I mentioned I am taking an Indigenous cultural competency course right now, and there’s a “paradox” (scared quotes because it’s not a paradox) between the reminder that Indigenous cultures in North America may be as different as Irish and Japanese culture on one hand; and being told things about Indigenous North American culture on the other.
My instinct is that all talk about race, ethnicity and culture is dangerous. As long as I regard people as people I am being safe, but if I start to see people as groups joined by skin colour, ancestry, nationality, I’m going in the wrong direction. I know I’m not alone in thinking this way. I see it on these forums all the time, I know if from my personal friends. There is an idea that the way out of racism is through individuality, that we need to be come more extremist in our individualism.
So I know that talking about Indigenous North American culture risks overgeneralization, but I wonder if my problem (and I think the problem of many other people I personally know) is our undergeneralization - that we are too insistent on the impossibility of finding any commonality between people. That we say:
- You can’t talk about LGBTQ culture in North America because obviously LGBTQ people in rural Alabama have a completely different experience than LGBTQ people in Toronto.
- You can’t talk about LGBTQ culture in Toronto because obviously gay cismen have a completely different life experience than straight transwomen.
- You can’t talk about gay cismale culture in Toronto because obviously Indigenous gay cismen in Toronto have a completely different experience than white gay cismen in Toronto.
- You can’t talk about gay white cismale culture in Toronto because obviously some of them are homeless youth and some of them are 60-year-olds with $5M homes.
- You can’t talk about gay white middle class cismale culture in Toronto because I know two gay white middle class cismale guys and they are as different as night and day.
Basically we end up denying that culture itself exists. And I feel like it’s all in service of that idea that we can’t really be held accountable for our culture or out society, only for ourselves, which is itself part of the political power structure that gives white people power over other races.
I think the topic this spawned from goes over the idea that racism is more than just people’s attitudes and morals. It’s also power structures.
But I think there are several reasons why white culture might be elusive for us. The only white people who are willing to actively discuss white culture are white supremacists. They are proud to be white and ascribe to whiteness all sorts of positive traits. They claim white people are responsible for the creation and advancement of civilizations. Attributing anything good to white people or white culture feels extremely thorny.
But what about not good but things that are just there?
Like Heavy Metal seems like an extremely white kind of music to me. From having trouble with a white supremacist subculture at times, to the bands being very white, to my ability to enjoy metal from all over Europe (Rammstein had North American hits, Scandinavia is metal country). Of course that doesn’t mean all white people like metal or black people can’t like or play metal. But black Americans don’t all like hip hop and presumably some Finnish people hate Ievan polka.
What about food? The other night I came home and needed to make something quick for dinner. I looked up a recipe for beans and rice and it started with sauteing onions and hot peppers. So what did I do? I sauted onions, carrots and celery (and if this entire thread devolves into jokes about how white people can’t eat hot food that’ll certainly be like top 20% in the spectrum of possible results for me starting this conversation).
And of course part of looking at white culture is looking at appropriation. How heavy metal can trace its roots to black American music. How I was cooking like a white person using a Mexican recipe. Sharing between cultures is good, cultures dominating others and taking from them is bad. But to me it seems like a huge step just to admit I have a culture other than an imperialist, consumerist technocracy that seeks to devour everything.
It’s uncomfortable for me to think that I like white music, but I think it’s true. I love metal, emo, “indie” (which is crazy white), and weird stuff by people named John (Cage, Cale, Zorn, Flansburgh & Linnell). I may love ATLiens but my favourite rap album is Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives by Aesop Rock. It just sounds good to me.
That can’t just be a coincidence, can it? (I say to myself to convince myself)