Speaking of racism, great drawing of an Asian man, Mr Meme Maker.
Is a white man racist if he expresses pride in his racial heritage? According to this meme, he is, but I suspect this meme is meant to be rather tongue-in-cheek. Before we can answer the first question, we must address another one: is it okay to be proud of being white? For that matter, is it okay to be proud of being any race?
Of course these are thorny questions, and you’re likely to anger somebody no matter how you answer. Whether you say yes or no, your answer must be accompanied by a reasonable explanation.
Reasons Why It’s NOT Okay To Be Proud Of Being White (From A White Guy’s Perspective)
White European settlers had an abominable human rights track record, and the specter of their actions still hangs over us, despite many people’s insistence that it’s in the past and gone. Mustafa Samiullah writes in Yahoo! Voices that although slavery has been abolished in the United States for a century and a half, it has never truly been addressed; the implications of slavery and the anti-black racism born from it still inform important political and business actions. Don’t believe me? Consider voter ID laws, which were supposedly enacted to stop a virtually non-existent problem, and which adversely affect poor minorities. Or how about the fact that the 113th Congress – the legislative branch hailed as being the most racially diverse Congress in history – is still only 8 percent black and 6 percent Latino, despite the fact that Americans in general are 13.1 percent black and 16.9 percent Latino. Only 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a black CEO. Black and Latino Americans are still under-represented among the nation’s movers and shakers. Why?
Never mind some people’s assertions that we live in a post-racial society: white people are still more trusted and respected in general than minorities – a fact that many white politicians and businessmen are all too happy to exploit. It’s called white privilege, and if you’re even a little bit white, it is part of how people look at you. Peggy McIntosh writes in “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” that white privilege allows white people to enjoy the following conditions, most of which are much harder to achieve for people of color:
- If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
- I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
- I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
- I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my race.
And the list goes on. Until people of any skin color can honestly make these statements, we still live in a society that is both subtly and explicitly affected by racism. There’s not a lot to be proud of about that. Yet it’s been my experience that many people who are proud of being white either ignore these facts or actually claim them as part of their pride. That’s not all white people, mind you, or even most of us, but there is a very vocal minority of white people who would read the above paragraphs and not see anything wrong with them.
But lest you think I’m bent on demonizing white people, read on…
Reasons Why It IS Okay To Be Proud of Being White (From A White Guy’s Perspective)
To be sure, white Europeans and their descendants have produced a lot of culturally important things. There’s a long list of white painters, authors, and composers, each of whom has created works of incalculable value that have enriched the experience of being human. Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Wolfgang Mozart – what would modern society be like without these visionaries’ contributions? It’s okay to acknowledge that these artists are part of your cultural background, so long as you don’t downplay the importance of great masters from other cultural backgrounds (If you’re not aware of any, here’s a very short list to get you started: Frida Kahlo, Langston Hughes, Scott Joplin, Qiu Ying).
Plus, if we could somehow insulate ourselves from the privilege inherent in our race (we can’t, but let’s think hypothetically for a moment), our skin tone is still part of who we are. It’s literally in our genes. You can be proud of who you are as an individual – including your physical traits – without implicitly lending your agreement to the actions of people who look like you. Just don’t pretend they aren’t happening.
It’s perfectly fine to be proud of who you are as a person – everybody should be so fortunate. If you particularly like your blue eyes, your brown hair, or your light-colored skin, that’s okay too (perhaps a bit vain, but you’re not really hurting anybody else). It’s only when you start thinking that those characteristics make you better than anybody else that it’s no longer acceptable. You’ve moved past pride to something hateful and despicable. Instead of seeing other people as your equals, worthy of love and respect, you’ve started to see them as inferior. That’s racism, and it’s not okay to be proud of that.
If you try to lift up other people instead of tearing them down – if you live without bitterness in your heart – then go ahead and be proud of yourself. You’ve earned it. Go ahead and be proud of the highlights of where you come from, whether you’re white, black, Asian, Latino, etc. But also, acknowledge and learn from the struggles of your ethnic ancestry (and the struggles they may have imposed upon others). Don’t hide from the history, but accept that it’s part of who you are and where you live. Being honest with yourself…that’s something you can be proud of.