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Sometimes it's hard being white - Page 3

post #41 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by happysmileylady View Post
Well, Nazis aren't originally part of US culture anyway, just something some folks here thought was a good idea. That particularly racist set of ideals is part of German culture. A prime example of the US not being the only culture with racism, oppression and horrific violence in it's history. Should Germans be embarrassed about their German culture and history just because it also contains the Holocaust? Should they not be proud of Oktoberfest and Saurbraten, just because the history of their country includes Nazis? It's perfectly acceptable, IMO, to be be proud of the history, traditions, language and food that are part of the place and groups you come from, without taking pride in the negative aspects.
Actually Germany is very, VERY sensative about the Holocaust, to the point where even wearing a Celtic cross is against the law, per Strafgesetzbuch, 86a.

My husband is German-born, as are everyone in his family but his (younger) brother. My MIL and grand-MIL are extremely sensitive about the Holocaust, as they were taught from a very young age that it was Germany's fault, 100%, to the extent where they both feel extremely guilty, personally, about it. The younger generations are less impacted, but it still remains a deeply personal blemish on the national pride of all the Germans I know.

I also take exception to your words "That particularly racist set of ideals is part of German culture." While I'm sure you innocently/ mistakenly spoke in the present-tense, we still deal with people "jokingly" asking my husband, a man who served the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the current war, "how many Jews you kill today?"

So, yeah, for Germans specifically, the sins of the father are brought daily unto the son.
post #42 of 54
I think happysmileylady's point was not that Germans aren't sensitive to the Holocaust, but that they are proud of their culture *in spite* of it, because the Holocaust does not negate the many many positive and culturally rich things about German culture.
post #43 of 54
And from what I understand, Germans today are very invested in ensuring that something like the holocaust there never happens again... the youth learn about it in school, they visit the sites of the concentration camps... as opposed to say, Russia...
post #44 of 54
Yes, Germany is going the distance to prevent another atrocity, but I was mostly (and ineffectively- baby is on a sleep strike, so I was a little touchy yesterday) trying to say that Germans specifically *do* keep the Holocaust in present mind, and their national pride is deeply impacted by the Holocaust, whereas many modern white Americans are very happy to forget the sins of our fathers, which by no means is limited to slavery. Being offended at "Happy White Man Liberation Day" or whatever it was (re July 4th) is, to me, an example of us forgetting our past and living in the moment- sure it feels good, but it doesn't help us learn from the past.


This is pretty off-point, and I think the OP has gotten some really good tips for embracing a "generic, white American of distant European descent" culture and sharing with her kids. I, too, am Irish/Scot/English by coloring and name only (my mother's family came to New England in the early 1700s, my father's family not long after) and it's way easier for us to embrace my husband's culture, especially as there are active participants of it- Oma sends us German ingredients so we can make real Christmas cookies, I'm learning German, we have relatives to visit who aren't generations-separated, etc, but I still try to incorporate a lot of my New England ways in our celebrations, meals, etc.
post #45 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by heatherdeg View Post
FTR... when you are of the dominant culture that surrounds you and therefore feel that you have nothing really to offer your children in the way of culture and heritage that is "special", part of that is because they get it without it having to be given--because they're surrounded by it.

Yeah... I "get" that I HAVE culture: white Americana. But we live in an area of the US where that is the dominant culture and therefore, *I* don't have to hand that culture down to my children because they are surrounded by it. There's nothing special or different about it because it's everywhere.
I disagree with this because there are certainly things you can pass down about American culture that your kids won't just get by living in your area of the U.S. From this point on when I use "you" I mean it in a general way, not specifically to heatherdeg.

It's unlikely that kids are going to hear all the American folktales just by going to school and playing with friends. There are some that I only heard in part and some I never heard at all growing up in the U.S., but that I know now because I take an active role in passing down American culture and history to my son (we live in Europe). There are lots of American folksongs, too, both familiar and unfamiliar ones since even the popularones people tend to just know the chorus and not really what the song is about (such as Oh My Darling Clementine).

Kids are probably not going to know much about old American cinema unless someone like a parent or grandparent shares that with them. Whether Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton or Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire there is a wealth of classic American cinema.

There are always recipes to pass on to your kids, there are American goodies beyond tollhouse cookies and rice krispy treats! You could look up the most popular American recipes and find ones you've never made before.

I don't think kids learn American history well enough in schools, you could get a series like The Story of Us (as well as countless other books) and read them to or alongside your kids.

You can share the stories behind the holidays we celebrate (the good and the bad parts). How about the history behind Halloween, for instance? If you don't know enough about them you can learn more and then pass that on to your kids.

You can learn some Spanish together as the U.S. is home to a large Spanish-speaking population. That influence is part of our culture even if we are not part of that population.

You can also learn about other immigrant groups that have greatly influenced U.S. culture. I found it fascinating to read about my great-grandparents arrival at Ellis Island (with 7 dollars between them). My great-grandfather was part of a terrible gang so I don't romanticize it, but that is still part of my history and I want to know about it.

You can travel outside your area and share other parts of the U.S. with them. There is something really cool about being a tourist in your native country. We were tourists in my native state of Michigan this summer, visiting Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac--it was fun and we all learned some things.

PPs have mentioned American literature...
There are so many possibilities beyond Target and Chuck E Cheese (though my son enjoys these too when we visit the U.S., as well as the roller rink, bowling and major league baseball).

I think that if you feel you have nothing to pass on to your kids that you aren't trying.

Also RE: the title of this thread, isn't there a Gob Bluth/Franklin duet that begins that way??!!
post #46 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by MovnMama View Post
It is a beautiful thing to be self-reflective, and white America is that and then some.
Yes, very true.
post #47 of 54
OP, travelling and living outside the US would probably give you the sense of culture you are looking for. It is there, right in front of you, you just can't see it. I never realised what a Kiwi I was until I left NZ.
post #48 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by ErinYay View Post
Oma sends us German ingredients so we can make real Christmas cookies
So... wait... are they "fake" Christmas cookies otherwise? 'Cause God knows one can't find good ingredients here in the US.
post #49 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by kama'aina mama View Post
I'm sorry but saying "Happy White-Man's Independence Day" is simply not racist. It is factual. On that fine July day in 1776 a bunch of wealthy, white, landowning men set themselves free from the English crown. They did not extend that freedom to women nor to people of color. It is disparaging to the memory of the people who lived under the oppression of the founders of this country and who fought for their own equality over the past two centuries to pretend otherwise.
I agree with this. We are mixed and we celebrate our independence for England, not that that did a lot of good for my Chirikahua forebears. But for my protestant ones, great! At least SOMEBODY'S happy.

FWIW the white part of me is very proud of my heritage in the Pacific Northwest. I love my part of the country for what it is NOW. I hate the genocide that got it there but I've accepted that the whole world is a graveyard so I can appreciate our regional dishes that are to a great deal stolen from the sort-of-native population.

I agree with those that say look at your regional culture, and your historical culture, and appreciate it. Maybe it will make it easier to come to terms with the negative parts, if you can truly appreciate the positive?
post #50 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by ErinYay View Post
Actually Germany is very, VERY sensative about the Holocaust, to the point where even wearing a Celtic cross is against the law, per Strafgesetzbuch, 86a.

My husband is German-born, as are everyone in his family but his (younger) brother. My MIL and grand-MIL are extremely sensitive about the Holocaust, as they were taught from a very young age that it was Germany's fault, 100%, to the extent where they both feel extremely guilty, personally, about it. The younger generations are less impacted, but it still remains a deeply personal blemish on the national pride of all the Germans I know.

I also take exception to your words "That particularly racist set of ideals is part of German culture." While I'm sure you innocently/ mistakenly spoke in the present-tense, we still deal with people "jokingly" asking my husband, a man who served the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the current war, "how many Jews you kill today?"

So, yeah, for Germans specifically, the sins of the father are brought daily unto the son.
I apologize that I didn't get my point across. I tend to think of history as part of the culture and that is why I used present tense. The Holocaust is part of German history, that's why I said it's part of the culture. I do not in any way mean to imply that all Germans (or those who have German heritage, like myself) are racist.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bella99 View Post
I think happysmileylady's point was not that Germans aren't sensitive to the Holocaust, but that they are proud of their culture *in spite* of it, because the Holocaust does not negate the many many positive and culturally rich things about German culture.
Yes, exactly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dar View Post
And from what I understand, Germans today are very invested in ensuring that something like the holocaust there never happens again... the youth learn about it in school, they visit the sites of the concentration camps... as opposed to say, Russia...
And you know, I am pretty sure that despite the fact that there are racist groups here in America, most US citizens are also very invested in ensuring that slavery never comes back to the US.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ErinYay View Post
Yes, Germany is going the distance to prevent another atrocity, but I was mostly (and ineffectively- baby is on a sleep strike, so I was a little touchy yesterday) trying to say that Germans specifically *do* keep the Holocaust in present mind, and their national pride is deeply impacted by the Holocaust, whereas many modern white Americans are very happy to forget the sins of our fathers, which by no means is limited to slavery. Being offended at "Happy White Man Liberation Day" or whatever it was (re July 4th) is, to me, an example of us forgetting our past and living in the moment- sure it feels good, but it doesn't help us learn from the past.
I disagree that people are all too happy to forget about the atrocities of our past. I certainly learned about the Trail of Tears, slavery etc, in school and I am pretty sure that most children do.


I don't understand how "Happy White Man Liberation Day" is all that different from these types of comments

Quote:
While I'm sure you innocently/ mistakenly spoke in the present-tense, we still deal with people "jokingly" asking my husband, a man who served the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the current war, "how many Jews you kill today?"
Both are deliberate attempts to point out specifically negative aspects of the person's cultural heritage. And the first is a specific dig at an important holiday and important part of the culture.
post #51 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by dakotablue View Post
And note the "all men are created equal" was written by Thomas Jefferson who like said above believed ALL MEN were created equal.

I will say however this document mentions the 'savages.' But that was the time period and ignorance, not that it makes it ok....
Ignorance does not mean that overt cruelty is acceptable. There are a number of things that any of us are ignorant about, yet it does not afford us the right to destroy, rape, and pillage at will. Jefferson was no different. He held slaves and the Sally Hemmings story has much romanticism as there is not a relationship when you are someone's property. She was chattel like the rest of the folk who looked like me -- save for the free individuals. Somehow, that does not speak of personal liberty and freedom.
post #52 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by aramat View Post
I think if you moved, for example, to Brazil, as I have done, you would definitely see that you have a rich culture of your own. Here, I yearn for my children to experience life, holidays, education, language in the previously-taken-for-granted traditional American ways I did growing up!
Quote:
Originally Posted by kama'aina mama View Post
You have a culture. You are an American and America has a unique culture. You just don't notice it because you have been soaking in to your whole life.
This! We do have a culture, it's just impossible to point out the ins and outs when you're surrounded by it. Once you're thrown somewhere else, it's easy to pick out your culture.

That being said, I can understand 100%. I'm not a Native American, so I have never felt like this is "my" land. It's not...my ancestors didn't fight here. They didn't live here for hundreds and hundreds of years. They got on a boat, came here, and shed their language and culture in order to try and assimilate. It can be challenging, because I am another who doesn't particularly love American culture.

It's easy to focus on the negatives (oppression, gluttony, arrogance) and ignore the positives. However, my mom went to Norway in 1981 (she's half Scandinavian-1/4 Norwegian and 1/4 Swedish) and decided to reclaim some of her culture. She took a year of Norwegian in college, and raised us with some Norwegian sayings. Swedish sausage and lefse are holiday staples in our household. We make cookies every Christmas from a recipe passed down from my great-great-grandma who was 100% German. I have Irish in me on both sides, so I took Irish dance classes throughout high school. I also try to honor my American heritage as well. The movies, the books, the food. I'm a strict vegetarian, so a lot of my staple meals are accessible to me only because I live here.

So yes...overall, I do feel like (for me), my American culture pales in comparison to the culture of someone who lives in their ancestral homeland and has hundreds or thousands of years of history there. We're stuck in a tough place where we have to try and forge our own culture, because we don't have old traditions.
post #53 of 54

A different perspective

To the OP

This is an interesting topic and I have enjoyed reading the various posts.

I am multiracial (African American, Native American, Mongolian, Russian, Irish...) and was raised by my "white" mother. I really hate racial designations because they seem so arbitrary and devoid of deep and positive meaning. White privilege is very real, but "white culture" as a blanket concept is certainly not. I think that even for minority parents, when it comes down to passing culture to their children it is personal family tradition that packs the greatest punch. Forget trying to find something vast and generic and stick to finding something simple and personal.

Some of my favorite things passed down to me from my "white" mother:
  1. Always having a real tree for Christmas and decorating it with heirloom family ornaments together.
  2. Homemade cranberry relish at Thanksgiving.
  3. A new dress to celebrate my birthday.
  4. Pressing leaves into waxed paper every fall.
  5. Decorating eggs in the Ukranian style for Easter.
  6. Making soups from scratch as the weather turned cold.
  7. She taught me how to sew.
  8. Every Halloween we fill a table with photos of our deceased family and she tells stories about their lives.
  9. Drives through the country for fresh apple cider or our yearly trip to the pumpkin patch.
  10. Various trips and outtings to appreciate a multitude of cultural activities including pow wows, art exhibits, and concerts of all kinds.

The truth of the matter is that although I am a woman (and soon to be mother) of color, the most important things that I will pass on stem from a deeply personal place filled with familial tradition. Of course exposing your children to culture at large is important and I can certainly see how that might feel empty and discouraging for you. Just remember that what your kids will most likely take with them into adulthood has far more to do with you as a mother and your traditions than you as a white American.

What favorite memories and activities do you have from childhood? What new traditions can you build with your children (I think things with a seasonal focus are especially nice and meaningful). Carving pumpkins is an American tradition but your kids will only care that it is part of your family's tradition.

Good Luck!
post #54 of 54
I believe there is a misunderstanding here. Some posters are talking about being proud of being white, or white culture, white heritage, etc. There is no such thing as a homogeneous "white heritage", as others have pointed out. Rather, we have an American model or ideal, which was constructed out of bits and pieces of ethnicities that came to this country, and that were "white". Think of the ads that you would see back in the forties and fifties, where the all-American family was depicted as a WASP family (did you ever see the film "Back to the future"? Parts of it are a not-so-tongue-in-cheek joke about that ideal). Not one person orchestrated that. Think of it more as an organic process, whereby people who are the targets of this cultural construct then go on to reproduce and reinforce that model. That is to say, the construction of that ideal American culture or family deliberately excluded the contributions of non-white cultures. Those non-whites still contributed to the amalgam that is the U.S., because culture has a life of its own, and although it can be shaped or channeled in a certain direction, it's always cross-pollinated, it's always hybrid, specially in such a large and diverse country like ours. Now, before anyone gets all worked up, this is not a reflection on anyone who is alive today, I am not accusing anyone of being racist or anything of the sort. Instead, it's an observation of what has happened over many generations.

Now, the fact that it is constructed does not mean that it's artificial. All cultural ideals are constructed. The difference here is that the American ideal was constructed not out of a more or less homogeneous local culture that had evolved slowly over time, with limited external influence, but rather from things that everyone brought to the table, mixed with the experiences that were uniquely American, like the Western frontier, the early settlers, etc. (some of which are also constructs, by the way). And the people who were in a position to shape and mold that ideal happened to be white, so they looked for things that other whites did and included them in that construction. If you every go to Italy, Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, etc., you will find that their cultures differ significantly from one to the other, and if you go to Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, or some other Eastern European country, they might be even more different. Or, if you want an extreme example, think of Northern Iran, where many of the original Indo-Europeans came from. If there were such a thing as white culture, all those countries and/or regions would be the same or extremely similar. (In point of fact, a very, very interesting area of anthropological research is the tremendous diversity that exists among white Americans).

Now, to address the OP's point more directly, I think that we all have a heritage, we all have a cultural background. What happens is that it feels like you don't because you are part of the dominant model. People who are not part of it, like your husband, react in at least three possible ways: they assimilate completely into the dominant model (in this case, the white construction that I talked about); they react against it by being overly proud of their particular ethnicity or cultural/national origin; they integrate into the dominant environment, make it theirs, contribute to it, but keep the distinctive parts of their ethnicity, so that they can claim an identity that is both general and unique at the same time.

My advice would be to be proud of who you are. Not as mechanism to feel superior to anyone else or any other culture, but rather as a testament to the dedication of your family and to the positive aspects of your community. I am sure that you have more specific cultural traits than you think you do. As several posters have said, you are a product of your environment, of your family, and you carry those things with you. Sure, go look for your ancestry, and that might explain some of the habits your family or your community has. But overall, I am always somewhat puzzled and amused by people who say that they are X because their great great grandfather was X. That is not how culture works. If it were genetic or transmitted by blood alone, then it wouldn't be "culture".
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