This piece is going to be short on sources and me just speaking candidly to promote my opinion. That’s partially because the bulk of it isn’t really a factual debate, per se, and partially because I need to get back to editing The Sovereigns.
One of the major criticism I see from white people vis a vis race relations is that the black community gets the month of February set aside for “Black History Month” while there is no “White History Month.” The companion argument to this is summarized as, “Somebody can be proud to be black, but if I’m proud to be white, then I’m a racist!”
Until recently, I was unable to put my finger on why that argument did not hold water with me. One night, I sat down and I got to thinking out of sheer boredom. It was in that boredom-fueled thought that an epiphany hit me.
You cannot compare “black culture” and “black history” with “white culture” and “white history.”
The culture of black Americans is rooted in the Transatlantic slave trade. When Africans were forcibly repatriated to the United States to serve as indentured servants and slaves, many of them came from different tribes. What they shared in common was their enslaved living conditions and the disdain that whites held for them. That forced them to abandon, over the generations, tribal affiliations and bond in a familial fashion. Many of the stereotypical black American foods–chicken, collard greens, etc–were actually food that white slave owners did not deem suitable for their own consumption, so they were passed along as sustenance for slaves. The enslaved Africans did what any cultural group does in a time of hardship: they made the best of it. It’s the same that Irish immigrants to the United States did with corned beef and cabbage, and that Jewish people do with horseradish.
Fun fact: it’s also why I love Tabasco. I could only eat Tabasco with my food occasionally prior to deploying to Iraq in 2008. After living on deployment and putting up with often substandard chow hall food, my relationship with Tabasco grew from lukewarm to a full blown love affair. Now, in the comfort of the United States, you’ll find me dousing my Denny’s or Waffle House eggs in Tabasco. But, I digress.
It’s the same thing with music: slave songs gave way to blues and jazz, which eventually gave way to rap music. All of these genres have something in common: they often acted as commentary on the condition of the black American.
When somebody says that they’re proud to be black, they’re not talking about their melanin content. They’re talking about pride in the culture that was born of oppression, and of the long battle fought by their predecessors in the pursuit of equal rights guaranteed under the Constitution. This is a tidbit that many of those who complain about black pride and black history fail to acknowledge.
When we’re talking about white Americans, there are so many subcultures that the only thing they all really have in common is melanin content. Whites in Chicago have very little in common with whites in Atlanta, who have little in common with whites in Phoenix, who have little in common with whites in New York, etc. So, yes, to say you’re proud to be white can be construed as a racist sentiment because you’re proud of your skin color and not much else.
Don’t go closing that browser button yet. I mentioned subcultures. Those subcultures absolutely have things to celebrate and be proud of. You say there are no white celebrations? What do you call Saint Patrick’s Day? What do you call Oktoberfest? What do you call Mardi Gras, which is a celebration rooted in French Catholicism? Here’s a hint: all of those ethnic subcultures share the same skin color.
If you go onto a college campus and try to start a “White Student Club,” you’re going to have a bad time. However, if you were to, say, start a “Russian Student Club” or a “Scottish Student Club,” nobody would so much as bat an eye. Why? Those subcultures, like the black subculture, all have common foods, history, music, etc.
As for the existence of Black History Month and why there is no White History Month? The subcultural differences aside, I’ve thought for some time that Black History Month was given as a placation gesture in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, and begrudgingly so as they picked the shortest month. I’m personally of the same opinion as Morgan Freeman: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? Black history is American history.”
Next time you come across somebody saying, “Why isn’t there a White History Month? Why can’t I be proud to be white?” show them this opinion piece. Give them a bit of an education.
Featured image courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle via YouTube.