Sunday, March 27, 2011

An addition to multi-culturalism: deconstructing "whiteness" into component nationalities

I think that doing so in education would take the wind out of the sails of one of the arguments that folks opposing multicultural education have, that is to say that it lets everyone else but white people celebrate their selves. The argument that says, in relation to the fact that there's black history month but not white history month, that every other month is white history month hits the mark in many but not all ways, since most folks don't learn anything about the history of Europe whatsoever. Instead, "white america" and "white culture" as the defacto American culture are covered in general history without much mention of the actual cultures that went in to make this generic aggregate actually consisted of, and consist of. Folks who are white who are somehow threatened by people liking their ancestors would surely feel better about it if they saw themselves how linking up with history, unpacking the term "white" in relation to them and instead looking at what it really consisted of, can give you a better sense of self. It makes perfect sense, if you do it yourself, why someone, on top of combatting oppression, would want to preserve and celebrate their culture if they're a minority.

Of course it's possible that awareness of ancestry and of how your folks got the the U.S. why, where from, could be used as a front for racism, but by taking the contentious ideas of "white vs... " whatever ethnicity you want to put in their out of it, and substituting instead actual historical countries and peoples, a lot of that seems to be diffused. Of course, just because an individual does this in relation to themselves doesn't mean that, as a whole, the category of "white" in America and of "white americans" ceases to exist. There are benefits and privileges people who are white in America get that other folks do not, and there are big penalties that people from non-white cultures get that white americans do not, and all of them have historical reasons why they're in place.

Taking "white" out of it doesn't negate any of this, but instead adds twists to the story, and most importantly makes the idea of multi-culturalism, to those who are so inclined to think of it this way, as something other than a zero sum game where it's "us", threatened white americans, against "them", scary nonwhite minority individuals.

I wouldn't mind seeing textbooks include a paragraph on Irish history, English history, Italian, Polish, German, in order to represent the actual heritage of the people who are now called "white", who are thought to be an isolated people that just appeared one day and that have no history.

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