Is there a "White" culture?

I have been attending an anti racism seminar for the past few days. Most of what is being said is a general rehash of what I’ve already learned from previous sessions. But today we talked a little bit about cultural racism, and in essence, what culture means. Not ground-breaking stuff. But the instructor said something that did give me pause. Most of what I’ve heard (and only somewhat agree with) is that there is no white culture; we’re too far removed from our European ancestors to have maintained many of those traditions. What he said though, is that white culture is power and privilege. He is tying our history of institutional racism and race prejudice into what he calls our culture.
Thoughts? Is there such a thing as a white culture? If so, how would you define it?

To the extent that there is a “white” culture in the U.S., it is going to be just the general recognition that whites have dominated society from the beginning and whatever culture exists, now–itself, the result of numerous immigrations by other groups who assimilated into the nation while bringing their own customs that were adopted by the next generation of Americans–would be “white.” (How long that condition will last is unclear.)

There are a number of “American” traits that most fully assimilated descendants of immigrants tend to display. The famous/notorious spirit of individuality, strongly supported by numerous American myths would be one aspect of it. Attitudes of both social and physical mobility would be another characteristic. Certain attitudes toward work, leisure, diet, religious belief, and education would be included. To the extent that any not-yet-fully assimilated ethnic or cultural group did not share the same attitudes, that would tend to leave them as “white” cultural traits, (even when the immigrant group is, itself, white, if not yet fully assimilated).


I think this will not end well if you share what you really think.

I’ve always thought the term “white” was an ignorant one. Just as a friend of mine pointed out, she was insulted when people called her “Hispanic”. She said, there is no such place as “Hispania” and she appreciated people recognizing her true culture. Being me - I quickly lobbed that right back at her, pointing out the number of times she used the term “white” to describe people like me. I told her that we’re Irish, Scottish, Italian, German, etc and that most of us (in the U.S.) are a mixture of cultures, but that those cultures are a part of who we re and of what informs our views of the World. So, to answer your question - No, there is no “white” culture. There are, however groups lumped together to form what some people believe is white culture. In my opinion, it remains a term of ignorance. My skin color neither shapes my views nor does it inform my opinions. It may make others treat me differently, but my culture comes from within my family and their traditions - not from other people’s ignorance of that fact.

I’ll take that chance.

I think that white culture in the US does exist, albeit cloaked as “American” values. There are very definite customs and beliefs about religion, work ethic, acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors, etc. And yes, it is also inextricably bound to white privilege and power (though I do understand that many white people in America feel individually powerless, I do believe that our institutions are set up to benefit white males and, to a lesser extent, white females). It is not culture in the sense if an ethnic identity, but I do believe that it meets the general definition if culture. I was never so aware of the unconscious values I held until I spent a year living overseas, among people who did not share them.

In the USA, there are many white cultures.

The cultural differences among the people of Italian ancestry from New Jersey, the Kansas wheat farmer, the Montana rancher and the Stanford professer who surfs on weekends are vast. Many times, there is more commonality with others of different races but of the same religion, politics, vocation and locale.

And no, not all of us are rich or racist. One of the poorest areas of the country is eastern Kentucky and it is somewhere around 97% caucasian.

I’m sure this will come as a no surprise to the people of Appalachia who have enjoyed so much wealth and power over the years.

I think your instructor was being overly-simplistic and stupid. They’re the kind of person that give actual racists ammunition for the whole “whites are being threatened” crap. They’ve identified one cultural group that, yes, is largely a function of racial background here in the US and then applied culture as a racial distinction where it isn’t.

African-American Culture is more specifically an outgrowth of Sahalean cultures (not the majority of Africans, then or now) mashed together through the slave trade and filtered through shared experiences. But it’s no more African than “white” culture in America is German or English.

And discussing white culture is itself problematic. Because the Hollywood producer isn’t going to have much in common with a coal miner in West Virginia. They speak different dialects, eat different foods, dress differently, ect. But they’re both white, so it’s all the same culture for your instructor?

America is less melting pot and more of a “salad bowl.” When discussing culture in the US (or any large nation, really) it’s a game of subdividing. There’s American culture, sure. And you can break that into subcultures. And those subcultures can be broken down, and so on. Even when talking in very broad strokes like African-American culture you encounter problems. Not every black person in the US is going to share the same subcultures.

I think its absurd to say that, and just an attempt to make white people sound bad.

What is white culture? I don’t know for sure, however the fact that we do not maintain European traditions does not mean we have no culture.

White culture is mostly a mixture of middle class suburban lifestyles, consumption as a means to an end, american culture, various genres of humor (Seinfeld, Family Guy, Friends, the Daily Show, etc can all be considered white humor) which are not the same as British humor, etc. I’m sure there are a lot of other traits. If anything, I’d be interested to hear more about white culture to see what aspects I’ve been taking for granted rather than realizing they are just part of a particular subculture.

Claiming your (general you, not you personally) group doesn’t have a culture is sort of like claiming your group doesn’t have an accent. It isn’t true, but it can seem that way to the individual because if you’re in the majority/dominant group then your culture and your accent are considered mainstream and are familiar to nearly everyone in your society. You’ll rarely have to explain the quaint traditions of your people or repeat yourself because others didn’t understand your pronunciation, but that’s not because your people don’t have traditions or don’t pronounce words in a particular way. It’s because the majority/dominant group is in the privileged position of having their customs, accent, etc. accepted as “normal”.

An individual member of the majority/dominant group may of course be seriously disadvantaged in other ways. It’s just that if you’re e.g. a Christian in a majority Christian country at least you’re not going to need to explain to your boss that you’d like December 25 off because it is traditional for adherents of your faith to spend this day with family in celebration of the birth of your prophet. Even if you actually are required to work on Christmas, other people – even if they’re not Christians! – will generally at least understand why this is a bummer without needing to be told that December 25 is a major religious festival for members of your faith.

As a white American person I don’t have an outsider’s perspective on white American culture, but I can recognize that there are some things that foreigners and non-white Americans do that seem “different” to me. An example off the top of my head is that while I know there are many cultures that practice arranged marriage, this is almost unheard of among white Americans. I’d be surprised and maybe even a little offended if someone assumed that my marriage would be arranged for me by my parents. So arranged marriage isn’t a part of mainstream white American culture. Just saying X isn’t part of my culture doesn’t do much to pin down what my culture is, but what do white Americans do instead of having arranged marriages? There are a lot of cultural practices surrounding courtship and marriage that just seem “normal” to me but are not universal to all human societies.

So are we to believe that every single person in the world since the dawn of time belongs or belonged to a culture except for white Americans in the last couple centuries? Through some magical aspect of American exceptionalism or space age technology, did white Americans alone break free of all cultural bonds? Or maybe did they lose them through some great level of depravity never before seen on earth?

Yeah, its sounds like BS to me too. Of course there are white American cultures, everyone has a culture whether the recognize it or not. Oh, and everyone has an accent too.

This. From small town church-goers to big city golfers to biker gangs to neo-pagan Wiccan prayer circles to Irish folk-dancing to Pismo Beach surfer dudes. All relatively (but not absolutely exclusively) white, and all relatively non-overlapping.

The real key is that we’re a free country, and people can engage in activities that may not match their ethnic origin. People who are of Italian origin can engage in Irish folk-dancing; people of Russian origin can engage in Rap music; people of Swiss origin can practice the art of Bonsai.

Who’s gonna stand in our way?

Hispania is another name for the Iberian Peninsula.

Bingo. When we’re talking about black culture, for example, we’re generally talking about it within the context of American culture rather than the world as a whole. You can’t really look at the many types of people with black skin in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America or Europe and lump them all into a distinct cultural group. African Americans are not the same as Afro-Caribbeans living in Great Britain. Likewise, whites in Germany, France and Norway are not all part of the same culture.

But it’s pretty fucking insulting for someone to define “white culture” as simply being about power and privilege. I would certainly argue that this is part of white culture as understood in America but it’s not the only part.

Hispania :).

Being as the majority of people in America would be classified as “white” then white culture is essentially the default culture of America. Essentially everyone in America lives in a white culture, regardless of what race they are, because we’re the majority.

Yeah, I know where it is.

I hope I don’t betray my race by acting outside the boundaries defined to me by the color of my skin.

Shit, one more thing to worry about.

Just reinforcing your post, not trying to correct it.

I’d add mainline/mild Evangelical (think Billy Graham not Jack Chick) Protestantism and moderate Catholicism along with car culture, sports (at all levels from little leagues to the World Series), and moral outrage politics. At the lower end of the spectrum (espeically in California beach communities) lots of partying, fornication, and drug use too.

Among the youth, professional classes, and in urban areas white culture is starting to look more like the hipster/SWPL [1] culture than the Boomer middle-class culture which peaked in the '90s and '00s. Although some aspects are obviously different, they seem to have kept moral outrage politics (albeit directed at Monsanto rather than drug dealers).

[1] Stuff White People Like,

I believe that how our country was founded, and why Europeans immigrated, is the basis by which some educators can convincingly argue that white Americans have no culture. I think it depends on how precisely we define culture. Our ancestors migrated with the hopes (and constitutionally defined ideals) of breaking with their own culture of oppression, even as they oppressed others.

My husband’s ancestors migrated from India to Malaysia. Even now, hundreds if years later, and despite conversion to Christianity, they remain grounded in some of the traditional ways if their ancestors (and to an outside like me, some of those practices and beliefs seem in direct contradiction to their deeply-held Christian values, but they make it work). There are some generally reliable assumptions that Indians can make about, for example, child-rearing practices. The only theme we seem to hold to as Americans is that we view such practice through a lens of individualism rather than collectively. We tend to believe that individual family units get to define how they raise children, and we’re horrified at the idea of judging each other.

I have a Hmong friend who expressed reluctance to allow her daughter to have sleepovers with American children. I was (and still partially am) aghast at this until I understood that she is comfortable with other Hmong families because she knows precisely what to expect. Even 3rd and 4th generation migrants who struggle with holding on to traditional values as they integrate them with their American-born children and grandchildren manage to hold on to what these traditions are (even if they choose to reject them partially or in whole). My Hmong friend told me that she could never be certain about how much parental oversight there would be, what the bedtime would be, what programs would be allowed on television, etc. I also tend to be fairly strict about what I allow my 6-year-old son access to, so I understood her concern. I was aghast that it didn’t occur to her to just ask, as I routinely do, before deciding if I’ll allow my son out of my sight unsupervised by me.