Self-identifying and organizing by race - except for whites

I used to condemn any form of organization by race. A union of hispanic engineering students or east asian plumbers seemed to me at the least silly and at the worst harmful to race relations. I could never see how the color of one’s skin should be relevant to anything except the color of shirts one wears. In principle this stemmed from my Catholic upbringing, which stressed that we are all created in the image of God, etc. and historically the church has always been, well, catholic (universal) in its approach to humanity. And for practical purposes, I would have maintained that racism will only ever die when the category “race” dies and people stop thinking in those terms.

But now that I am an atheist, all bets are off. I am in a sort of moral/ethical vacuum.

Without Christian principle prejudicing me, just viewing the world as it is, I see that people tend to like to be around people like themselves. When given the opportunity to freely associate, such as when they choose where to live, what church to attend, or where to sit in school lunchrooms, race will be a significant factor in those choices for many. Is that racism? What is wrong with wanting to be around people with whom you share a common heritage/ancestry, a common language (or dialect), common fashions, taste in music, and body language?

Ok. But then we have groups who form along these lines and become active in trying to initiate change which is beneficial specifically to that group, with disregard for other groups. Student organizations, political organizations, charities which selectively help only certains races, etc. In the past, I would have said such things are ultimately more harmful and perpetuate the friction between the races. Now … i don’t know.

So two questions:

(1) Is it ok for people for organize by race? e.g., unions of hispanic engineering students or east asian plumbers. If no, why not?

(2) If so, is it ok for white people to similarly self identify and organize along those lines? If no, why not?

Because, American/Western/global history being what it is, there’s no equivalency. As Malcolm X put it, “When a white man says, ‘I’m white,’ he really means, ‘I’m boss.’”

it’s ok for people to organize around anything they want, but “white” isn’t really analogous to something like “Hispanic” or Jewish," because it doesn’t really mean anything. “White” is not an ethnicity or a culture. There’s nothing to share. I think a more accurate caucasian analogue to groups like that would be organizations based on some more specific identification – Irish, or Italian or Lutheran, for instance – something more meaningful than “not dark-skinned.” It’s hard for that to be anything but stupid.

What about White American then? (meaning United States American) Are we saying that Black Americans in general have more in common with each other than White Americans do?

How about Hispanic Americans, which may be from such disparate places as Mexico and Argentina. They have more in common than culturally than White Americans?

Actually I will grant that from a certain perspective, organizing by whites as “white” is pointless. The other groups see themselves as distinguished from the “mainstream” culture. Whites (and everyone else) see the mainstream culture as identical with white American culture.

But that white American culture does exist. This amusing site would not make any sense if it didn’t.

But the observation about its pointlessness is different from the condemnation that ensues when whites actually organize. Whites are forbidden to organize as such. And, oddly, it is the very mainstream white culture which such organizing would focus around which does the condemning. Is such condemnation defensible?

There’s a need for “organize by race” for cultural purposes, (something I think should be more transcendent to the masses’s, and not sugar-coated either). You can be white and go to the Italian Fest, or celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Historically, I would say they do, though I think this is becoming less true now. “White American” doesn’t really mean much more than “white.” Black Americans have had enough shared history and legacy in America as slave descendants, and as being treated a certain way by the rest of America that their commonalities are more than just skin color (which is not the case for white Americans). I think this is becoming less true with the influx of more and more African immigrants, though.

Only to the extent that any commonality at all is more than zero. There is no such thing as “White American Culture.”

I would also say that Hispanic in America have a commonality just by virtue of being collectively categorized as essentially interchangeable by white Americans, and face some shared issues and challneges.

White Americans per se have no commonality but skin color.

This is true. But isn’t it also true that, generally speaking, 4th generation Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans will have more in common with each other (culturally) than with actual Italians and Irish? So it makes more sense for them to identify with an overseas culture than with each other?

Forbidden by who? Cite? No one is forbidden to organize around any principle they want in the US. That doesn’t mean any principle is entitled to respect by others.

Can you name a group which has organized around nothing but being white which was not explicitly racist?

It makes sense to understand culture as a whole…
I’ve got German in me, and I’m not defined by it, however it’s good to know where certain certain groups of people went wrong; Or where they went right. I guess I’m saying people shouldn’t forget the past. Each group has their own flavor, and their own mistakes. That’s not to say we aren’t equal in the ‘now’.

Most of those kinds of organizations started as immigrants’ groups, and are now perpetuated by tradition and a sense of cultural heritage that some people want to preserve. I think that the specific ethnic identification of these groups becomes less important the more generations removed people become from their immigrant forbears, and are little more than social clubs at this point. They’re not identifying more with their ethnic heritages than their American ones, just making an effort not to forget them completely.

I think that political and religious identifications have become more strident and significant than ethnic ones these days.


I know this is something of a hijack, but this particular statement does not need to be true, and probably is not true of most atheists. I do applaud your efforts to think about moral issues for yourself, rather than taking in received doctrine without question.

For myself, I don’t see a moral issue here. It is not surprising to want to organize with people with whom you are comfortable associating. There may, of course, be moral issues in what the people in that organization decide to do with the increased strength of their numbers. A private club solely for the purpose of socializing - no problem, and I don’t care how irrational or restrictive the membership rules are. As soon as the organization steps out of the private sphere, or takes any actions that infringe on the legitimate rights of others, then you have moral issues.

In other words, the ethics of groups is pretty much the same as the ethics of an individual person, mostly because groups are just associations of individuals, and whatever group dynamics may be playing out, each individual is responsible for their own participation in any immoral act.

Americans, often white Americans, do congregate plenty when living or traveling abroad. Often at places dubbed with American names, or even ‘Irish’ pubs. As with ethnic minorities in the US or Western Europe, they form networks and even help one another out with jobs or housing despite having nothing in common but a mother country. Some newcomers want nothing to do with their ‘own kind,’ of course, preferring to launch themselves full force into the local culture (with varying levels of success). It’s a bit harder to justify, I imagine, once you’ve got three or more generations born and then thriving in the country.

I find it sociologically fascinating how immigrants move to a new country, then fight quite hard against their children becoming completely assimilated.

The explanation is that white culture is American culture. Mainstream culture is by default representative of the white majority. Minority groups however have common interests that are distinct.

If a minority group bands together it can have the legitimate goal of making sure its interests are not ignored by the majority. But a majority group doesn’t need to band together to protect itself - it’s protected by being the majority.

That’s not White American culture. That’s hipster culture, a lifestyle practiced by a tiny minority of affluent people, not all of whom are white. I really wish that site had a different name.

Well, if Malcolm said it, it must be true. Every time I say that I’m white, I catch myself secretly chuckling about how what I really mean is that I’m the boss.

This is an interesting question. Sort of a re-phrasing of my original question.

Why is it automatically considered racist when whites express any concern at all about the interests of whites but it is not racist for other groups to aggressively campaign for their own benefits?

It is not enough to point out that it is somewhat silly to campaign for whites’ benefits given that whites are already so much better off in the aggregate.

For instance, suppose I start an organization whose purpose is to help white kids who are struggling in school. Well, there are in fact thousands of white kids who are struggling in school. What’s wrong with helping them? Nothing, of course. It’s that I am singling out white kids that would bug people–even if they are in fact needy.

But if I did the same for blacks or latinos, most people would think nothing of it.
You know, the more I think about this today, the more I am leaning towards my old position of “any discrimination by race is silly and probably harmful for everyone in the long run”.

Well, any group that is organized around nothing but being a member of a given race is racist.