Hating whitey

A recurrent theme I see popping up in discussions of race is “hating whitey.” And just to make it perfectly clear, I think that most people of color don’t hate whitey.

We hate privilege. We hate oppression. We hate all the damage that has been done to our communities as a result of racism and hatred. We hate being told that our words have no meaning. We hate having our opinions discounted.

If you’re white, try to disentangle what we are saying about whiteness and white privilege from your hurt feelings.  If you’re white, try to understand that there may be something that you are just not understanding quite yet.

I don’t want to hear about all your friends of color. I don’t want you to tell me how much you know about Asian Americans. I could care less whether or not you speak the language fluently or majored in Asian studies in college. Or if you lived in Japan or Beijing for one or five or ten years or if you traveled extensively throughout Asia. Don’t tell me about your best friend who is Asian. And don’t tell me about your Asian wife or your adopted Asian kids.  Because frankly none of this means anything if you did not look at whiteness in addition to Asianness.

If you want to proclaim yourself my ally, you must show it in your actions. Your words mean nothing, especially if you are using your privilege to steamroll over the voices of people of color.  If you have some understanding, perhaps sometimes you would be silent.

I hate the way white people use their privilege without even being aware of it. But some of my best friends are white. ;-)

Inspired by comments on this thread (thanks A.)

28 thoughts on “Hating whitey

  1. This goes to the heart of where I struggle with my own white identity. I see two schools: those that think whiteness is ONLY a system of oppression and those that think that there is a non-oppressive content to whiteness. I see it as a both/and. On one hand as whites we can (probably?) never rid ourselves of privilege (and frankly, most of us never completely rid ourselves of our racist/bigoted socialization but must manage it for our entire lives if we don’t want to act out on it). On the other hand, within our racial identity, we are more than the sum total of our privilege + bigotry.

    I won’t tell you about my friends of color: I’ll tell you about my white friends. When we’re together, something is happening that is white and yet is not oppression.

    I won’t proclaim myself your ally with out your consent!


  2. Peter – I understand what Gallic, Basque, or Irish identity is but what do you see as a “white racial identity?” What are the symbols, traditions, or rituals of whiteness?

  3. flower asked “What are the symbols, traditions, or rituals of whiteness?”

    peter replies: oy that’s a big question and a lot to ask of a blog post.

    To make a very incomplete beginning:

    White identity is, in general terms, the US inheritance of post european culture which:

    1) reflects early post english colonials’/invaders’ attempts to perpetuate a connection to england

    2) reflects early post english colonials’/invaders’ Puritan ethics

    3) reflects the process by which european immigrants were forced (and sought) to assimilate into the culture that was created by those attempts

    4) as such values the philosophy of pragmatism, embraces a certain kind of individualism, and a monochronic understanding of and relationship to time, among many other things

    5) tends to value and prefer European and post european modes of expression, such as classical music, classical literature (from the greeks onward), and the literature of the english tradition

    6) tends to assimilate other forms of expression, especially in modern times, and reinterpret them to fit the white esthetic, such as assimilating blues and rock, etc…

    none of this is to say that white privilege does not exist or is not profoundly connected to everything I have just described. I only say that there is MORE to it than privilege only.

  4. Thanks for your very thoughtful reply, Peter. Imo, 1-3 kind of represent the whiteness as a way of banding together different Euro ethnicities and classes against non-whites to me going back to whitness as a system of oppression. 5 seems like Eurocentricism as a reflection of 1-3, and 6 seems less like authentic marks of culture than cultural appropriation — and how can you separation appropriation from privilege? As for 4 — could you clarify? What is this philosophy of pragmatism? Is it pan-European or does it come from a specific nation or class/geographical region within a nation? How does it differ from, say, the pragmatism of an Igbo forced slave immigrant or a Choctaw? Is it primarily white people today who are pragamatic in the way you describe?

  5. hey Flower:

    If you look at the history of whiteness, along side of the function that it did play in banding together against people of color (and more specifically, keeping bonded euro servants and bonded african servants from making common cause) there was a genuine striving for identity that both connected colonists to and separated them from england.

    Item 5 certainly has elements of eurocentrism, but it also refers to a real cultural content that is in-and-of-itself value neutral. It is when that content is used as the only standard by which all other forms of expression (as it certainly has been) that it become oppression.

    item 6 does contain cultural appropriation, but I also make room for genuine cross-polinization of cultural content and true inspiration on the part of whites. Early black jazz musicians, for example, used instruments whose geneses were in european instruments and borrowed musically from the euro tradition. I mean in no way to minimize the fact that in general the Black experience in the US is one of disenfranchisement by whites and that the reason that Black culture used euro instruments and forms at the very least in part because their own forbears often had their own cultural forms torn from them. the relationship to whites using non-white forms and non-whites using white forms is not and equal one in its simplest is the difference between having little choice and stealing from others. I’m just saying that there’s still more to it.

    as for 4 I won’t clarify it here but a quick google search should help. I believe it has it;s roots in Puritan thought tho don’t quote me.

    But my opinion in this stems much more from my own personal experience. I identify as a white person. I have done some exploration of my European ethnicity (Italian) and find it has very little salience for me. I have some affection for it but it does not feed me. I am culturally a white US man who has preferences for may things that I describe above and wishes NOT to see the things that I prefer FORCED upon others. I do my best to see and relinquish privilege, but I will keep my own identity as a white person.

  6. Hi, Peter. Thanks for your patience with me. I guess because I define 5 as Eurocentricity I don’t even see it as being the province of white people. I think that all races of people in Eurocentric USA are trained to value, and to some extent, have an affinity for those things. As for 4 — I know what pragmatism is — I just don’t buy that it’s unique to whites. 6 confuses me — because black people used Euro instruments to create music whites later co-opted somehow that music is part of white culture and whites relate to in uniquely? I suppose, also, I can’t recognize your preferences as something unique to white culture rather than something part of the multicultural tapestry of America that all Americans, because of Eurocentricity, participate in. I think we disagree over what constitutes legitimate culture — which is fine. I value that you took the time to explore the question with me.

  7. “I guess because I define 5 as Eurocentricity I don’t even see it as being the province of white people. I think that all races of people in Eurocentric USA are trained to value, and to some extent, have an affinity for those things.”

    yes, but differently. other races/ethnicities in the US have their own cultures which they have to negotiate in the face of whites’ imposing their values on them. I’m not saying eurocentrism doesn’t exist. But having those values and preferring them for oneself is not in-and-of-itself oppression. it’s demanding that others share those values and and leveraging power to force them to which is oppression.

    “As for 4 — I know what pragmatism is — I just don’t buy that it’s unique to whites.”

    I never said unique: I said it was part overall white cultures. some cultures value pragmatism, some don’t. white culture does.

    “6 confuses me — because black people used Euro instruments to create music whites later co-opted somehow that music is part of white culture and whites relate to in uniquely?”

    again you’re using the word “uniquely” when I am not. I used jazz as an example of the complex cross pollination of cultural content. yes there is co-opting, but there is also genuine love and creativity that generates new forms. Non-whites do it with white forms, whites do it with non-white forms. But they do it in different contexts as they relate to white dominance.

    “I suppose, also, I can’t recognize your preferences as something unique to white culture rather than something part of the multicultural tapestry of America that all Americans, because of Eurocentricity, participate in.”

    Again here, you use the word unique when I haven’t. But there is a difference between the average white relationship to these values and the average non-white relationship

    “I think we disagree over what constitutes legitimate culture — which is fine. I value that you took the time to explore the question with me.”

    I am not trying to minimize white oppression, I’m just trying to make my way through life. I am telling you honestly and frankly that this is my cultural frame of reference and I do pay a price for holding this frame of reference among racial activists, especially other whites. it may be only fair that you see my culture as illegitimate, but I urge you to think on the irony of it.

  8. I’m not making the argument that a white person liking classical music is oppression – what I’m saying is that the white guy who likes Ravel isn’t participating in white culture – he is participating in French culture — I don’t think that French culture gets then abstracted into whiteness nor do I think that a non-French white person listening to Ravel is participating in his own culture. Nor do I think culture is simply about what groups of people like — I think it’s more about what they create. As far as pragmatism, I guess I simply see it as too ubiquitous to be seen as a hallmark of particular cultures– but I understand you may disagree. I can buy jazz as being part of American hybridity — I don’t think that elides with it being white culture, however. By the way, I understand that you’re not trying to minimize white oppression — I don’t think of you as a racist or a derailer or anything like that. I do think that you implying me finding your definition of culture illegitimate as ironic is a bit of a “fallacious flip” https://resistracism.wordpress.com/racism-101/ see point three. My definition of culture isn’t based on ethnocentricism but more on the fact that it doesn’t meet definitions of culture as described by scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings, Minkah Makalani, or as I understand anthropology to define it.

  9. “I do think that you implying me finding your definition of culture illegitimate as ironic is a bit of a ‘fallacious flip.'”

    Are you familiar with Bennet’s notion of “reversal” or Bill Cross’ stage of “Immersion-Emmersion” in which the dominant culture is denigrated, devalued, and/or dehumanized? You don’t even acknowledge its existence as a culture. I’m not an anthropologist, but I find it hard to believe that what I’m describing in no way constitutes at least a beginning of legitimate culture, certainly enough for a blog chat.

    I hold whiteness separate form other identities too because of its intimacy with oppression, but I stand by the notion that to completely write it off as only a structure of oppression is doing everyone a disservice and is ultimately in contradiction to critical reflection on race. When we get to the point that we’re obliterating whiteness we’ve gotten to an irony worthy of mention.

    We’ve got to leave people something. We need people to cop to whiteness and yet we offer them only ashes when they do. It’s not true, it’s not fair, and its not helpful in the long run.

  10. Peter, to paraphrase Ladson-Billings “I’m very protective of the term culture — it’s reserved for very specific things.” Culture doesn’t mean whatever someone wants it to mean — that’s why “culture of poverty” is a disingenuous phrase. I’m not making a value judgement about a culture — I just don’t think — and again, this is just my opinion, what you’re describing meets scholarly definitions of culture. And I don’t think that value judgement can be considered obliterating whiteness. The dominant culture can be denigrated — but, I would say the dominant culture in America is a hybrid culture, not a white culture. The thing is, culture is not whatever you want it to be. It’s not a cobbled together consolation prize – “Congratulations, you’re working to dismantle white privilege — in exchange for that you get a culture…” White peoples (not all individuals though) chose to give up their cultures to profit from America’s racial system – whether or not they think the price of the ticket is “fair” or “helpful” now is really irrelevant — and certainly not the fault of POCs. The fact is all white people have cultures available to them — the cultures of their homelands. The fact that they know longer find those cultures “salient” doesn’t mean they don’t have a culture- it just means they don’t want the culture they have. Nor does it mean they are entitled to call whiteness a culture.

  11. hey Flower:

    Here is one definition of culture that I tend to work from which is drawn from social psychology:

    “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.” — Geert Hofstede
    At minimum my assertions about the monochromic relationship to time and individuality are dimensions of culture—after all they are right from Hofstede.

    I’ve searched for Ladson-Billings’ definition of culture and can’t find it. If you have it please share it. Or share your definition of culture.

    You are absolutely right that white culture is a hybrid. All cultures are hybrids to some extent. Cultures don’t just form out of thin air. Kiwi fruit is a hybrid too. It’s still a fruit. And I’d agree that white culture is particularly hybrid. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Finally, the USA is my homeland, and I grew up in a white community where people shared underlying basic assumptions and symbols. My grandparents may have relinquished something on coming to the US but I was born here. Italian culture was never mine, I never gave it up, and even if I decided to take it as my own (if that were possible) I would not be returning to it but going to it for the first time.

  12. Hi Peter,

    I just want to continue to thank you for engaging in this thought provoking discussing with me. I know it can be hard to read tone online, but please know I am writing with a tone of, “My, this guy is smart and reflective!”

    Hofsteded’s definition of culture isn’t that simple — in fact, their are five dimensions to his definition of culture so whether or not the monochromic relationship to time thing and individuality fit the snippet of H’s defintion you provided is irrelevant. In fact, the stereotype that monochromic relationships to time and individuality are unique to white people is part of white privilege even if you aren’t deploying it in that matter i.e. Those brown people are past oriented, those “Third World” people value the group so much they aren’t fit for modern day society, Africans can’t think long term and plan… Regardless, two qualities do not a culture make.

    Ladson-Billings gives her definition of culture in the podcast found here: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2513

    Hybridity is dependent upon two pre-existing entities being hybridized. What is white culture distinct from hybridity? What is hybridized white culture and how does it differ from hybrized American culutre? Does hybridized American culture get relabled white culture?

    Your white community may have shared underlying assumptions — but what were those assumptions apart from privilege? And what were your community’s “symbols?”

  13. Hi Flower:

    Thanks for explicitly injecting a bit of love into the back and forth. I am certainly a fighter-not-a-lover at times. I think you rock.

    If your accept Hofstede as a valid theoretician (as you seem to have done) then you’re actually only one or two logical steps away from seeing white culture. One of the most common (and most valid) critiques of Hofstede’s work is that his measurement of US culture is really a measurement of whites in the US. In ignoring non-whites in his work he has inadvertently captured white US culture (among other things, of course).

    I use what Hofstede describes as US culture as a starting point for describing white culture. If you look at his dimensions for the US, they often describe whites better than they describe others. The dimension of individualism vs. collectivism is a great example of this. As a group, whites in the US are much more individualistic than other groups. Non-white groups tend to exhibit more collectively than whites in the US.

    And I know many ways in which individualism acts as a way to both perpetuate white privilege and blind whites to systemic racism. I’m not saying that individualism is an empirically good thing or all positive. But all cultural dimensions have trade-offs. I know people who come from collective cultures who find those cultures stifling and limiting. I’ve engaged with people from collective cultures and have found it often warm, nurturing and very pleasurable. I’ve also found a great deal of strength and pleasure in individualism. And I’ve also found a great deal of pain in it.

    But however individualism might impact me, it is still a dimension of white culture, one that is especially intense in whites more than most other groups in the US. And to repeat, while it can be used to perpetuate oppression, it isn’t only a means of oppression. In fact, to witness the struggle of an individual against a racist system might be one way that whites can connect to racism and understand it better. My own journey of racial discovery has been inspired by my unwillingness to be a part of my own white collective where it is unjust. It has been an immense personal act of individualism.

    I can’t respond about symbols right now. Getting late.


  14. Hi Peter,

    As I understand it, when you want to show that one group is distinct you need a control group to compare them to. So if Hofstede’s work is to show unique aspects of white culture — there’d have to have a control group of non-whites to show that. But according to you Hofstede ignored non-whites in his work — so it would follow that his work cannot show white traits as distinct or making up a distinct culture.

    As far as individualism, I think we’re just playing semantics at this point. My point is just as I wouldn’t act as though one culture had a monopoly on being collective, I wouldn’t act as though whites had a monopoly on individualism. But if you see that as something connected spefically to whitness than I’m not going to argue with you.

    In a way, I think our whole discussion is on some level about semantics. Would I be right to say that you see culture as a collection of shared traits? I see culture as something more than that — and I find the traits you claim as culturally white somewhat problematic (see above). But, here’s the thing, if you see culture differently than I do and if your definition of culture gives meaning to you and since you’re obviously anti-racist – what’s the harm? Yes, the idea of white culture, given the history of whiteness, does make me rather leary, but you should go ahead with your conception of culture, and I’m glad you allowed me to probe it some.

  15. Hi Flower:

    Hope you’re doing well.

    I hope my tone in this post isn;t too argumentative because I don’t feel particularly so, tho I do feel like I need to challenge you a bit here.

    I’m a little confused. From what I’m reading it seems to me that one the one hand you accept Hofstede’s conception of culture as valid, but on the other hand you don’t.

    … I still haven’t listened to that podcast, btw….


  16. Hi Peter,

    Your tone doesn’t seem argumentative at all. I’m not arguing with Hofstede’s definition of culture. I’m saying that it seems to me that you’re trying to show that Hofstede describes a distinct white culture — but how can this be if according to you Hofstede rather haphzardly sometimes neglects minority populations meaning there isn’t a control group or a systematically defined white group to support your contention?

  17. This is why I tell anyone I know who’s white to NOT TALK ABOUT RACE whenever it comes up. I was raised in an environment where being white got me heckled and picked on a lot in school, but I know better than to bring that up. White people don’t understand that PoC don’t want to talk to them about race, don’t want their opinions or stories about race, don’t need their questions about race. I try to explain that their opinions and questions are so unwelcome, that no one is actually interested in entertaining the white people who think they care. Our worlds are so different; we can’t talk about things on the same level. I’ve learned after many years that my voice is ignorant and hated among non-white people, and I don’t see how other white people don’t see that. But I agree with this article; white people need to stay away from trying to talk to non-white people about race. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never personally attacked/mocked/judged a person of color! White people have white privilege, and therefore they can never relate to people of color, and they should stop trying. I am a staunch feminist but I never say that around a non-white feminist, because my privilege makes my point of view useless. Other friends of mine are not so smart. They try to work together, but race is always more important. They don’t realize that. They should do as I do, and not EVER talk about race. Negatively or positively. No matter what it’s not politically correct and unless you’re in tears apologizing for your great great great great relative being a slave owner, no one wants to hear from you. So I never make comments about race. Ever. I’ll never say one in particular is anything in particular. Do I date non-white people? No. Is that racist? Yes, but I don’t really see a solution to that other than having sex with someone I’m not attracted to, which I refuse to do. White people need to live in white land and give people of color their own space.

  18. @ Hunger,
    I appreciate your voicing your experience. Mine is quite different.

    Here’s my take: I think it’s essential for white people to talk about race. It’s the only way we’re going to find our way out of the maze.

    Some of the most significant conversations need to happen among white people as we work to become aware of and free ourselves from the patterns, many unconscious, that bind us into participating in and perpetuating racism. This can be the laboratory where we put ourselves under the microscope and explore our own minds.

    As we become more and more aware of the patterns of Whiteness, we can more and more make choices about whether to activate them. And we need to do this not *for* people of color, but for ourselves, so we can reclaim our humanity.

    But I’ve also had and continue to have many, many productive exchanges about race in racially mixed groups. I think the conversation is above all, a human one. If there’s a mess that’s in any way my responsibility, I need to help clean it up.

    When we leave at the door our need to be the center, our need to be right, and our need to be comfortable, and enter the space as human beings eager to authentically connect with other human beings who’ve had different experiences, there is much to learn and even something to contribute. Sure, it can be very painful and awkward, but think of it as growth pains. I have consistently experienced that POC welcome honest observations about how White Mind works.

    Your final statement, “White people need to live in white land and give people of color their own space,” breaks my heart. We all belong to each other. I’m committed to getting free of whatever is in the way of us all getting to have each other.

  19. “White people need to live in white land and give people of color their own space”

    That leaves absolutely no room for those of us who have roots in both spheres, whether it’s because we don’t look colored enough or because we grew up steeped in white culture. How and where do we fit in?

  20. There is no such thing as white identity. Neither positive nor negative. Race is an optical illusion.

    Anne, I partly agree with you, but there is no such thing as “White Mind”. A mind is part of an individual only. If you consider yourself a representative of a group mind explaining yourself to another group, you’re undermining your own goal of bringing out the humanity in people, by treating the conference like a treaty between ant hives.

    Everyone has their own unique view of the world. It may be shaped by a culture, but nobody can be justly considered an actual representative of any culture. Also, everyone is right about something and wrong about something. And everyone has a right to feel comfortable about their own identity, provided they help others be comfortable about theirs.

  21. Hi Collin. Calling race an optical illusion oversimplifies reality. Yes, the idea of race is baed on a superficial and meaningless physical attribute, but there are racial groups and they do have salience, both in the way people claim their identities and the way people impose identity on others. I also have the sense that the notion of a white “mind” here it means the way many whets tend to think as it is affected by the cultural components of racial identity.

  22. Wait, did you do that “some of my best friends are white” with a smiley face thing to illustrate your point about how white people shouldn’t say “some of my closest friends are black/Hispanic/Asian, etc.” Or was that completely accidental and you were simply just stating it as a way to show that it really isn’t about hating whitey?

    I’m genuinely curious. But hoping it was the first case, of course.

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