Monday, January 16, 2006

White as in blank

Have you ever noticed that white is the only non-ethnicity? Here in America we're always talking about ethnicity and ethnic groups, and what we mean are non-whites. Now, properly, we would consider white an ethnic group, but in common usage, ethnicity refers to having some racial uniqueness that sets you apart from white. We talk about "having an ethnicity" when we mean "being non-white."

Being white isn't celebrated like other ethnicities are. Granted, the rationale for this is that whiteness is so ingrained in our national consciousness, that the blacks and the hispanics and everyone else needs to take specific effort to celebrate their heritage. But every once in a while, i get the feeling that by being white i must have missed out on something.

White is default. White is plain. White means you're not everything else. Granted, we know it means we came from Europe. But i feel no identification with Europe, as it seems blacks might with Africa, or latinos might with Latin america. White means there's nothing unique about you. White means you have no rich cultural heritage to contribute to the mix.

I know to a non-white american, it may seem like all of american history is celebrating a white heritage, since all of our founding fathers were white (that i know of), and many of the people who shaped our nation over the years were white. But as a white person, i don't see the celebration of these events and people as having anything to do with whiteness. I don't look to George Washington as one of my white forefathers, i look at him as an american leader. I don't even think about the fact that we're both white.

So if you allow that american history is not a celebration of whiteness, we have to acknowledge that there is no such celebration (other than maybe Oktoberfest or St. Patrick's day, neither of which celebrate all of white ethnicity and neither of which seem to be very influential). Maybe it's because there are so many of us that "whiteness" isn't strong enough to unite us. We define ourselves by our generations, our religions and denominations, our sub-cultures, our music or recreation preferences, our political views.

Honestly, being white isn't that important to me. I grew up hearing about what it meant to be a Christian, or whate it meant to be an American, or what it meant to be a member of my particular denomination. I never heard about what it meant to be white, or how i should honor my white heritage or anything. But sometimes i wish that somehow being white would be just as special as being Chinese. We rightly celebrate the way non-whites diversify and add richness to our American culture. But don't we as whites add something too? Surely we are more than just the water base for the stew, the blank canvas that all the other ethnicities add character to.

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