I was recently amused to learn that Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has taken it upon themselves to define ‘whiteness‘. My first thought was, surprisingly, from the leftist parlance: cultural appropriation. My next thought: Please tell me no Anglo-Saxon-themed museum has responded to this by defining ‘blackness.’ Yet, however ill-conceived or ill-fated this attempt to define may prove, my knee-jerk reaction to it was ultimately unbefitting of the attempt’s gravity. Like individuals in Sherlock’s presence, a great deal of useful information can be extrapolated from them, despite the fact that it is not the information they hoped to convey.
Perhaps the most visceral part of the definition, a graphic titled ‘Aspects and Assumptions of White Culture in the United States,’ has very recently been removed. Thankfully, I had a suspicion that this might occur, so I saved it in order to reproduce it here under Fair Use. You may find it at the end of this post.
To summarize that graphic, it defines the main aspects of whiteness as: individualism, the nuclear family, the Scientific Method, Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian/European culture, Protestant work ethic, and (paraphrasing to condense) capitalist ambition/competition.
Despite the fact that there is nothing controversial or surprising within these aspects, I found myself having to re-read them several times. After all, I was not reading a web page by a white supremacist group–this was produced by an organization rather the opposite (one hopes, anyway). So why, when I was expecting to be chastised or at least criticized for my ‘whiteness,’ was I being complimented at every turn? I considered and quickly ruled out that I was being patronized. No, the authors are quite sincere. The plain fact of it is that the NMAAHC meant for me to feel critiqued by these aspects. To them, these aspects are insults. Cue Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown.’
Rather than laud any of these aspects–seeing as how they have already been so thoroughly explained and defended in Tarnas’s Passion of the Western Mind, Pontynen and Miller’s Western Culture at the American Crossroads, and (less intellectually but more viscerally) in the cultural triptych formed by the King James Bible, the Complete Shakespeare, and the Lives of Plutarch–I would like to briefly dwell on their opposite or alternative. I would render this list as: collectivist, unscientific, anti-work and/or anti-goal-oriented, pagan, socialistic, no emphasis on the value of time in accordance with its finite nature (RIP supply & demand), group AKA mob or vigilante ‘justice,’ and devoid of logico-literary-communication.
Now, perhaps it is just me, but when I stare at the list of anti-‘whiteness’ aspects we’ve just constructed, it seems to me that we have merely described the Bronze Age. Now, I have nothing against that Age objectively. Subjectively I would only return to it kicking and screaming. But objectively I suppose I’m glad it happened, what with the linearity of time. I’m not going to dwell on this Bronze Age issue much more, because I don’t want to strawman the NMAAHC by pretending they are calling for the opposite of their ‘whiteness.’ Certainly they are not, because by their own definition of ‘whiteness,’ American museums themselves are arguably a product of ‘whiteness’, and thus they as an institution would have to disband in order to accomplish their own strawman-goal. Since they have not, we may assume that is not their goal (unless they are blatant hypocrites).
None-the-less, the fact remains that they are either:
- passive-aggressively critiquing the aspects of ‘whiteness’ without providing viable alternatives
- or, implying the alternatives to ‘whiteness’ by defining ‘whiteness’ and leaving one to imagine its opposites as we just have.
In the first case, they would effectively be those pseudo-revolutionaries who know how to destroy with no intention or ingenuity to create afterwards. In the second case, they would be akin to what I can only render as Rousseauian primitivists–viewing the Bronze Age as more romantic than the USA’s present situation, while lacking the character to voluntarily abandon their present situation ala the Amish, or Chris McCandless, or immigration to another country closer to their ideal. I will go no further in psychoanalyzing them, since it is impossible to narrow down which option is more likely from afar.
Besides, these two possibilities are roughly comparable in the following sense. The first is like a petulant child that breaks but cannot fix; the second is like a petulant child that dreams but will not do. Both, in adults, are states of spiritual dwarfism, reeking of the resentment that Nietzsche lampooned as:
You preachers of equality, the tyrannomania of impotence clamors thus out of you for equality: your most secret ambitions to be tyrants thus shroud themselves in words of virtue.
Actually, pagan Nietzsche perhaps doesn’t go far enough. I believe there is another quote more consistent with the latent resentfulness herein, when one considers the absolute havoc that would portend a Bronze Age-ified United States:
So farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear,
Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good…
That, of course, is Milton’s Lucifer speaking.
It dawns on me that this is probably why the political pendulum is never static for long. The Rightwing in power becomes a trite broken record, fretting over how to endlessly Conserve values when those values have no valid threats. The Leftwing, on the other hand, develops a moral panic or maladaptive perfectionism that ultimately eats itself, because Progress’ing eventually becomes the sole value, even when it calls for Progress’ing away from crucial victories already attained. Thus those who wholly depend upon and exist by virtue of, say, free markets or scientific methodology or Justice Systems (Hobbes’ Leviathan?), come to feel very clever indeed when critiquing those things as though they can do better, without having demonstrated even the slightest evidence that they can in fact do so. This is perhaps, as the Brits say, on the tin, since ‘Critical Theory’ suggests the pitiable state of being a critic…
A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.
-Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
In parting, I would like to concede the following.
1. I do not believe that the presence of melanin or lack-thereof can actually/literally/Objectively be assigned any metaphysical quality. In other words, in the same way that I do not believe a black Labrador has ‘blackness’ beyond the fact that it is colored black, or that a white Labrador has ‘whiteness’ beyond that fact that it is colored white, I do not believe that much of anything is conveyed by the coloration of human beings beyond the utility of ‘look at that white guy over there’ or ‘look at that black guy over there.’
2. Insomuch as one disagrees with #1, I consider one to be bigoted, regardless of what coloration they are pretending to elaborate upon.
3. However, insomuch as the NMAAHC’s description of ‘whiteness’ could be accurate if they were correct–I would admittedly be proud to have or be that ‘whiteness.’
4. Yet, seeing as how this ‘whiteness’ is obviously a metaphysical construct separate from mere unalterable coloration, one must concede that these are qualities any person could potentially possess, meaning it is a matter of character rather than ‘race,’ and thus should not be called ‘whiteness’ (unless one wishes to reference the Biblical use of whiteness as symbolic of innocence and/or redemption).
5. Insomuch as the NMAAHC has made any person whom is not ‘racially’ white feel that they are disqualified or less qualified to achieve the aforementioned characteristics of ‘whiteness,’ I consider them to be a net negative upon humanity that ought to cry themselves to sleep each night in shame.
6. This recent collective resurgence of racial obsession is just a byproduct of the economic ruination caused by the coronavirus lockdown. Per historical norms, the lower classes are beginning to blame and scapegoat one another for the ruin brought upon them by their upperclass overlords. Insomuch as anyone perpetuates this blame-game, I find it stunning and regrettable that you were the quickest sperm.