting any of it because no part is less true than any other.

    There’s nothing, nothing, that any “White Pride” movement could express that would fit with what I experience as a white person (leaving aside how that intersects with trans-ness). What I experience is a daily, intrusive (this is a good thing) sense of how many ways I am privileged by the system over people who aren’t white. I don’t need any yobs shouting racist bullshit about how oppressed they are to know that, and given the potential for the yobs doing so to be brutally violent to PoC, I sure as hell want nothing to do with anyone who makes a noise about their “white pride”.

    Fuck that. If that’s what being white has to be, then I fucking quit.

    If I could. Which, of course, duh, privilege, yes. So, instead, I’ll keep speaking up, every time I can, working to overthrow the system. It’s the only moral response I can see.

    Great post, Avi.

  2. 2
    smrnda

    Great article, as a ‘white’ person who is Jewish, Polish and Albanian, it’s easy for me to see that there is no such thing as ‘white culture’ or even really a such thing as a uniform ‘white identity’ beyond just the concept that certain Other People get excluded, which historically has included people from Europe who were judged not white enough.

    Speaking of St Pats in the States, a huge deal in the States is an aversion to the Irish Whiskey Bushmills, as it’s said to be the whiskey of the Protestant Occupation. Apparently this belief exists only in the US.

    On Diwali, I attended lots of Diwali celebrations in college because the school I attended had lots of Indian students. Tonnes of non-Indians go just since it’s a fun event and chances are everyone knew a few Indians. who are always happy to draw a big crowd. The same with any other sort of cultural festival I’ve seen – everybody is welcome, and the people hosting the event are glad to share their food, music and anything else.

  3. 3
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Oh, yeah, smrnda, you reminded me of my going to a local Sikh festival every September (I can’t remember the name right now), because I go as a soccer referee to provide officials for the in-community games they have each year. It’s always a lot of fun, they pay about six times the going rate, and feed you until you’re stuffed as the day goes on (I secretly suspect this is to slow the referee down on the part of the lesser teams). It’s a fabulous time, and apart from abiding by the rules of their temple while on-site (no outside mind-altering chemicals without prescription – I went offsite a small distance to use anything like that I wanted, including caffeine – and reasonably modest attire – I wear black leggings under my ref shorts, but a short-sleeve shirt unless it’s cool), entirely welcoming to the atheist or other non-Sikh person.

    I highly recommend going to festivals like this, of all kinds of religions (Purim can be a BLAST); they tend to be a fairly easy thing to be at for atheists, when religious festivals are considered – few restrictions, and focus on enjoyment.

  4. 4
    Avicenna

    Is coffee considered mind altering? Considering the way Indians drink the stuff? Unlikely!

  5. 5
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    LOL, good point. I’m not sure, as I find coffee to smell loathsome, so I tend to stay well away from where it is served and consumed. It may well have been okay. I assumed it would be better to avoid any that I knew about, figuring I could be pretty safe that way. :)

  6. 6
    Pen

    The opposite “White Event” (to Notting Hill) is the BNP rally.

    A fairer comparison to Notting Hill might be Glastonbury, although I kind of see what you’re getting at. BTW I don’t know how you managed to ad lib on that piece of email. I couldn’t parse the sentences into anything meaningful.

    How can one person claim that multiculturalism is for non-white people while not demonising white pride.

    What?

  7. 7
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    At the park system where I work, there is a world cultures festival each year in May that focuses on 5 distinct cultures each year. Amazingly enough, although 30% of the residents in our jurisdiction are of European descent, the festival has not selected a single European culture to highlight in the 5 or so years the festival has been running. It’s ridiculously bizarre. I think it both reflects and reinforces a view that European cultures are homogeneous and that this exclusion of European ethnicities from such events goes a long way towards encouraging a “what about white culture” whine,

    There are a lot of distinct European ethnic cultures – it would be nice if such “white culture” enthusiasts could be redirected to explore how diverse and unfamiliar those cultures are and how different they are from contemporary American culture. That would probably just scare them further…

  8. 8
    Arkady

    People who go on about ‘white’ culture make me want to combine every european local delicacy (using the Terry Pratchett definition of ‘food no-one else would be silly enough to eat’) and feed it to them. Starting with Icelandic fermented shark…

    Living in the UK, I’ve never seen any problems with local culture being celebrated. One of the proudest traditions of the area I grew up in was to throw a cheese down a steep hill and run after it. But that’s a Cotswolds tradition, not a ‘white’ one.

  9. 9
    Von Kalifornen

    I agree with the fact that almost anybody saying ‘white culture’ is probably more interested in excluding people than actual culture. But I think that the whole sort-of self hating “the people we wronged have interesting and valuable cultures, we don’t” thing is a real problem and it also encourages cultural appropriation.

    I am of the opinion that we need to take the European cultures (plural) back from these miserable reactionaries. Perhaps we do not deserve to win, but they deserve to loose.

    Mostly, I become frustrated trying to hew out a place between despicable, hateful reactionaries and a need to spend every moment checking privilege.
    I’d also add that when people like you talk about the diversity of Europe, you almost always come up with lower-class stuff, which I think is more diverse than upper-class.

    Finally, I’d say that there can be some kind of pan-european or white or something identity. A lot of us in America have no idea what part of Europe we are from but there are common threads.

  10. 10
    Ani J. Sharmin

    Excellent essay, Avicenna. I wish I could just quote the whole thing.

    There’s a significant Indian-American population where I live, and at my University, there’s usually a Diwali festival, as well as many other events for different groups, and there are often fliers and things inviting everyone to come. A lot of these events seem to be inviting, with a goal of spreading knowledge about topics that people may not be familiar with, so that the group having the event (often a minority group) is better understood and considered part of the larger community.

    We don’t get to hear about western classical music. We don’t get to hear about ballet. Or Shakespeare. We don’t get to hear about any of these things unless it’s the “See! Shakespeare is white! I cannot name any black people who wrote literature like him! Ergo I am superior!” argument.

    Exactly! I’d love it if people gained more appreciation for literature, music, art, etc. of all different cultures, but too often, people weirdly act like citing a white person is a point in favor of their race in some contest. One thing I find so frustrating is that people seem to assume that their education was perfect. So, just because their school curriculum overwhelmingly focused on white male historical figures, they assume that others didn’t do anything of note.

    From the letter:

    Dear Avicenna
    Other people have the idea that minority groups are allowed to be homogenous, but that white people have to be forced into being ashamed of who they are. How can one person claim that multiculturalism is for non-white people while not demonising white pride.

    I find the statement that “minority groups are allowed to be homogenous” absurd. Isn’t the fact that people *wrongly* consider minority groups to be homogenous part of the problem (i.e. not a good thing that they/we are “allowed” to be)?

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