White people often argue that if there can be Black Pride, Native American Pride and Latino Pride, why shouldn’t there also be White Pride? Why can’t white people be proud of their heritage and skin color? Why can’t there be white history month or an annual parade? Why is appreciating your race applauded for people of color, but seen as racist when expressed by white people? Isn’t this an unjust double standard?
While – on the surface – this complaint may sound reasonable, it seriously – and often intentionally – misunderstands the reasons that black, Native American and Latino people are proud. While celebrating their heritage and skin color is part of these movements, people of color are primarily proud of something that we, as a white people, cannot fully understand or claim. They are proud that they and their ancestors survived.
In each instance, these movements emerged in the face of horrible oppression, discrimination and violence, largely perpetrated by the dominant white culture. In the face of a culture that defined and treated them as less human, these movements asserted their pride in their self-worth. They were proud of being black, Native American or Latino in a society that questioned their value and threatened their existence. They were also proud of their resistance, resilience and perseverance. They celebrated those instances when people like them, not only survived, but thrived.
This makes the claim of White Pride suspect, especially when in response to expressions of Black, Native American and Latino Pride. What is the white person proud of? Are we proud of Christopher Columbus, the Trail of Tears, and hundreds of broken treaties? Are we proud of chattel slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow? Are we proud of the economic exploitation of farm workers and the dehumanization of Latino immigrants? For five hundred years, white people in the America have thrived by using and abusing people of color. White Shame, rather than White Pride, seems a more appropriate response to this history.
Of course, those asserting White Pride will remind you that not every white person has had it easy in America. They will note the experiences of Irish, Italian and other European immigrants, who were often mistreated and exploited when they first landed in America. While these stories are tragically true, they obscure an important aspect to this oppression. In each circumstance, these groups were initially identified as “less than white.” In early American history, Anglo-Saxon Protestantism was the dominant identity. These darker skinned European groups were initially mistreated because they were identified as non-white in some circumstances and less white in others.
In this context, offering Irish, Italian and other European immigrants as examples of resistance, resilience and perseverance does not equate to White Pride. If anything, it should be support for Immigrant Pride. Unfortunately, as we are discovering in the present rhetoric around immigration, the dominant culture have always been suspicious and abusive toward immigrants. Those who find the story of the Irish immigrants cause for pride should be ardent supporters of Latino immigrants. Unfortunately, unlike blacks, Native Americans and Latinos, the story of Irish, Italian and other European immigrants is one of integration rather than segregation.
These groups – based on their “nearly white” skin – were eventually offered a path to white assimilation. Indeed, they earned their white citizenship, not by identifying with people of color, but by demonstrating their derision and disregard for people of color. The New York City Riots of 1863 are one such example of this white rite of passage. Irish immigrants, upset about the draft and the employment of freed black slaves, rampaged for three days in Manhattan, killing 120 black people, burning down a black children’s orphanage and forcing thousands of people of color to permanently flee the city. Acts like this contributed to Irish credibility and their eventual assimilation into the white establishment. Sadly, a chief qualification for “whiteness” has always been disdain for people of color.
Of course, some of those asserting White Pride will point out that not all white people have participated in the oppression of people of color, that some white people have stood side by side with blacks, Native Americans and Latinos throughout history, that thousands of white men died to free the slaves. While this is certainly true, it is important to remember that more white men died to defend slavery than to emancipate slaves. It is equally important to acknowledge that there are far more statues honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee than the general who defeated him – Ulysses S. Grant. While it would be admirable if White Pride was about lifting up and honoring those who have opposed the oppression of people of color throughout history, this is seldom the desire of those proposing White Pride. Indeed, it is usually just the opposite.
In an August 2017 Washington Post/ABC poll, pollsters found about 9% of Americans found holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views acceptable. This equates to nearly 22 million Americans and nearly 25% of white Americans. This is a group that is also generally supportive of White Pride. For many of them, White Pride is a pride in a past where white people committed genocide on Native Americans, enslaved millions of black people and exploited people of color in countless ways. In this cultural context, it is nearly impossible to proclaim White Pride without associating yourself – directly or indirectly – with a celebration of some of the most horrific actions of the last five hundred years.
When you assert your White Pride, you are not merely proud of the color of your skin. You are not proud of the resilience of your Irish ancestors. You are not glorifying that minority of white people who have sometimes defended or allied with people of color. In our present culture, White Pride is a signal that you are not ashamed of the actions of your ancestors, of people who systematically abused, tortured and killed people of color.
There is certainly an argument that many poor white people have much in common with poor people of color. The dominant culture has often left poor white people behind as well. Many poor white people have had to be resilient in order to survive. Poor white people should be natural allies to people of color. Unfortunately, instead of being sympathetic to the people of color with whom they have shared this experience, many poor white people have counted it as a point of pride that “they are still better than blacks, Native Americans or Latinos.” Unlike the Black, Native American and Latino Pride movements, White Pride is the only such movement that relies primarily on the argument of superiority to unite its adherents.
It seems self-evident that, in our present culture, White Pride is suspect at best and shameful are worst. The only kind of white pride that might have some credibility would be a pride in the capacity of white people to acknowledge our checkered past and work to rectify the injustices perpetuated by our ancestors. While this kind of movement is gaining some traction, in our present culture, this identity is still most often derided as unnecessary and inappropriate white guilt. According to this narrative, white people have nothing to be ashamed of.
Indeed, that may be the very definition of White Pride. Many white people – whether they acknowledge or not – are proud of their ignorance of past injustice, of their blindness to present racism and of their false confidence in their “well deserved” privilege. Don’t confuse us with the facts, especially when those facts are so damning. Don’t tell us you’ve been mistreated when we just can’t see it. Don’t disturb our conviction that we deserve everything we’ve got.
Is white pride even possible?