Whiteness & racism

Check your heritage

In the comments thread on this article, one person asked if being proud of her Eastern European heritage was an instance of White privilege. I had a rummage around in this idea:

I can’t feel proud of being White, because I still benefit from the legacy of imperialism and ongoing White supremacy. ‘White pride’ is a problem because it must be either ahistorical (and thus untenable to justify as a link to heritage) or overtly supremacist.

However, I love heritage and I feel affection for the area I come from, and have made occasional efforts to explore the local dialect, food and traditions. This is an act of archaeology because that microculture is dissolving into a more mobile and interconnected contemporary world! The increasing obscurity only makes it more fascinating to me. I’m also interested in and enjoy British heritage more widely – even aspects of it that are problematic for my own beliefs, like stately homes and estates. I love to visit the gardens of Chatsworth, even though I hate the inequality that allowed its creation.

When I think about being British, I feel shame for some things and pride for others. I can’t stand the sight of my country’s flag, because of all the suffering and injustice meted out under it over the centuries. At the same time, I love many things about this country and its people and I celebrate them. One of those things is cultural diversity. British pride is revolting when it excludes non-Whites, even though non-White people have been part of the population for over two thousand years. I’d say I feel a qualified pride, and a qualified sense of belonging. I try to engage with my heritage critically and with a historical sense, and above all rejecting the ridiculous, racist image of Britishness as White.

White privilege might be tangled in cultural heritage, but it’s not the same thing. Celebrating your own identity in a way that doesn’t erase or denigrate others must be an enrichment to your own life, and to others too. When you celebrate your Whiteness, you’re flaunting privilege, but your culture is not defined by Whiteness; we are all more than the narrow racial construction of ourselves.

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