In February, it’s not common to hear, “If there’s an African-American History Month, why isn’t there a white one?” This question, along with its close cousin “What’s wrong with being proud of being white?” Sometimes, people honestly, even if they are simplistically think that equality in racial relations should be equal treatment of all racial groups.
It’s also the type of concept you’ll get from people who belong to “the” self-described “alt-right” and groups with similar beliefs, including white supremacists and white nationalists. They share common goals that could cause severe harm to or even eliminate those belonging to ethnic and racial minorities. “White pride” is what drove racism-based alt-right political leader Richard Spencer to tweet during the 2017 Super Bowl that he was cheering on the Patriots to win the game because of the team’s “Three White wide receivers,” and also because the team is “[c]onsistently NFL’s whitest team.” After the game, he celebrated by saying “For the white race, it’s never over.” These views aren’t just shared on Twitter. The Slate’s Jamelle Bouie has stated for white nationalists to be the most accurate definition of the Trump administration’s stance on race.
This is why it’s more crucial than ever to provide an honest response to their rhetoriceven demands to celebrate “white pride,” white identity, and history of white people that people are likely to ridicule as absurd. White History Month, For more information on this, I talked to Daniel Hirschman who is the assistant professor in sociology of Brown University, whose current research focuses on the political aspects of race and the process of decision-making in higher education as well as consumer credit and insurance.
The following is an slightly modified transcript from our conversation.
Do you have a reason in the simplest way possible the reason we don’t have White History Month? Why this is logical in spite of the fact that people of color Americans as well as other ethnic groups celebrate celebrations in honor of their culture?
We celebrate the achievements of whites every day. Whiteness is celebrated in a variety of ways, but they don’t take into consideration the official celebration of whiteness that is in the very everyday life of us as well as the more obvious celebrations that are found in every textbook on history.
Yesterday, I attended an event held at the Rhode Island State House. The halls of the State House are decorated with photos of the past political leaders, which includes all governors from Rhode Island. They’re all white. (Until 2015, governors were men, too.) This pattern is not uncommon. If you stroll across Sayles Hall in the hall in Brown University, you’ll see photographs of board members from the past as well as university presidents- also mostly white. We have a way of instituting this honor by naming our companies, our cities and streets our schools and universities as well as our highly coveted awards and many more.
These calls suggest that, without a particular month, we will be in a position of equality. In other phrases, they’re affirming that “It’s unfair that we recognize the accomplishments of African Americans but never white people.” One of the most harmful manifestations of modern racism is the desire to minimize the extent of inequality that remainsin terms of economic inequality, political inequalities, but also the symbolic inequalities, which are a lack of respect and appreciation.
What do white nationalists as well as white supremacists actually desire when they advocate celebrating whiteness? What is the proper way to understand this? What’s the sociological and historical context we should use to understand these concepts?
If white nationalist or white supremacist groups call for affirm whiteness, they say or claim they believe that the white population is in threat from non-whites. It is a way to defend white people’s dominance over wealth in terms of income, property value and prestige power among other things that are desirable. Therefore, they are deeply invested in constructing a specific conception of race, and an understanding of history which supports their story of white people in a state of war.
This isn’t a novel idea. For centuries white supremacists spread the idea that slaves were inherently dangerous and a threat to their own safety in order to defend slavery. White History Month, They now have to prove the fact that Islam is an inherently and historically a hateful religion that is populated by violent, non-white fanatics and that the current Muslim prohibition is only the best way to safeguard white people. (Many American Muslims identify as white, yet white nationalists view them as non-white.)
These claims are, in essence “white lies.” They are lies uttered to (some) individuals of white descent in order to justify a plan to defend and empower white people to fight non-whites. It is easy to spot the evidence of this currently, for instance in the attempt to transform into the “Countering Violent Extremism” program into the “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” program even though law enforcement agencies believe that white supremacists pose the most dangerous terrorist threat. Anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the current white nationalists and supremacists as well as their place in the history of these movements should start in reading Kelly Baker’s fascinating research.
There has been a suggestion that there ought to be some attention paid to whiteness that considers the social construct of whiteness as well as its implications. For instance, Portland Community College has hosted “Whiteness History Month” event on its website, which it describes by calling it “a multidisciplinary, district-wide, educational project examining race and racism through an exploration of the construction of whiteness, its origins and heritage” which “seeks to inspire innovative and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism.” What’s your view on this?
I like it! It’s time to talk more about the issue of whiteness. There was recently a dispute about a course that was being offered by the University of Wisconsin Madison on “The Problem of Whiteness.” I took a look at the syllabus. It’s an excellent model of how you can consider and teach about race, by focusing on whiteness, not non-whiteness. In other words, when we write or speak on race issues, we tend to instantly believe it’s something African Americans and Latinxs and Asians and Native Americans have; white individuals are just people. In focusing on whiteness, we must remind ourselves the fact that race can be a sociological construct generally white people have used to argue or suggest the notion that they are better than whites.
This is a difficult concept to accept, and possibly creates the most confusion of any concept I’ve learnt or attempted to teach in sociology. The first thing that people learn in sociology regarding race is that it is “socially constructed.” By this we’re saying that race isn’t fundamental and unchanging. It’s fixed, or biological. Race signified something completely different hundred years ago and completely different from 400 years ago. The line between human biology and social races is essentially nonexistent despite numerous attempts to disprove it. (For an excellent analysis, check out the books written from Ann Morning and Alondra Nelson). However, even though the race of a person is culturally built, it’s also a very solid concept.
Racism and race exist and are real even although these aren’t biological. It’s impossible to eliminate these by claiming they’re not real. This is the difficult part. Race is a real issue. White people have constructed a robust, racist social basis for race. The foundation is built upon and continuously reinforces the distinction between people that are considered white and the ones who aren’t. Understanding the nature of race is a matter of knowing the background of whiteness and how white people have come together at various times to assert their superiority and ensure their dominance.
Relatedto this, what are other topics that a course or program about historical aspects of the concept of whiteness and its ramifications could cover?
A sociological study on whiteness ought to provide an explanation of the institutional dynamics of white racial discrimination and racism set into historical context. It’s impossible to leave this history out. If I was teaching an class on whiteness I’d likely focus on a few institutions that are fundamental to American life and currently race-based inequalities, such as the ownership of property as well as higher education and trace their roots back to some key events within American history. I’d suggest starting with settler colonialism.
You’d like to think about how colonists framed their whiteness in relation to Native Americans and how that resulted in a profit. Colonists were able to grab land only made possible through the massive extermination and exploitation of Native Americans. The location of the land helped justify the massive eviction.
Then slavery. This is also an important factor. We often think of the story of slavery as a part of the African-American story, but slavery is a part of white history. The slave trade helped define whiteness and benefit white people by the brutal treatment they received from predominantly black Africans. Not just in the South as recent discussions about slavery at the elite Northern institutions such as Brown as well as Columbia has revealed that slave labor in the North and the gains of investments into Southern slavery was crucial in the development of these institutions, and had consequences that continue to this day.
Then, I’d likely take a leap to Reconstruction. Everyone talks about Reconstruction and the Civil War (although what narrative we are taught about it will depend on where you were raised). There is no need to discuss Reconstruction. If you’ve have read W.E.B. Du Bois’s masterpiece, Black Reconstruction in America You will get the most precise explanation of the reason we aren’t. Reconstruction was the point at which America realized that it didn’t have the capacity to end the oppression based on race. Without slavery whites developed new strategies to preserve the color line such as sharecropping and the disenfranchisement of voters. Maybe the portraits of the Rhode Island State House would be different today if American administration were to have instituted reparations the time.
White terrorism that is violent is a major an aspect of this story including race riots, and the lynchings. When we speak of “race riots,” I believe that we’re almost always thinking that we’re discussing Detroit either in 1967 as well as LA in 1992. poor urban, black or Latinx individuals retaliating against political and economic oppression. However, the first race riots in US were focused on “whiteness defending itself” (to use the phrase of Tressie McMillan’s co-worker).
I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and learned lots about the 1967 violence. But nobody ever spoke of the riot in 1943, where white Detroiters created an armed mob to block black Detroiters from entering their neighborhood. Lynchings may have been the most effective type of white terror, as recent discussion of the Emmett Till’s death should be a reminder.
To address the issue of the consequences, I’d recommend assigning Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant “The Case for Reparations.” I’ve actually assigned this book to two of my classes. Coates is adamant that white violence is linked to the black population’s poverty, and more specifically, the black-white wealth gap. Coates focuses on the vital issue of homeownership as the primary the source of wealth for middle-class Americans and how wealth is transferred from generation after generation. Many black people were denied the chance to buy homes to late in the 1970s or 1960s. They were being barred from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods, and were only given contracts with abusive conditions in black communities. The consequences could not be more clear.