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end-of-whiteness-wide

Hua Hsu in “The End of White America?” in the Atlantic Monthly for February 2009 argues, like John McWhorter, that America is becoming postracial. Race will matter less and less; whiteness will come to an end.

In the 1950s the mainstream culture was solidly white. Those who were not white wanted to be as white as possible: to fit it, to not be so threatening to others, to get along by going along. That model worked because most Americans were white.

But the U.S. Census Bureau says that by 2042 most Americans will no longer be white. That is already true in Hawaii, New York and California. It will be true for those under 18 by 2023. So Americans who are being born now will grow up in a very different America from the one of the 1950s.

By the 2050s white will no longer be right: the numbers just will not be there.

Hsu notes that this shift has already started in the culture. His main example is hip hop. Instead of being watered down and whitened like black music in the past, it has remained unmistakably black and yet has taken over the music industry. Sean Combs, like Barack Obama, can be black and yet be accepted by Americans of all colours and reach the top of his field.

Hsu also notes that white Americans do not have a strong culture: what is it, like NASCAR and Led Zeppelin? How can anyone’s sense of who they are be based on that – let alone the country as whole?

That is his argument as I understand it.

Here is what is wrong with it:

The same sort of arguments were made in the 1920s. There was even a book written about it: “The Passing of the Great Race” (1916) by Madison Grant. But who was threatening the great race? Blacks, yes, Asians, yes, but also Italians and Jews! The law was changed to keep them from pouring into the country in huge numbers – to “protect” “America” and the position of the “white” race.

But now everyone thinks of Italians and Jews as white. It will be the same with white-skinned Hispanics and so the white race will carry on as before, still comfortably on top by the 2050s.

Further, this idea of white Americans not having much of a culture or a weak culture is completely wrong. They have one of the strongest cultures in history – easily on a level with the Romans, the Persians and the Chinese. Any archaeologist 3000 years from now will be able to tell you that. Just because white Americans listen to hip hop and eat tacos does not mean they do not have their own culture. The Romans followed Greek philosophy, the Turks read Persian poets. Does that mean there was not much of a Roman or Turkish culture? Of course not.

The reason white American culture seems so weak is because when you are in it you take it for granted, it becomes hard to see – like water to a fish.

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dickinson

According to David Hackett Fischer in “Albion’s Seed” (1989) England was planted in America not once but at least four times. And each time it was from a different part of England.

So America is not one branch of the Anglo world, but four of them growing side by side in four regions:

  1. Northern Tier: settled from 1629 to 1640: Massachusetts by Puritans from East Anglia. Spread to New England, upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington states. Yankee. Emily Dickinson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin.
  2. Coastal South: settled from 1640 to 1675: Virginia and Maryland from southern England. Spread to the Deep South. Started out as gentlemen and their servants, became white masters and black slaves. Dixie. George Washington,Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Rhett Butler.
  3. Midland: settled from 1675 to 1725: Pennsylvania by Quakers from the North Midlands in England. Spread to the Midwest and California. Corny, generic. Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Ward Cleaver, Harry Truman, Jimmy Stewart.
  4. Southern Highlands: settled from 1717 to 1775: Appalachia from Northumbria, Scotland and northern Ireland (English and Scottish). Spread to Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Cowboys, Okies and rednecks. Johnny Cash, Abe Lincoln, Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton.

Each region spoke a different English, had different ideas about freedom, law and government, different ways of dressing, of building houses, different views about violence, education, family life and women. And so on.

The surprising thing is that the differences between the regions that you saw in the 1700s are still there now more than 200 years later – despite the civil war, despite the huge number of foreigners pouring into the country, despite government spending and television.

For example, the Southern Highlands in the 1700s had high rates of violence when compared to the Northern Tier. The strange thing is, that is still true. Texas (mostly Southern Highlands) has a murder rate eight times higher than Massachusetts (Northern Tier) – a huge difference. In Texas schoolbooks glorify violence, in Massachusetts they do not.

Fischer says that northern cities became more violent in the late 1900s  because Southern Highlanders, both black and white, moved to those cities and brought with them their markedly different views on violence. Not race or poverty drives the violence but highland culture.

Over the past 200 years three new regions have sprung up according to Fischer, each with its own sort of American culture:

  1. Greater New York: not very big on the map but a tenth of all Americans live there. A Dutch root with Jewish and middle European culture added. (But what about blacks who make up a fourth of the city?)
  2. The Great Basin: the heavily Mormon region in and near Utah. A mix of northern, midland and highland.
  3. Southern California: a mix of highland, midland, Hispanic and Jewish culture. Spreading throughout the south-west: Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc.

Fischer’s map is somewhat like the dialect map of America.

diausa

I have not read the whole book, just bits of it here and there. It is unclear to me how blacks fit into Fischer’s model. Or Canada.

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bluejeansWhite American culture is the common culture, the common ways and set of understandings, of white Americans. For the most part it is the same thing as Anglo-American culture, which takes in English-speaking Canada.

White people in America are all different. They have different experiences and backgrounds, they think and act for themselves. They are not living stereotypes or slaves to their culture.

But that said, most whites still share a common culture. It is what you see on television, what is taught in school. It is why white suburbs are so much alike from city to city.

That common culture is way way more white than black, more Anglo than Latin, more Protestant than Catholic, Muslim or Jewish.

I know most white Americans are made uneasy by calling anything “white”. It sounds so skinhead. It goes against their colour-blind racism. But the fact is white Americans share a common culture that is different than black American culture. Racism lies at the heart of that culture. It is important to see that. Trying to pretty it up helps no one. So it is not just American culture, but white American culture.

It is also different than white British or white Australian culture. So it is not just white but white American.

Here are some of the features of White American culture. Again, keep in mind that not every white person follows all of this. And again, many of these things will be found in other cultures, especially British and Black American culture, its closest cousins:

  • language: American Standard English. Stiff, long-winded, impersonal.
  • religion: a private affair, but mainly Protestant and Bible-based.
  • weights and measure: English, some metric.
  • law: common law from England based on precedent; trial by jury; no man should be above the law.
  • government: democracy, presidents.
  • freedom: makes society stronger and richer, not weaker.
  • the future: what you make it.
  • music: rock, country, gangsta rap, swing.
  • dress: blue jeans, dressing down.
  • cows: for meat, milk, leather.
  • pigs: eaten.
  • dogs: loved, not allowed to run loose, almost seen as one of the family.
  • diet: cows, pigs, chicken, turkey, wheat, maize, potato, sugar, cow’s milk, beer, chicken eggs.
  • breasts: not commonly bared in magazines or in public.
  • beards: rare.
  • books: rarely read after age 25.
  • poverty: a moral failing.
  • wealth: worshipped.
  • intelligence: looked down upon: geeks and nerds.
  • race: colour-blind racism: lip service is given to colour-blind equality, but in practice whites are seen as better than blacks and their lives matter more.
  • homosexuals: accepted to the degree that same-sex marriage is now a matter of debate.
  • female beauty: white-skinned, thin, long yellow hair, big breasts, empty blue eyes.
  • drink: beer common among men but not allowed for children.
  • coffee or tea?: coffee since the 1920s.
  • sports: an important part of life; baseball, American football, basketball, ice hockey, golf, tennis.
  • family: parents with young children; divorce common; personal desires over family.
  • parents: try to be friends with their children; avoid physical punishment.
  • managers: try to be friends with their employees.

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the-doors-the-best-of-frontMacon D, on his ever-interesting blog Stuff White People Do, quoted anti-racist writer Shelly Tochluk. Here is a bit of it. She is speaking as a white American:

However, many of us find ourselves looking at other groups and longing for the connection we imagine they feel with their roots, their homeland, their culture. Many white folks can be heard saying, “We don’t have culture. They have culture.”

I know that I am not alone. I hear the same sentiments too much from other white people. If anything, this is one of the truest hallmarks of whiteness that I have yet encountered. There is a hole within many of us, created when our families gave up our culture in order to be successful in the United States.

Heartfelt and honest, no doubt, but it is still maddening to hear it.

A lost homeland? Their homeland is made up of the lost homelands of others: the United States of America.

No rootedness? They live in a country – in a world! – where their culture is top dog. Where their culture is taught in schools across the country and shown on televisions round the world. Where their food and drink is sold in the four corners of the earth! How much more rooted can you be?

Lack of a culture? They have one of the most powerful cultures in history, like the Romans, the Persians and the Chinese, one that threatens other cultures.

White Americans have a culture just like everyone else: they have strange holidays and special foods, they have their own way of dressing, of talking, of family life, their own feelings about dogs, their own ideas about music, female beauty, skin colour and disciplining children. They have their own books, songs, television shows and films. They have blue jeans, rock music and hamburgers. Baseball and Starbucks.

They have their own language, which is taught in every school in the land as “proper English”. White Americans even speak English with an accent – which they call “having no accent”.

Whatever old ways Tochluk’s family lost from the old country they were replaced by their White American counterparts. It is how they lost their foreignness. The hole was filled. It had to be. How else can she sing and dance and talk and cook and tell stories to her children?

Many white Americans seem to see themselves as plain, ordinary and boring. “Generic”, I think, is the word. It is everyone else who is different, interesting, colourful or “exotic”.

Well, that is a point of view. They are so used to their own culture, like water to a fish or refrigerator noises, they take it so much for granted, it is so much a part of what they think of as “being a normal person”, that they do not see it. Just like how they do not hear their own accent – or see themselves as “white”.

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White American music currently comes in four main forms: rock, country, pop and, I would argue, gangsta rap.

The glory days of White American music were from about the 1940s to the 1990s. Hip hop and especially the Internet is killing off what is left of it among white performers.

White Americans, because of their wealth and numbers, have had a huge effect on world music. But in a sense most of what they listened to in the late 1900s was a British form of black American music. Of the top 20 best-selling albums in America, 15 come from Britain.

To a large degree White American music is watered-down black music. The swing music of the 1940s came from jazz, while rock and pop came from rhythm and blues (R & B) and gangsta rap from hip hop. Some of its top performers, like Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Madonna and Snoop Dogg, modelled themselves directly on black performers. (Snoop Dogg is black, but his blackness is as studied as the others’, a black in blackface.)

Disco aside, before the 1990s it was rare for whites in America to listen mainly to black music. Which is curious because it was right there at the end of the radio dial the whole time. But whites in Britain did listen to it, enough of them, which is why there have been repeated British invasions. The British would copy black music, change it a bit, and then become huge hits in White America.

In the middle 1960s rock was still a white form of black music, but then in the late 1960s The Who and other bands started to change rock into something very different.

Some things to keep in mind about White American music:

  • The melody or tune is far more important than the beat.
  • The words do not matter that much.
  • Music is largely a private experience. It is something that comes from a machine, like an iPod or a record player, not from churches and dance clubs.
  • For the most part it is not meant to make you dance or move your soul. It is more like the wallpaper of your life.
  • Apart from anger, there seems to be little deep feeling in it.

Rock sounds terrible to the untrained ear, like the noise a machine might make. You have to listen to it for a while before you can begin to understand it and enjoy it.

Gangsta rap seems to be a form of White American music. Of all the forms of hip hop it is closest to rock and sells the best, mainly to whites. Its videos and words tend to play to the worst stereotypes whites have about blacks, like the old minstrel shows. It is no more a form of black music than were the coon songs of the 1890s.

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