Sunday, October 11, 2009

shuttle ambivalently between whiteness and ethnicity

Tomorrow is Columbus Day in the United States. Like many other countries in "the Americas," we still mark this day, officially and otherwise. Celebrations of the efforts of Columbus usually erase the horrors of what he and his men did to indigenous peoples, thereby erasing as well the indigenous peoples themselves.

Many people in the U.S. remember this childish mnemonic device: "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Far fewer have heard this worthy addition, by Historian James Loewen: "In fourteen hundred and ninety-three, Columbus stole all he could see."

Some white Americans, particularly those of Italian descent, remember Columbus differently, for their own ambivalent purposes. Considering how they do so can shed light on both the past and the present of racial whiteness, including who is now considered "white," what they and other "white ethnics" gave up in the process of becoming that way, and what they now try to recover or hold onto about themselves and their supposed heritage.

Christopher Columbus' first sighting of land that came to be known as "America" occurred on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1792, in honor of the 300th anniversary of Columbus' landing. Columbus was working at the time for the queen of Spain, and his efforts are widely credited with opening the door to Spanish conquest of "the Americas." In the mid-1800s, since Columbus himself was Italian, some Italian Americans began celebrating their heritage on Columbus Day.

As a result of this later, secondary remembrance, conflict has arisen when other groups, especially Native Americans, began protesting this holiday. For anyone who might still wonder why anyone would protest Columbus Day, Andrea Robideau, leader of a university-level Native American Women's Association, put it this way: “For a lot of native people, making Columbus Day a national holiday tells us that they honor someone who started a genocide against our people.” Robideau put it that way while she was selling t-shirts that read, "Killumbus."

Some Italian Americans take such protests against Columbus Day as an insult to their own heritage -- or perhaps to what remains of it, now that they and their ancestors have paid the price of the ticket into whiteness by bleaching away most of what marked them as "Italian." (And whether these ancestors even identified as "Italian" before arriving in the U.S., instead of as "Sicilian" or some other regional identity, is an interesting question.)

After their ancestors endured that cultural loss so that they and their descendants could enjoy being full-fledged "Americans," which at that time meant "white Americans," along came widespread recognition of non-whiteness via the Civil Rights Movement, and then the ascent in the 1990s of multiculturalism and/or "diversity," which mostly meant racial diversity. All of this new racial awareness and celebration made white Americans feel left out at times, as well as increasingly ambivalent about their own whiteness. After all, the only people affirming and celebrating that racial group were those who'd done obnoxious things with their heads, like putting pointy white sheets on them, or shaving them, or filling them with ridiculous, disproven ideas about the supposed superiority of a supposedly threatened white race.

And so it was that as fewer and fewer "white" people wanted to claim their racial grouping in some active, celebratory way, more and more of them turned instead to revival of the faded heritage of their European ancestors -- and not just Italian Americans.

In an article about this kind of "ethnic revival," scholar Matthew Frye Jacobson writes:

The leader of an anti-racism workshop in the 1990s once noted a disquieting inclination on the part of white participants to dissociate themselves from the advantages of whiteness by emphasizing some purportedly not-quite-white ethnic background. "I'm not white; I'm Italian," one would say. Another, "I'm Jewish." After this ripple had made its way across the group, the seminar leader was left wondering, "What happened to all the white people who were here just a minute ago?"

The sense of a sentence like "I'm not white, I'm Italian" rests upon several historical preconditions, now loosely relayed in the term "ethnic revival": the Civil Rights Movement heightened whites' consciousness of their skin privilege, rendering it both visible and newly uncomfortable. The example of black nationalism and later multiculturalism provided a new language for -- and perceived cache in -- the specificities of an identity that was not simply "American." After decades of striving to conform to the Anglo-Saxon standard, descendants of earlier European immigrants quit the melting pot. Italianness, Jewishness or Greekness were now badges of pride, not shame.

One unfortunate result, Jacobson goes on to note, is the tendency to hold up European immigrants as the real "model minority," a highly dubious honor normally given to Asian Americans:

Despite recent fixations on Asian-American success . . . European immigrants remain the nation's real "model minority": Their saga supplies the "standard" template of incorporation and advancement against which all other groups are judged. It supplied the post-slavery, fresh-off-the-boat innocents who have become the most potent symbol in protests against affirmative action, busing or reparations.

In conservative populism, white ethnics represent precisely those little people so in need of protection from the excesses of liberal social policy; and their exemplary mobility -- from steerage to ghetto to suburb -- is deployed in damning critique of both the contemporary welfare state and contemporary ghetto-dwellers.

As the following two television clips demonstrate, the conflicted feelings of people who can be described (rather oxymoronically) as "white ethnics" have made their way into popular culture. In the first, from "The Sopranos," New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano struggles, in his usual NSFW way, to articulate his mixed allegiances -- being Italian versus being white -- to some of his loyal minions, who are upset about upcoming protests against a Columbus Day parade. The second clip, from "Mad TV," satirizes both Italian American stereotypes and the whitening process of assimilation.

In both cases, the alternating sympathies of such "white ethnics" are on display, in a sort of ambivalent shuttling back and forth between polar attractions: the privileges and comforts of whiteness, and the warm, nostalgic memory of a faded group identity. Like such memories of other white ethnics,this collective identity can be as confused and delusional as the ongoing and uncritical celebration of Columbus Day -- a "celebration" of the beginnings of an Anglo-Saxon empire in an Italian mercenary's efforts to extend the rapacious and murderous plunderings of Spanish royalty.

[An earlier version of this post appeared here last year; h/t for the Reconsider Columbus Day video: Irene's Daughters]


  1. "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue."

    As Dickipedia said:

    With similar historical airbrushing, schools could also accurately teach that “In nineteen hundred and forty-two, Hitler gave free showers to lots of Jews.”

  2. Right, so "whiteness" and "ethnicity" are mutually separate phenomena. None of us belong to an ethnicity. We're all the same -- like Orientals.

  3. @ Crank:

    I think the point Macon was trying to make is summed up in the quote from Matthew Jacobson, on white people who, while participating in anti-racism discussions, say things like, "I'm not white, I'm Italian" and "I'm not white, I'm Jewish." In other words, people who walk around steeped in white privilege, but when it comes to a situation where they have to take active responsibility for being the oppressing/privileged group, they don't want to own up to it.

    The debate over [some] Italian-Americans' embrace of Columbus Day gets at this. Some Italian-Americans embrace it as a celebration of Italian heritage, ignoring the fact that it actually celebrates white people's genocidal conquest. I *think* the point Macon is making here is that the people who embrace the holiday are simultaneously denying their whiteness. Like, the day celebrates Italian good, but white evil. Thus, "I'm Italian, not white"...but at the same time, if you (generic) are Caucasian in America today it is impossible to rid yourself of white privilege--in other words, you are white. There is a mental disconnect here. And it's a dangerous one, because it creates the situation where white people want to fight racism only by getting rid of prejudice against POC...not by dismantling white privilege. And that, frankly, doesn't work.

  4. Columbus Day is pretty stupid since it's celebrating all the genocide and we don't even get a day off from it.

  5. Thanks, Willow, I agree with you. I may be Hispanic, but I am also white, and white is how people in our culture see me. This means I receive unearned privilege everyday on the basis of being white, and I have to acknowledge that. Denial will only hinder my anti-racist work.

  6. Macon, you are dead on with this post. This is also a common form of derailment. "I'm not White, I'm ______." This is closely related to "My people came over here in ______ (some date past slavery, or Jim Crow, or the Civil Rights Movement." This gets on my nerves so much. It's like they're saying, "My ethnicity gives me a pass." and allows them to shut down during discussions of race and racism.

    And before anyone says, "Not ALL White people claim their ethnicity in order to..." I'm not saying ALL; I'm saying I observe it and find it to be common. And that's another thing. Whenever POC talk about race, we always have to have caveats and disclaimers and stuff. Ugh. Venting, but sometimes it wears on you and you just have to let it out!

  7. Blaming Columbus for smallpox is like blaiming Indians or South East Asians for the Black Death. I'll bet your average Rennaisance era Italian knew about as much about germs & disease as he did about nuclear fusion.

  8. Yup. Because all those natives were just sitting around smoking peace-pipes and speaking to the Earth until Evil Bad White Men came and stole all that they could see.

    They're just bitter because he was better at it.

  9. This is unrelated to the blog entry but many of you here may be interested in this BBC documentary titled, "Barbado'ed: Scotland's Sugar Slaves". It's very eye opening story about racism. It may even be worthy of doing a post about.

    watch it at:

  10. Stephanie, you're right, it is often used as a form of derailment.

  11. Crank, we (white Americans) are the ones who forged an identity for ourselves, starting with Anglo-Saxons and Germans, and called it "white," and let people of other ancestries (the Irish, the Italians, etc.)"join the white club" when we decided they were "good enough." We are the ones who decided "white is not a race, so we don't have to worry about race." There's a world of difference between that and the ignorance that leads some of us to call all the natives of am entire hemisphere "Oriental."

  12. Columbus also stole money from Jews and the Moors (Spanish Muslims) and sailed to the New World with that.

    Yeah, this is not just a huge insult for Native Americans, but for Jews and Moors.

  13. The real telling thing about having a room full of people who suddenly turned out not to be "white" wasn't that they didn't want to own up to their status as oppressors, but more likely the result of not identifying with the rather useless descriptor "white."

    Couple this with the fact they don't feel like oppressors, nor vote for oppressing politics and one begins to see the shallowness of this analysis.

  14. As a former teacher, I think the re-thinking of Columbus Day needs to start in our schools. If there are any teachers out there reading this blog, you might find this information interesting:
    (the video is the same one Macon has up)

    Great resources to Reconsider Columbus Day and Rethink Columbus.

    Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children's beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child's first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America.

    We need to listen to a wider range of voices. We need to hear from those whose lands and rights were taken away by those who "discovered" them. Their stories, too often suppressed, tell of 500 years of courageous struggle, and the lasting wisdom of native peoples. Understanding what really happened to them in 1492 is key to understanding why people suffer the same injustices today.

    1) A new one minute public service announcement asking people to Reconsider Columbus Day go to:
    or to

    2) The book Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years More than 90 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans reevaluate the myth of Columbus and issues of indigenous rights. Rethinking Columbus is packed with useful teaching ideas for kindergarten through college

    3) Unlearning "Indian" Stereotypes

    Narrated by Native American children, the DVD Unlearning "Indian" Stereotypes teaches about racial stereotypes and provides an introduction to Native American history through the eyes of children.

    This is a mailing of the Rethinking Schools critical teaching and writing listserv. If you would like to subscribe to this listserv send an e-mail message with the word "subscribe" in the subject field to The list is open to all Rethinking Schools subscribers and focuses on teaching and writing for justice in K-12 classrooms.

  15. Columbus also stole money from Jews and the Moors (Spanish Muslims) and sailed to the New World with that.

    Well tell the Moors to quit spreading imperialism & jihad into spain.

  16. Ugh, I can't let this one go.

    Max, you are right when you say that we (white people in general) don't usually feel like oppressors. The point is, we are. Even if only subconsciously. I don't walk around thinking, "Oooh, how am I going to be mean to Mexican-Americans today?" But sometimes (I don't like that I can draw examples from my own life...) I'll laugh at a racist joke even if I don't mean to and would *never* tell one, or I'll have a brief, gut-jerk moment of fear when I realize the guy walking a few feet behind me is black. These are acts of oppression because they hurt POC.

    As for not voting for oppressive policies? Example: in the past, laws against domestic violence have focused almost exclusively on fighting DV through the police and legal system. Anti-DV is a cause embraced by liberals who would largely consider themselves anti-racist. They/we vote in favor of these laws! (There is not a chance in hell I am going to vote against solid anti-DV measures). But racism runs rampant in many police departments, and (secondhand knowledge) in many cases WOC have little reason to trust the police and courts. These laws fail them and help white people; these laws are racist.

    Why do they resist identifying as white? If they don't acknowledge they have white privilege, they won't have to give it up.

  17. I am an "ethnic white."

    I think there are two issues here, and they get mixed up, and the Columbus Day part mixes them up further.

    1) "Ethnic whites" like Jews, Italians, white Latinos, etc., are not treated by "non-ethnic whites" the same way that non-ethnic whites treat each other. However, at the same time, that does not make them not white and it does not make them victims of racism. Prejudice, yes. In some cases, when you are an ethnicity that shares physical features with a minority that isn't considered "white," that prejudice can even be highly racialized.

    But that's not the same as facing racism. Understanding what it is like to be Irish-American and have people assume you have a bad temper or are a drunk before you open your mouth is not the same as understanding what it's like to be black or Asian or from a Latino background that does not "look white."

    2) Identifying with and being proud of your ethnicity does not mean not identifying with your race. You don't get to say you are not white just because you might be from an ethnicity that still deals with prejudice in the US. I am ethnically part of two white minority groups. I am white. I ticky the white box on questions about race. The way I see it, because I'm an ethnic white, I experience some kinds of racialized prejudice. That means that I don't get to claim I'm not white or that I'm a victim of racism. It does mean that I should have an easier time understanding my own privilege, and vocalizing the dangers of privilege, than many non-ethnic whites. And many non-ethnic whites are, sadly, but obviously, from some of the posts we've seen here lately, more likely to believe me if I pipe up about racism than they are to believe a PoC who says exactly the same thing.

    I have no freaking clue about the Columbus shit. He was a murderer and a thief and likely a rapist and if Italian people want to celebrate the best of their culture, there are far many more enlightened and wonderful Italians to celebrate.

  18. @Willow--

    I really enjoy your posts here. I thought of something else to your point about not having to acknowledge white privilege.

    I think, and this is one of the things that I struggle with as an ethnic white, that the point that people with privilege are often oblivious to their privilege is a point to bring up here. A white who is ethnically part of a minority group that is still mocked and stereotyped and so forth, is going to be aware of the way that they're mocked and stereotyped. They're going to know about the bigotry directed at them. But, being white and able to be oblivious to white privilege, they only see the ways in which they are not privileged, and that leads them to assume that, well, here are all these ways we're not privileged, that must mean we don't experience white privilege, therefore, for purposes of racism discussions, we don't count as white.

    It is always easier to be aware of the ways in which you are not privileged than the ways in which you are privileged. Some of the stuff in Macon's post point toward the ways that Italians may see themselves as not privileged. Because it's easier for an Italian to see those things than for an Italian to see the fact that an Italian isn't going to get pulled over for Driving While Italian (in most of the country; I know Italians to whom this *has* happened, but it's because they were dark-skinned and mistaken for black, not because they were Italian), it makes sense that a lot of Italians would assume that being on the bum end of somebody else's privilege exempts them from *all* white privilege.

    I am not saying this to excuse it-- I'm saying it to further unpack the reasons why an ethnic white may be oblivious to their own whiteness, at least in terms of privilege, which I think needs to be considered to figure out how to convince them of the fact of their privilege.

  19. "Well tell the Moors to quit spreading imperialism & jihad into spain."


    I guess I missed the rise of the Moorish Empire on CNN the other day.

  20. DFMA,

    No, Moors were NOT Spanish Muslims!!!!

    Moors are North African Muslims who came to Europe and COLONIZED Spain and Italy!!!! The Moors TOOK OVER and raped and murdered many Europeans.

    They conquered Europeans (the Iberian peninsula)for over 800 years!!!!! Moors destroyed their culture, their values, their traditions and FORCED Europeans to adopt to their North African heritage.

    They IMPOSED Islam on Europeans, they destroyed our churches and they killed our priests.

    How can you actually call the Moors "Spanish Muslims"????? You made them sound like they're the victims.

    The Moors are colonizers who destroyed the Iberian Peninsula.

  21. Additionally, the moors are a prime example of Islamic supremacy and colonization.

  22. @ Ana-- what is your purpose in bringing up this argument? It seems kind of derailing and determined to talk about a non-white group's oppression of a white group instead of the topic at hand.

    I don't see the point of rehashing something that was done by a group that is currently not a privileged group, hundreds of years ago, in the middle of a completely different discussion. It seems like a macrocosmic version of a cry of reverse racism.

  23. Pistolina, my sole reason for bringing this up is to correct DIMA and get history right. I mean isn't this the point of this post? To learn the real history?

    And I'm in shock and dismay that you can actually dismiss my post so quickly.

    Taking your point of view, who cares about what Columbus did? It wasn't neither bad or good, just something that happened a long time ago. And seriously, who cares about that???

    And any oppression is real oppresion, regardless of who the group is and how long ago it occured.

  24. @ Ana, please give me the sources you can cite to show that Moors murdered and raped Europeans, destroyed churches, imposed Islam on the population of Iberia, etc. Everything I have ever read about Moors in Iberia has described the society as one of the few havens of religious tolerance during the middle ages, esp. one of the few places where Jews and so-called Christian "heretics" (i.e. non-Catholics) were free to practice their faith.

    But I agree with Pistolina too, about the derailment, and not to encourage more derailment, but I wanted to note that I think what Ana is saying is factually incorrect and I would like to see academic sources supporting her statements.

  25. Here it is Southern Masala...The Moor colonization of the Iberia peninsula wasn't a paradise for everybody:

    In Islamic Spain, Jews and Christians were tolerated if they:
    • acknowledged Islamic superiority
    • accepted Islamic power
    • paid a tax called Jizya to the Muslim rulers and sometimes paid higher rates of other taxes
    • avoided blasphemy
    • did not try to convert Muslims
    • complied with the rules laid down by the authorities. These included:
    • restrictions on clothing and the need to wear a special badge
    • restrictions on building synagogues and churches
    • not allowed to carry weapons
    • could not receive an inheritance from a Muslim
    • could not bequeath anything to a Muslim
    • could not own a Muslim slave
    • a dhimmi man could not marry a Muslim woman (but the reverse was acceptable)
    • a dhimmi could not give evidence in an Islamic court
    • dhimmis would get lower compensation than Muslims for the same injury

    Some of the restrictions placed on dhimmis were:
    • To pay a special tax (the jizya)
    • Not allowed to build new places of worship (but Muslims were allowed to destroy any place of worship they wished)
    • Not allowed to recite prayers aloud, least Muslims hear them.
    • Not allowed to publicly display their religious literature.
    • Not allowed to publicly display religious symbols
    • Had to always walk to the left of Muslims
    • Had to stand and give a Muslim their seat
    • Wear special clothes
    • Remove their shoes whilst walking near a Mosque
    • Never hit a Muslim (though a Muslim could hit them)
    • Never build their houses higher than a Muslim house
    • Not ride a horse
    • Not bear arms
    • Could not testify against a Muslim

    If these Dhimmi laws were broken the offender was regarded as no longer a protected person and they reverted to the status of infidel, which meant they lost all legal rights, could have their property confiscated and might be summarily killed.

    These laws were in effect in varying degrees of severity in every Muslim controlled area. They were even enforced in the supposedly tolerant society of Moorish Spain which still applied the jizya tax - and as far as Moghul controlled India.

    Under Islamic Shari’ah law, non-believers – Christians and Jews anyway – are permitted to live as long as they support Islam through their Dhimmi taxes and are willing to accept what amounts to a third- or fourth-class servile existence, always subject to pogroms, false accusations and ill treatment. Dhimmis always live in fear.

    “Unfortunately, the so-called "tolerance" and "protection" alluded to was afforded only upon submission to Islamic domination by a "Pact"--or Dhimma--which imposed degrading and discriminatory regulations. The main principles of dhimmitude were (and continue to be): (i) the inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis; (ii) the social and economic discrimination against the dhimmis; (iii) the humiliation and vulnerability of the dhimmis. Moreover, Ms. Menocal seems to be totally unaware of the dire consequences for infidel dhimmis in Muslim Spain who rebelled against the repressive Dhimma: slaughter of the rebels, and enslavement of their women and children.”

  26. Macon- I am really sorry that I have led to a total derailment of your original post, which I think is an important and valid point to discuss.

    I should have known not to feed the trolls...

    Oh, and Ana, even in the virulently Islamophobic websites you cite to (as opposed to academic sources as I requested), I don't see any mention of rape, murder, or forced conversion as you indicated in your initial posting. And btw, some of the websites you cite go on to disprove the quotes that you pulled from them by reference to actual history and Islamic theology, so you may want to actually read something before you link to it.

    I'm done with this topic, not going to respond anymore.

  27. I can't add much as I agree with your post, Macon. I do have a hilarious take on it, though, when I see or hear it. Take, for instance, when I hear someone say they are half-this and half-that (white ethnicities). I basically reply with the simple phrase of "so, you're white" with a deadpan face. It's like a kick in the gut when they realize that they've explained nothing.

  28. @honeybrown1976 oh that's mean... nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage...

    my take on your thing is... I'm East Asian... my partner is South Asian if we have kids, they'll just be Asian lol even though East Asians and South Asians are significantly different, we are seen as just one "race"

  29. Let me know when blacks, are ready to apologize and pay reparations to the Khoisan for your ancestors having nearly exterminated them.

    If you take a long, objective look at history, you’ll realize that history is all about superior groups conquering (and sometimes, exterminating) inferior ones. This tendency is common to all of humanity (and indeed, to all living things) and is not exclusive to the white race. If you’re still alive today, you can be sure it’s because your ancestors at some point mercilessly crushed a competing group (either that, or they got lucky).

    There’s no reason for whites to feel guilty for being more successful at the game of survival than others. If blacks had had the means to colonize the world the way whites did, I’m sure they would have done so without hesitation, and they probably would have done it with a lot less compassion. All this talk about whites being uniquely evil and so on is just sour grapes from a bunch of sore losers.

  30. Macon, I'm sorry but this is one post I can't get behind. Usually your blog is brilliant and entertaining, and something I regularly link to because you explain things to people better than I ever could. However, this post demonstrates your ignorance as a white and presumably Christian male.

    Do you really think Jews have it as easy as your typical Christian Euromutt from the white suburbs? I think you really need to open your eyes. You can say that some Jews have no defining characterstics that would say "Jew", but there are plenty of them with coloring, hair, and yes even noses, that set them apart and make them open season.

    Arab Americans are another example. They're white, but would you really say they don't experience racism? What about those of us who look white but have mixed backgrounds and names that aren't exactly "John" and "Mary"?

    I think you need to open your eyes to the fact that racism is more than hatred of those who check a box other than "white". It extends to anyone who isn't a WASP. You'll never have to worry about whether your kid's name is "too Jewish" or if they'll get made fun of for a traditional Tater name. You'll never find an ethnic slur spray painted on your house of worship or be 'too brown" for the WASPy types at work. You don't have to worry about chemically straightening your "wild" hair and covering up your freckles and white skin (ethnic features of Irish women)in order to get more than an entry level job.

    Sorry for rambling about but my point is: just because one group has it worse, that doesn't erase everything else that's part of the problem.

  31. @honeybrown1976
    I hope you're joking because it's not ok to trample someone's heritage like that. Why not ask "And what does that mean to you?" It's much more effective to put people on the spot and get them to actually think about what they're saying and doing. There's a big difference between actually feeling connected to the culture(s) you come from, and just using the works as decorations.

  32. Cloudy said,

    Macon, I'm sorry but this is one post I can't get behind. . . . Do you really think Jews have it as easy as your typical Christian Euromutt from the white suburbs?

    Where did I say in the post that they do?

    Arab Americans are another example. They're white, but would you really say they don't experience racism?

    Of course not. I also wouldn't say that all or even most Arab Americans are taken as "white."

    Sorry for rambling about but my point is: just because one group has it worse, that doesn't erase everything else that's part of the problem.

    I'm a little confused -- what's the "one group" here that has it worse?

    I don't deny the reality of ongoing discrimination against certain ethnicities, but I can see how this post could do more to acknowledge that reality. At the same time, and more to the point of the post, I also think that a lot of people who are usually perceived as white identify more with their ethnicities instead, thereby overlooking and even denying their white privilege. Pointing that out doesn't necessarily amount to a denial of discrimination leveled against some "white ethnics."

  33. Macon said,

    "Where did I say in the post that they do?"

    You say it when you use "I'm not white, I'm Jewish" as an example without question.

    "Of course not. I also wouldn't say that all or even most Arab Americans are taken as "white.""

    The US Census considers them white. It's a flawed system, and there are many ethnicities that don't really fit anywhere. The lines aren't always so clear as to who is white vs nonwhite.

    "I'm a little confused -- what's the "one group" here that has it worse?"

    A hypothetical placeholder for any groups whose experiences you consider more "legit"

    "At the same time, and more to the point of the post, I also think that a lot of people who are usually perceived as white identify more with their ethnicities instead, thereby overlooking and even denying their white privilege. Pointing that out doesn't necessarily amount to a denial of discrimination leveled against some "white ethnics."

    Actually, it does. White priveledge includes a perceived "normalcy" in society and ability to mix with other whites as if you were one of them. You can benefit from white priveledge in some areas and still be affected by the system that creates it.

    Believe me, I do understand what you're saying. How can someone with a white look and a white name even think of saying that they face as many challenges as, say, an East Asian person who looks East Asian and has a traditional name? They can't, the experiences are totally different. However, that doesn't mean they they feel accepted into white society, and it doesn't mean that they can't relate far more to POC than Bob Smith from WASPburbia.

  34. Cloudy, are you serious?

    Where in my post was I trampling on one's ethnicity? In this country, let's be quite frank, most white ethnicities are only connected in name, not actual culture. I'm more Irish than the average white American claiming Irish ancestry and I'm half-black (my father was actually born in Ireland).

    Furthermore, in this country, does it really make a difference that someone's Irish, German, or Italian, when they all benefit from white privilege? No. As mentioned in the post, focusing on an ethnicity is a way of separating themselves from that privilege. In the end, it really doesn't matter.

  35. While I tend to agree with Honeybrown1976 on most points here, I think the issue might be one of talking past each other.

    Some white people I know have no ethnicity whatsoever besides "white" and "American." Others have a very rich ethnicity that they are much more firmly tied to in customs and culture than they are to what we think of as white culture or American culture. On the other hand, the Italians I know who are most firmly attached to Italian culture do not celebrate Columbus Day. Italians have a crapload of their own holidays and celebrate those! It's a bit generalizing to say all white people assimilate into the same white American ethnicity-- some work hard to maintain their cultural heritage.

    But the point-- and I think the point Cloudy is missing here-- is that that isn't really important to this issue. The point is that ethnicity belongs in discussions of ethnicity and race belongs in discussions of race. Sure, there are some discussions where the intersection of the two come up, but we're not talking about those. We're talking about people trying to excuse themselves from white privilege by claiming that their ethnicity is their race. And that's just not so. Their race is still white and they still experience white privilege.

    For all of the times where I, as an ethnic white, feel like white people who are part of that monolithic white American culture condescend toward me, I still benefit from white privilege. White privilege still applies to me. I'm still white and claiming my ethnicity doesn't excuse me from trying to face up to that.

    That's why I feel like even though I don't agree fully with Honeybrown1976's assessment of ethnicity, I do agree with her on the basic point-- if you're talking about race, white people are white and their ethnicity doesn't give them a free pass to ignore privilege.

  36. Pistolia said

    "But the point-- and I think the point Cloudy is missing here-- is that that isn't really important to this issue. The point is that ethnicity belongs in discussions of ethnicity and race belongs in discussions of race."

    Actually, yes it does. They way we define races is a clumbsy system developed by white people to distance themself from those different to them. To fully examine racism, you need to examine race and ethnicity. Why is all of Asia grouped together. Why are Asians groups with Pacific Islanders? The lines between races are arbitrary. Italians, Irish, Jews, and other "ethnic whites" do have a history of racism because in the past they were not considered white. We need to examine why these groups came to be considered white and what impact this still has on their place in society.

    Take for example names. It's been proven that "ethnic" names are far less likely to be chosen for a job (for example) than John Smith. Ula and Siobhan are going to have a more difficult time than Brian and Kathleen, even though all four names are Irish in origin. Xenophobia is racist in nature. It's a fear of what's different than the accepted norm, which in the US is the WASP archetype. No one's afraid of a typical English name because that's clearly white, it's familiar. But toss in a whiteness that isn't standard white and people with show their true colors.

    Racism does not always wear a white hood and burn crosses. Sometimes it lurks in the shadows and clings to an ideal of a "pure white" and looks down at 'impurity". The ethnic whites who experience discrimination are not discriminated because they're an entirely different race, but because they're not white enough. And discriminating against someone who does not pass the test for "white enough"... is racist.

  37. Without the sort of ethnic "pride" nonsense promoted by "progressives" in the sixties, Columbus Day would never have happened. It was enacted as an add-on to another Federal bill.
    Now that we're all used to a long weekend in October, nobody wants to give it up, so people try to rename it. The Italians should never have been so insecure to ask for this day in the first place. Needing holidays and heroes is pitiful.

  38. Can you accept the possibility that a person can get white privilege and still not be white? I mean, I'm a lesbian and I get straight privilege all the time, until I say I'm a lesbian. That doesn't mean I'm straight. It just means I pass. It's the same with being Jewish. I'm fully aware that I look white (um, except when everybody else in the room is white, at which time it suddenly becomes painfully obvious that I am of the Hebrews). I am also aware that I have been the beneficiary of white middle class privilege because my great-grandparents and grandparents (and so many like them) worked hard to assimilate to American culture, and had an easier time blending in than their darker co-immigrants because they *could* pass. But the fact is that I am not white, I am Jewish.

    That so many of us "white-looking," "European" Jews have been slaughtered for *not* being white and for *not* really being European makes me feel even more uncomfortable with being assigned that label. "Whiteness" is not just about the present condition; it's about the past. I will own to some complicity in the present system in which I receive privilege because of how I appear at first glance, and in which I may contribute to the oppression of others, and I understand my responsibility to acknowledge that and to work to change it. But I come to that understanding *as a Jew*, not as a white person. I will not accept the burden or the responsibility for the majority of the baggage that comes with being "white" in America. I will not take responsibility for slavery, for the slaughter of the native Americans, for the exploitation and oppression of countless other groups in this country's history - because while America was busy abducting and enslaving people, fighting wars over the right to own human beings, and lynching freed men, my own people were over in Europe, trying not to get burned, raped and slaughtered precisely because they were not white Europeans. So thanks for the offer, white guy, but that's a club I'd rather not join.

  39. Also... race v. ethnicity is such a loaded conversation; race is something that's pinned on you by others, whereas ethnicity is something with which you self-identify. My ethnicity is that I'm Jewish. My race? Well... to people of color and to a small fraction of white people, I'm probably white. But to the majority of white people, mostly my race is going to be Jew, or Semitic, or Hebrew. So how "white" does it make me if the people who most often assign whiteness to me are the people who are not really in a place to confer privileged status? I absolutely don't mean that in a disparaging way - what I mean is that privilege can really only be conferred by the people who have it, and I don't think that most white Americans - and hell, CERTAINLY not most white Europeans - are quite ready to say that Jews are "one of them."

  40. 'racism is more than hatred of those who check a box other than "white". It extends to anyone who isn't a WASP' (Cloudy)
    To a Euro it would seem that 'American' used to mean WASP or someone willing and able to assimilate to WASP.
    White groups that for some reason or other failed to do this were not quite American, they were 'ethnic'. Because the dominant ethnicity is not ethnic just like the dominant race is not a race and male is not a gender.
    But this has changed and white people are now claiming their ethnicity since they have nothing to lose by being non-WASP, on the contrary. 'The [insert ethnicity] are Not Really White' used to be an insult, now it's a defense.


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