The more I read and reflect, the more I wonder “Is there anything I can be proud of about white culture?’ My culture. How can I live in this culture in a white body, awake to injustice, and yet retain dignity? I found two answers that said, “yes, you can.”
“Is there anything I can be proud of about white culture?’
The first answer came from a reconnection to my personal heritage. Early in my life, I distanced myself from extended family and put full effort into building a separate and different identity. My family system had taken care of my needs and offered me adventure as a child, but neglect and criticism, substance abuse and denial were present in equal measure. At seventeen I clipped my own roots and moved 1000 miles away and rewrote my own rootless story.
But now a fresh question was emerging: ‘Are there wholesome ways my roots and family had shaped my white identity?’ Ways that might ground me as I delve into my own racial identity. Memories of my maternal grandmother’s kitchen arose in response. My grandparents had scraped a livelihood together working as caretakers for wealthy ranchers in rural Idaho. They tended the land, the horses and cattle of the wealthy in exchange for residence and modest pay. My grandfather managed a few hired men, worked long hours tending fences, herding cattle, and turned a profit for his employer. My grandmother managed their home and worked the kitchen. She tended the men: prepared three meals a day on a big wood-burning stove, cooked vegetables from the enormous garden she planted, canned fruit for the long winters, and made use of every scrap of food and fabric because they were precious and hard to come by in a life off-grid and hours from the nearest town.
This is cream I skimmed off the top of a lifestyle that was isolating, low-paying, and back-breaking.
My grandmother’s example instilled values and skills in my tiny body. By age three I was standing on a chair at the sink washing potatoes and pitting cherries. I learned to value and prepare wholesome and tasty home grown and home cooked foods. I emerged with confidence and comfort in the kitchen and in my ability to overcome difficulty. Left to my own devices a lot, I learned to be ingenious and solve problems with what I had. I learned about reuse and repurposing long before those ideas were trendy. I knew how to be part of a crew and I knew that everyone had something of value to offer. This is cream I skimmed off the top of a lifestyle that was isolating, low-paying, and back-breaking. These times were fraught with interpersonal difficulty and physical danger. But the cream is mine and it is a part of my White identity.
A second source of pride about being a white person is more emergent. It derives from an expansive, exciting realization: I have the grit to envision and bring to life a version of white culture that represents my own heart and spiritual identity. Don’t wait, create! My true power arises from knowing rejecting and refusing white cultural expectations or actions that I find harmful or hateful – to myself or others. I don’t believe white skin is better. I don’t believe male gender identity is better; younger is better; thinner is better; English is better. The rhetoric of my culture is my truth: “All men [sic] are created equal.”
I want to live and study and speak and act my deepest value: I believe in human rights and dignity for all — no exception — in every moment under every condition. I believe it is possible to be honest and respectful; to hold people responsible with dignity; extend kindness and opportunity, safety and well-being to all. This is a lofty vision to hold as I try to exist among so many people who are so different in so many ways from me. But this reflects my truth and this is the culture and world I want for myself. I don’t want to accept values that ask me to live otherwise.
Isn’t it time for a collective awaking to reject a status quo that binds white people to the capitalist values of profit over people and sacrificing our energy and integrity for [dreams and promises of] wealth? Isn’t it time we reject the actions and beliefs — subtle and extreme — of white supremacy in all its forms?
This is a white culture I can sign on for! It excites me; enlivens me. It offers direction and purpose and dignity. I can connect to, dialogue among, and co-create with others who also want to claim a white culture rooted in equity. White people don’t have to accept white supremacist values, actions, or beliefs just because that was the culture we inherited and were socialized into as children and workers. [Read here for a discussion of white supremacy culture in everyday interactions]. We can awaken and revise. We can accept the responsibility and obligation to forge a better culture and a better future. And from this foundation of white identity, I can live and work and speak and I will question, challenge, and resist any racist, sexist, oppressive, greedy remnants of white supremacy culture.
Isn’t it time for a collective awaking to reject a status quo that binds white people to the capitalist values of profit over people and sacrificing our energy and integrity for [dreams and promises of] wealth? Isn’t it time we reject the actions and beliefs — subtle and extreme — of white supremacy in all its forms? Can’t we join and commit to dismantle our inner oppression and reclaim righteous power through self-education, honest voice, courageous fight, and dedication to a world that takes care of everyone?
I am. I have. I’ve got a long way to go but I don’t think there is anything more urgent or decent. Join me. Let us become the best we can be and make amends for the long legacy of harm done by white people.
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Jamie is a psychologist, mindfulness teacher, college professor & writer. She is dedicated to healing, truth, and creating a just and inclusive world.
Her blog, Uprooting Supremacy, chronicles her exploration of the roots of white supremacy culture and her journey with power, social inequity, & mindfulness.