White Is Not a Culture

 

I hate, in Rome, a Grecian town to find;
To see the scum of Greece transplanted here,
Received like gods, is what I cannot bear.
Nor Greeks alone, but Syrians here abound;
Obscene Orontes, diving under ground,
Conveys his wealth to Tiber’s hungry shores,
And fattens Italy with foreign whores:
–Juvenal, Third Satire, 118 A.D.

For all of the bandwidth it has been getting recently, one might be tempted to think that “white culture” is an actual thing. When the LDS Church issued its forceful condemnation of white supremacy yesterday, the most controversial thing it did was put “white culture” in scare quotes. This was appropriate as “white culture” is not, in fact, a thing. And it never has been.

This is not an attack on anyone. “black culture” and “brown culture” are not things either. Neither is “periwinkle culture.” Colors, of skin (or of anything else) are not the sorts of things that can have cultures. That’s just not how culture works.

Culture is created by people. The term itself is tricky, but it normally includes things like art, music, and literature; political and social values; a shared history, language, and spectrum of beliefs. And often it involves food. None of these things have skin color requirements.

When people talk about “white culture,” what they usually mean is “European culture,” which is actually the result of an ethnically diverse group of barbarians overrunning a thoroughly Hellenized Roman Empire and adopting a Near Eastern mystery cult as its majority religion. It includes Slavs, Turks, and Italians (none of whom qualified as “white” in 19th century American discourse), along with Franks, Huns, Celts, Danes, Goths, and a hundred other groups of people that the Ancient Greeks and Romans would never have seen as ethnic or cultural relatives.

This, of course, is the gist of Juvenal’s famous Third Satire, in which he laments the loss of his city’s noble culture to the influence of Greeks, Jews, and other non-Roman people. He could not have known at the time that Roman culture would survive for 2000 years precisely because Rome’s conqueror’s would combine Greek philosophy and Judaic religion and eventually produce the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and Disney World.

The error that Juvenal made was not in assuming that the people of Rome had a valuable culture. They certainly did. But the growth and development of this culture did not require any specific skin color or bloodline. Rome was itself a melting pot of hundreds of different peoples and languages, and its culture outlasted actual Romans by more than 2000 years.

Much the same can be said of American culture. While Beige Anglo Saxon Protestants have had most of the political power in American history, the art, music, literature, religion, language, and values that we call “American” are a thorough mixture of European, African, Native American, Hispanic, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and a hundred other cultures that came together in what people once called “the land of opportunity.” This is not “white culture”; it is “American culture,” and there is nothing about it that requires anybody to have any particular skin pigmentation to participate.

So, of course Americans of European descent have a cultural heritage that they can be proud of. The European and Anglo-Saxon worlds gave us a lot of really cool stuff (and some pretty awful stuff too). There is nothing wrong with being proud of the good stuff. But these cultures were not “white” in any way that the term has been used in the United States in the past 200 years, nor is their value tied to any specific blood line.

The “Blood” part of “Blood and Soil” is simply a lie. The belief that culture travels through bloodlines and that only a certain kind of people can have a certain kind of culture is basically what the word “racism” means. And the idea that there is something called “white culture” in the United States that joins a hundred European bloodlines into a single abstraction called “the white race” that surgically excludes the contributions of anyone else is at the heart of much of the racist nonsense that has been on display this month in Charlottesville and throughout the nation.

Comments

  1. “Thirty centuries of history allow us to look with supreme pity on certain doctrines which are preached beyond the Alps by the descendants of those who were illiterate when Rome had Caesar, Virgil, and Augustus.” –Benito Mussolini

  2. Minor nit Michael, you have a spelling error that would throw off those who might be wondering what a “sheep pen” or a “coil of rope” is doing being ranked among the groups of Barbarians that were conquered by the Roman Empire. Given they’re my heritage, Franks would be the correct spelling. Great article otherwise.

  3. Alain, got it. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  5. jaxjensen says:

    “The belief that culture travels through bloodlines and that only a certain kind of people can have a certain kind of culture is basically what the word “racism” means.”

    Which is why claims of “cultural appropriation” or anything akin to it is complete junk too. Because if you believe that only a certain kind of person can wear a certain hair style, wearing certain clothes, say certain words/phrases, dance certain ways, enjoy certain music, etc, etc, than you are participating in racism.

    So, if a black kid wants to wear a feathered headdress and leather moccasins then it isn’t culturally insensitive because anyone can participate in a culture. And if a white kid wants to have dreadlocks and listen to rap, then anyone calling “cultural appropriation” is a racist.

    Lest anybody think that I’m being sarcastic, I AM NOT. I am fully on board with the statement that I quoted from the OP.

  6. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    Brilliant Mike!

  7. jaxjensen-

    Cultural appropriation is a whole discussion. I also get really annoyed when people are militant about it. But cultural appropriation can be a problem – the key is a lack of respect. It is absolutely fine to go to an American Indian cultural celebration. It is not OK to dress as a slutty Indian for Halloween. It is OK for white people to rap. It is not OK for white people to dress in black face. Sure, some people will get upset no matter what you do, but the vast majority of people can tell the difference between appreciation and appropriation.

  8. Then Black is not a culture. What if we replaced the statement with the word black instead of white.

    Church members who promote or pursue a “black culture” or black supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.

    Everyone would be against it but it is okay to attack the whites. Double standard.

  9. EW,

    Yeah, you literally didn’t read past the first paragraph, did you?

  10. Michael,

    It’s one thing to state that there’s no such thing as black culture on a blog with no black permas (does BCC have a diversity problem?) and I’d venture to guess a 90+% white audience.

    Go to a black neighborhood, school, business, etc. and tell the people there that black culture is actually just “black culture.”

  11. “Despite their name, the ‘Sistas in Zion’ are actually, in their words, ‘sistas from different mistas.’ They found one another in the Utah-based Genesis group, which Vranes describes as ‘a hybrid black Mormon community.’ It’s an official organization created by the First Presidency to serve the unique needs of Mormon minorities. ‘It has all the elements of any LDS church service,’ she explains further, ‘with the added culture of black communities.'”

    http://www.ldsliving.com/Inside-the-Life-of-the-Sistas-in-Zion/s/75986

  12. I’m absolutely on board with the negation part of this essay. The “White is _not_ a Culture” of the headline. But I think you uncharacteristically fail us when you turn to the affirmative, the “white culture is” part. To my ear and awareness “what they usually mean is European culture” doesn’t do it and in fact buys into the intentional mislead going on.
    I would rather start with “white culture” is a political designation (and therefore not ‘culture’ at all) most analogous to a party or organization label (e.g., Democrat, Republican, Green, Orange — the latter two colors being conveniently real) which stands for promotion of ‘white’ people in charge, ‘white’ majorities not respecting the Bill of Rights and other protections for minorities, racial segregation, and at its extremes rationalization of ethnic cleansing and slavery. “White culture” uses the image of European culture as a gloss to make itself pretty and disguise some of its more horrific elements.

  13. Great post, Mike. And that’s an insightful comment, Christian.

  14. I have a feeling, when Whites become a hated minority in this country, you’re going to miss “White culture.”

  15. Nick H you are trolling, but I’ll respond anyway that to the extent the “white culture” movement manages to trash Equal Protection, yes I will miss that. Mightily.

  16. Any North American or Western European who deals extensively with Russians–who have taken the racist theories developed in England and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries and just run with them, despite most Russians having substantial Turkic ancestry due to the Mongol/Tatar conquest–learns very quickly that there is no such thing as “white culture.” I’m paraphrasing, but several years back Vladimir Putin said something to the effect of: “You [meaning Western, and particularly American, leaders] have been telling us for twenty years that we’re just like you, but we’re not. Not at all.” There are very good reasons that Western Europeans still considered Russia to be some strange “Oriental” place until well into the 18th century.

    Now, I’m sure there are some in the “white nationalist”/”white culture” camp who would say that Russians aren’t “white” (although WN types generally revere Putin), but do not tell Russians that.

  17. No one said anything about getting rid of equal protection or Russia.

  18. Nick,
    I don’t believe your apocalyptism. Go fear-monger elsewhere.

  19. Actually black culture is 100% a thing in the US and to say differently shows that you do not understand history. White people, with a bit of research, can pinpoint their ancestory to specific cultures in Europe, and take pride in the things those cultures give to the world. The same can not be said of the descendants of slaves. Very few black people in this country can pinpoint their ancestors beyond Africa. Because that cultural heritage was stolen from them by slavery, a new black culture grew in its place from a melding of different cultures, the forced Christianity, the resilience of surviving slavery and oppression, and many other factors people have literally written books about.

  20. Julie, what you are saying here is that there is an “African-American” culture, which is something that I agree with. There is a distinctive subculture in the United States that traces back to Africa through the horrible institution of slavery. But to call this “black culture,” without immediately pegging it to a geographic location is to say that it is the same as every other culture in the world made up of people with black skin, be they in the Caribbean, Brazil, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, or any of the other places that people with a certain kind of skin live.

    This is exactly the same mistake that people who talk about “white culture” make when they assume that there is a common culture for everyone that has light skin. In both cases, the cultures are about shared history and experience rather than skin color.

    There is a reason that most of the people writing the books you refer to in your post strongly prefer the term “African American” to “black.” This is not just a politically correct euphemism. It is a far more descriptive and historically appropriate term for what you are talking about here than “black culture.” Just as “Anglo-American” or “European-American” are much more descriptive terms than “white culture.” The idea that culture inheres to the bare fact of the amount of melanin in one’s skin is precisely what creates problem with both of the terms “white culture” and “black culture.”

  21. Don’t often agree with Michael, but we are simpatico here. After reading some of the comments, I am a little embarrassed about our Mormon culture.

  22. The west lost its greatness when it let its philosophy to die away. #BuddhaMaitreya

  23. Its a new world order no one can deny this, even the beggar in the street. The world is coming from a long darkness, thousands of years of darkness. #KaliYuga #AquarianAge

  24. I think Michael’s post is well written and well thought out. Over broad terms like “white”, “black”, “brown” cultures are inherently “raciest”. Even when they are narrowed down to say “Mormon” culture it is mostly over broad term. As we know, not all Mormons think or act or even believe the same things and would be hard to nail down what would be the actual characteristics of “Mormon” culture and not just stereotypes of Mormons’. Michael post gives a lot to think about.

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