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#31 of 54 Old 07-10-2010, 02:25 AM
 
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[QUOTE=candycat;15606457]

c) general american culture - American folklore - tall tales, stories like Rip Van Winkle, The Headless Horseman, others, children's novels - Little House Books, the Little Strawberry Girl, even the American Girls types of stories - novels by American writers about American themes - Scarlet Letter, Poe (he was American, right? ) Mark Twain, and other distinctly American authors, painters, poets, etc. - American architecture, some stuff about the "heydey" of America (I think of it as about 1900's or so).

Yes, candycat, Poe was American. He was totally part of that Hawthorne, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson era of American literature, and that is SO great to focus on. Really cool stuff there. I mean, Whitman was "out" before ANYONE was out. How American to be totally gay and loving life in 1880! Come on!

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#32 of 54 Old 07-11-2010, 11:17 PM
 
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What it is most definitely not is a void on the cultural map. Thinking so is basically white privilege defined.
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'm not sure how that's white privilege...? If we were in a Latin American country and I was Hispanic and felt this way, would it be Hispanic privilege defined? If I were African American living in a predominantly African American community (which, btw, is where I was raised--as a screamingly obvious minority), would it be AA privilege defined?

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#33 of 54 Old 07-12-2010, 12:08 AM
 
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For a person of European ancestry to view themselves as historically on par with every other person of European origin would do a great disservice to the experiences of immigrants in the great wave of continental mass migration that developed in the mid 19th century and continued on well into the decades preceding the second World War. As an individual of Colonial American heritage (the earliest members of my family arrived in 1701) if one were to use hereditary methods to classify me as one thing or another then I would be largely of English/Scottish origin; this is the case for most of us who have ancestry that dates from this period. This means that my ancestors, despite their individual relative levels of property and prosperity experienced more of the social benefits throughout the longest portion of the American timeline. Those with Central European, Eastern European, Eurasian, Irish and Mediterranean family origins would come from groups of Europeans who spent at least a portion of their immigrant and early native born periods marginalized by Anglo dominated protestant culture. In short, not all white people were created equal in the eyes of many Americans.
American Culture (as expressed by White individuals) can best be expressed and celebrated by their regional variations. The rub here is that these regional cultures are not the domain of White's only, so in this sense if one looks for something that defines being both White and American, one must understand that there is no expression of being White and American that doesn't belong equally to the African and Latin peoples of the region; this separates America from being an exact copy of England (not to say that England is racially or culturally uniform). A similar effect is seen in Canada with the presence of the French influence.
Tribal Cultures will always have a personal edge in remaining in contact with their ancestry due to the various social constructs that are in place to transmit information between generations. Even so, most Native American and First Nations peoples are so beleaguered by centuries of warfare and oppression that this is a daunting task.
A final thought in closing; a persistent tendency to identify personally with ethnicity is a facet that is fairly new amongst Europeans and largely informed by the politics of the Enlightenment Era and the rise of Nation/States. In the end, humans are best defined by their families; which is the elementary unit of historical record. Therein lies anyone's identity, for good or for ill.
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#34 of 54 Old 07-12-2010, 12:33 AM
 
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I'm not sure how that's white privilege...? If we were in a Latin American country and I was Hispanic and felt this way, would it be Hispanic privilege defined? If I were African American living in a predominantly African American community (which, btw, is where I was raised--as a screamingly obvious minority), would it be AA privilege defined?
The vestiges of the legacy of segregation and exclusion from the dominant culture are hardly comparable ... ethnic enclaves in an actively racist America are not places of privilege. Whatever advantage there may be to membership in the given ethnic community have nothing to do with a parallel to white privilege. Nor does the greater ability to opt into and out of an ethnic enclave. Nor does the fact that even within that ethnic enclave you -- regardless of your own race -- will have a pretty extensive knowledge of the broader dominant culture, unlike what little the broader American culture is likely to know of your community. In short: no to the second. In general in America black is not to white as white is to black. For the most part you can't switch out one for the other in a sentence and come up with the same experience.

However, if -- for example -- when I was living in a 90% majority Muslim country, where Islamic traditions are thoroughly mundanely enshrined in very simply the way the community functions and the assumptions people make about one another, in secular life and the law, I had sat down and written about how -- unlike all of the minority groups struggling for their traditions, recognition, and even survival outright -- I just felt so culture-less, then yes, that would have been a display of dominant culture privilege.

Privilege isn't bound to American racial politics. It just happens that, when the subject is specifically white American culture, it kind of is. But that certainly doesn't mean that's the only way in the universe that privilege can roll. Hell, that's not the only way it rolls in America ... I mean, male privilege anyone? These aren't linear things. They can overlap and even sometimes appear to contradict and still hold true.
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#35 of 54 Old 07-14-2010, 02:14 PM
 
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Personally, I think OP's husband's comment was - at the very least - rude and thoughtless in that it denigrated his wife's culture as well as part of his childrens'.

I also, personally, am saddened that OP feels as though her roots are of no importance - and that a fair bit of feedback she's received has only reinforced the negative aspects.

Every nation and culture has negatives associated with it. That does not negate the positives.

OP... I'd urge you to do some research into your roots, both here and in Europe. You can get a wealth of information on the 'Net and use it to instill some pride in yourself and your children for what your side of the family has to pass along. As well as develop some traditions of your own to reflect your own cultural pride. It is NOTHING to be ashamed of.
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#36 of 54 Old 07-14-2010, 04:47 PM
 
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I just find it sad when I hear people who don't have to do anything special to know and pass on their own histories and traditions speaking as though not needing to work at it means it's not there, and that there is something enviable about people who have to actively fight to maintain something that isn't so dominant.
You know, I love your posts and your perspective, but I found this a bit hurtful. The OP has shared how being part of the dominant culture makes her feel personally, and what you seem to be saying is that her feelings are invalid, that she should just be happy with what she has. Am I misunderstanding?

I get what you are saying. However, I also understand where the OP is coming from. I don't have this issue in my family (the bigger battle is helping my husband see the good in his culture of origin), but I do run into it with good friends who have immigrated to the US. For example, I have a wonderful friend who moved to the US from Vietnam as an adult. She shares stories and traditions and recipes with me all the time, and they are beautiful and new (to me ), and interesting. In return, I...well, there's the problem. The recipes I have to share with her, the stories, the traditions are all basically familiar to her. And yes, she appreciates them, but I never get the sense that they've filled her with the sense of wonder that I've felt when she shares something new with me. As someone who likes to give at least as much as she receives in a relationship, that inequity can be uncomfortable.
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#37 of 54 Old 07-14-2010, 05:11 PM
 
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For a person of European ancestry to view themselves as historically on par with every other person of European origin would do a great disservice to the experiences of immigrants in the great wave of continental mass migration that developed in the mid 19th century and continued on well into the decades preceding the second World War. As an individual of Colonial American heritage (the earliest members of my family arrived in 1701) if one were to use hereditary methods to classify me as one thing or another then I would be largely of English/Scottish origin; this is the case for most of us who have ancestry that dates from this period. This means that my ancestors, despite their individual relative levels of property and prosperity experienced more of the social benefits throughout the longest portion of the American timeline. Those with Central European, Eastern European, Eurasian, Irish and Mediterranean family origins would come from groups of Europeans who spent at least a portion of their immigrant and early native born periods marginalized by Anglo dominated protestant culture. In short, not all white people were created equal in the eyes of many Americans.
American Culture (as expressed by White individuals) can best be expressed and celebrated by their regional variations. The rub here is that these regional cultures are not the domain of White's only, so in this sense if one looks for something that defines being both White and American, one must understand that there is no expression of being White and American that doesn't belong equally to the African and Latin peoples of the region; this separates America from being an exact copy of England (not to say that England is racially or culturally uniform). A similar effect is seen in Canada with the presence of the French influence.
Tribal Cultures will always have a personal edge in remaining in contact with their ancestry due to the various social constructs that are in place to transmit information between generations. Even so, most Native American and First Nations peoples are so beleaguered by centuries of warfare and oppression that this is a daunting task.
A final thought in closing; a persistent tendency to identify personally with ethnicity is a facet that is fairly new amongst Europeans and largely informed by the politics of the Enlightenment Era and the rise of Nation/States. In the end, humans are best defined by their families; which is the elementary unit of historical record. Therein lies anyone's identity, for good or for ill.

I've gotta say, I think this is a great post. Ditto on the family=id thing. I think in many cases using ethnicity as an identifyer is very artificial (cough*IrishAmerican*cough). Its also interesting to research local history and find your family's place in the story. My family is from San Francisco and I have learned loads about SF just by researching my family...its so freaking cool.
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#38 of 54 Old 07-14-2010, 11:04 PM
 
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So many people here are talking about American culture as if it's this static thing. It's not, we do have cultural mainstays here, but region to region here there are cultural differences, that in some ways, are unique to each other as cultural differences between two different countries.

My ethnic background is Irish (mother) and Hungarian (father). My father is first generation American, he grew up only speaking English, but eating Hungarian dishes and so did I. My mother's family has been here in this country for who knows how long, but she was raised in a community where the Irish wed other Irish and the community stayed close. While I was raised protestant, her family is very much Irish Catholic in the way we acknowledge and celebrate/mourn births, deaths, and weddings. I am proud of my heritage, and I'm not embarrassed to say it. I definitely have my father's facial structure, but not his darker skin color. I got that from my mother and somewhere along the way, they both gave me the genes for red hair. That alone makes me part of a tiny percentage of people around the world and I think that's neat. I can acknowledge the privilege I have from being white, and the mistakes and horrors committed by white Americans along the way, while still acknowledging that it's ok to be proud of who I am and the ancestory that went into creating that.

My husband is also white, but was born and raised in Alaska, in a extended community of family and friends who were white, Jewish, and Native Alaskan, and he and his family celebrates traditions from each of those groups. He isn't *just* white, and really, neither are any of us, we are all unique and made of up where we were raised, how we were raised, the communities we were raised in, etc.

I remember when I was in college, and I lived with a one year exchange student from Slovenia, and was good friends with other students from the Czech Republic and Bangladesh. They all had these very clear stereotypes of Americans, none of which were remotely favorable, and honestly, a lot of them were correct. But during an extended break, they went on a tour of the entire lower 48 by car. When they got back, they were amazed at the physical and cultural differences of the country and its people from place to place.

Also, to the PP, I'm guessing the reason your friend from Vietnam was aware of so many American traditions, isn't because their isn't anything interesting or unique about American culture, but because American culture is so widespread throughout the world, both the mundane, the interesting, and the horrifying.
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#39 of 54 Old 07-19-2010, 12:58 AM
 
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You know, I'm white, but:

(1) I've been to the area in Holland where my Pilgrim ancestor lived.
(2) I've held the calvary saber my great, great-grandfather carried when fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
(3) I've been to the family graveyard behind the first family homestead (built in1805).
(4) I've climbed the lighthouse that my many-times grandmother tended as the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
(5) I own the $5 gold buffalo head piece that was my grandmother's first week's wages at her first job at age 15.
(6) I know how to make the family's "secret recipe" cookies, passed down from my great, great grandmother.
(7) I can tell you family stories -- about how my grandmother bought her first car and what she named it, about Pansy, the horse on the farm that hated to work and how she embarrassed my great, great-uncle, about my grandfather hocking the only thing of value he had during the depression (his dead mother's watch, now sitting in my safety deposit box), finding a poker game and winning enough money that he could eat for the rest of the winter and redeem the watch too.

This is my heritage and it is as rich and as powerful as anyone else's no matter what their color or cultural background.

I suggest the OP interact with her family elders, find out their stories, and the stories they remember of their parents and grandparents and pass those stories down. Researching your genealogy can also be extremely powerful and interesting.
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#40 of 54 Old 07-24-2010, 05:35 AM
 
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OP, your dh is very familiar with American culture, of course, but my dp is from cameroon and I have enjoyed sharing American culture with him so much. My parents both studied anthropology, and they raised us to "see" culture where most people just see "normal". We have so many traditions- saturday morning cartoons, Cinderella and Snow White, vacations at national landmarks, rootbeer floats and ice cream cones, county fairs, pancake breakfast, bad boys and muscle cars, Uncle Sam pointing at you from a sign, Paul Revere, Cat in the Hat, ET, M and M's, Happy Birthday To You. The list goes on and on. There are so many cool american themes that show up over and over in tv and books, music and movies- like a cricket that chirps when there's an uncomfortable silence. Who knows where that came from, but its very american. Only an American knows what it means when you say, "Ehhhhy!" like the Fonz and bop something with your fist. That's culture: shared food, music, art, drama, language, symbols, religion. It's not defined by a political history- that mostly consists of a few people in power doing stuff to keep their power at a certain moment in time. Not that culture isn't hugely influenced by politics, its just a whole different subject.

Everyone has a family history to share, it's not as if you have to trace your roots back to the old country to find a history that counts as culture. Family stories are very important, they're how kids place themselves in the scheme of things. My family is a typical white family, somewhere way back we had a doctor that emigrated from Scotland. Who knows? But in there somewhere is my family's interesting religious background- my great grandmother was a Rosicrucian, my grandmother an agnostic, and my mother is a Catholic. There's the story of how my great great grandmother was abandoned by her husband and raised her six kids by running a boarding house. My mother was the first woman to enter the Masters in Anthropology program at the University of Montana. None of this is ground shaking, but it's us- it's stories that illustrate to my kids that they're made of something tough, smart, and unique. To me, this is the blood and bones of handing down culture to my kids.

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#41 of 54 Old 07-28-2010, 09:26 PM
 
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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.

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#42 of 54 Old 07-29-2010, 12:21 AM
 
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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.
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#43 of 54 Old 07-29-2010, 05:00 AM
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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...

 
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#44 of 54 Old 07-29-2010, 11:45 AM
 
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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.

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#45 of 54 Old 07-31-2010, 12:06 PM
 
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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??!!
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#46 of 54 Old 07-31-2010, 01:11 PM
 
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It is a beautiful thing to be self-reflective, and white America is that and then some.
Yes, very true.

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#47 of 54 Old 07-31-2010, 05:16 PM
 
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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.
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#48 of 54 Old 08-17-2010, 04:26 PM
 
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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.
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#49 of 54 Old 08-17-2010, 04:40 PM
 
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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?

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#50 of 54 Old 08-17-2010, 04:50 PM
 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.
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#51 of 54 Old 08-18-2010, 12:50 AM
 
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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.

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#52 of 54 Old 09-06-2010, 12:56 AM
 
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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!
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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.

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#53 of 54 Old 09-06-2010, 11:13 PM
 
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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!

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#54 of 54 Old 10-02-2010, 04:00 AM
 
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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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