'Whiteness' Chart at the Smithsoniam Museum

There has been a story floating around on the right about a chart called, “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture in the United States.” This is a ‘woke’ chart in the Museum of African American history, so I assume it depicts what at least some on the woke left believe.

The Smithsonian has now taken down the page that showed the chart, or I’d link directly to the source. This is the page that did have the chart:

https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/whiteness

The chart was sourced to Robin DiAngelo, so maybe it’s from her book ‘White Fragility’ or another work.

Here’s a page that has an image of it so you can see it for yourself:

Anyway, the chart goes on to list the traits of ‘White People’ or ‘Whiteness’ as including:

Self Reliance
Individual Responsibility
Independence

Emphasis on the Scientific Method, including:

  • Objective, rational linear thinking
  • Quantitative emphasis
  • Cause and effect relationships

Hard work is a key to success
Work before play
Respect for Authority
Planning for the future
Delayed gratification
Follow rigid time schedules
Time is a commodity

Justice:

  • Based on English common law
  • Intent counts
  • Protect property and entitlements

Communication

  • “The King’s English” rules
  • Written tradition
  • Avoid conflict, intimacy
  • Don’t discuss personal life
  • Be polite

There are many more, but these are the ones that really stuck out at me.

So, questions:

  • Is this what the ‘woke’ left really believes? Or is this a parody, or has some context I don’t understand?

  • Isn’t assigning broad characteristics to people based on their skin color kind of racist?

  • Isn’t this grossly insulting to people who don’t have ‘whiteness’? Are we really supposed to believe that a minority employee who is polite, shows up on time or shows personal responsibility is exhibiting ‘whiteness’?

See, to me the above reads more like a list of traits that successful people have, regardless of culture or skin color. It also reads like it could have been a KKK leaflet in the 1950’s, as it’s basically the obverse of every racist stereotype of black people. If ‘Whiteness’ is all these things, then non-whites don’t have them, or shouldn’t have them. That’s exactly what the Klan used to say.

So what’s the deal with this? I’m assuming that the idea is to show examples of ‘systemic racism’, that white people are good at these things so they reward them, which puts people with other traits at a disadvantage. But ye gods, things like being on time or delaying gratification or objective rational thinking are just things that successful people do whether they live here, India, China, or the Sudan. Assigning them as ‘white’ traits seems horrific - and racist against minorities.

I’m honestly interested in hearing a defense of these ideas, because the right-wing sites discussing this obviously take the worst interpretations and magnify them. So maybe I’m making a category error in how I interpret this. Plesse explain the meaning if that’s the case.

Making assumptions based on skin color is racist.

How do you know that chart was on that page besides that one source that says it was?

I don’t know the entire context here, but my first guess is that the chart is meant to show the values that white people believe to be definitional to white culture.

Some of those things might be valued by non-white culture too, but perhaps not all of them. And white people might believe that many or all of these traits are unique to white culture.

So it’s not assigning traits to people based on their race and it’s not saying that non-white people who might have some of these traits are being white.

I don’t think you’re going to get a “defense” of them, because I don’t think anybody except perhaps some super crusted parochial archaic racists seriously and consciously believes that, say, only white people value self-reliance.

AFAICT, the point of the poster is not at all to say “These are the characteristics of white people”. Rather, the point is to say “These are the characteristics that white people tend to associate with their self-image, and that white racism tends to invoke in claiming to differentiate white people from other groups”.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the (now removed) posters:

Where did you get those screenshots from?

That rather selective quotation may be contributing to your confusion. Here are the other characteristics on the list:

You can kinda see how all of these are classic components of stereotypical white self-image in the US. No, of course that doesn’t mean that all whites or only whites in the US actually have these traits, just that they are, as the poster says, “aspects and assumptions” about being white in the US.

The poster goes on to identify “objective, rational linear thinking” and “cause and effect relationships” as “white” things that non-white people have now “internalized”.

Which certainly sounds shockingly racist. If Stephen Miller were saying these things, we’d all be nodding our heads and saying “Oh yeah, that’s White Supremacy all right!”

Other things in the poster are less complimentary to white people. The description of white “aesthetics” includes the statement that “bland is best”. It’s certainly a mess all around.

Without being an expert on the details here, it seems obvious that this is not an exclusive description of white people, but rather a description of a lot of cultural things we take for granted as being “just the way things are” when in fact they are rooted in a specific, white American culture.

Other cultures may also share some of these qualities; the poster does not pretend otherwise.

I agree, these descriptions are absolutely cringeworthy. Even more so, they are almost like an indirect insult of minority races - seemingly implying that non-white folks AREN’T those traits.

It would be like saying “The traits of black football players are speed, agility and a high vertical jump” - as if to say that athletes of other races can’t do that.

Trying to reply to Kimstu:

Other cultures might value ‘self-reliance’ less than typical Americans do, though. Relationships and reciprocity, for example, might be considered both more effective and more virtuous.

Here are some more cites to nitpick.


https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/whiteness

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article244309587.html

There are many more cites. Google helps find them. If you are interested.

It looks to me like the poster is about constructed whiteness. Whiteness was constructed just as much as other racial categories were.* And yes, it was constructed as part of white supremacism, so some of it is associating whiteness with generally positive traits. But some of it is also about how aspects of whiteness are universalized as virtues.

White people will respond to questions about whiteness or race very consistently with an appeal to individualism. In some ways, that can be good. But in many ways, it can be bad, and leads to denial of racial dynamics and institutionalized racism.

Likewise, when the whole culture is set up around the idea that intent is most important, then a person who gets victimized over and over again unintentionally has no recourse. Unconscious bias becomes no one’s responsibility.

  • There’s an excellent podcast series from Scene on Radio called “Seeing White,” which is about what whiteness is, how it was constructed, etc.

Agreed. It seems that much of the negative reaction to this amounts to “it’s racist to point out that racial stereotypes exist.” Which is false, by the way.

It’s right up there with “I don’t see color (and therefore cannot be racist).” Which is also false, by the way.

The presentation is terrible and ineffective. But there are some good and important ideas here. It’s not about whether or not the scientific method is “true”, but rather how you think the world works. And there are some huge cultural differences.

Over the years, I’ve taught a lot of Asian students, especially South Asian, and one thing I’ve gradually come to appreciate is within the terms of South Asian culture, White America is a bunch of selfish asshole parents who don’t love their kids. And there are pretty clear reasons for this:

We shut them away from adults and flip out over behaviors that are natural and normal. We put them on rigorous sleeping schedules and stick them in their own rooms when they are babies because we don’t want to be bothered with them. We leave them with strangers so we can have date nights. We don’t take them to weddings and shunt them off at Children’s Tables at holidays, like they aren’t even part of the family. We brag about a kid who takes regular naps and doesn’t bother us after bedtime, as if that was the goal the whole time.

Ironically, right when they hit the age when they need a firm hand because their mistakes matter, we abandon them. We don’t monitor their grades at school. We let them get away with crappy work when we know they could do better, because we are too lazy to sit there with them and make sure it’s done right. We let them sit around all day when they could be doing things to make their future better, safer, more secure. Instead of trying to secure a future for our kids, we talk about how pleased they are with their independence, we encourage rebelliousness. We focus, again, on what keeps them ( and us) happy at the moment, instead of worrying about the long term. We focus on innate ability (he’s just bad at math) instead of believing our children can do anything, if they work hard enough–because we don’t want to do to the work to make them.

Then, in the most critical point of their lives, we totally abandon them. We get annoyed if they are living at home past 18, because we are supposed to “get on with our lives”. We don’t save enough to send them to the best colleges, or maybe college at all: we expect them to handle it. We let them major in whatever they want. We let them date, even marry, with no guidance at all, when they are way too young to know what’s best for them, setting them and our grandchildren up for a lifetime of misery. We watch them make horrible mistakes and just let them, saying “It’s their life”. We pat ourselves on the back for letting them live their own lives, for biting our tongues, but really, mostly we are just too lazy to do the hard thing of making sure they make the right choices. We brag about being empty nesters and brag on social media about how much we are loving having the kids out of the house.

Then, when we are old, we want to go live in independent living communities with other old people because we don’t even know our kids, we have no real connection to them: random old people seem more like us than our own family. Or they can’t take care of us, because they aren’t successful, because we failed them when they were children. Either way, it’s sad.

Now, I could write this the other way, about all the damage South Asian parents do to their kids. And personally, I am raising my kid in a way a lot of South Asian parents would disagree with. But seeing this did help me understand that the way I saw the world was not the only way. So when I look at that list, while I don’t agree with all of it, I can totally see how some of those items are presented as part of the tool-kit of “white identity”. “Self-reliance, Individual Responsibility, and Independence” are treated as so unambigiously positive in our culture that it leads in some cases to looking like callous self-interest instead.

Manda Jo, I really have to congratulate you on this articulation. I grew up in Indian-American culture and I was steeped in this, but I have never seen it explained so well and so explicitly. Thanks so much. I’m going to save and share this.

Yes, I notice that the news briefs tend to stay on the section titles and don’t go into the bullet point lists inside different sections, where there are elements that could be debated as to how accurately they do or do not reflect it. Much easier to say “what do you mean self-reliance and the scientific method are whiteness values”? OTOH many people would in fact agree that patriarchy and defining self-worth based on wealth are values that do not need to be emulated.

Indeed – and part of that construction of a “whiteness”, to identify who fit with the mainstream bloc of the culture, was to establish a set of what were to be “virtuous” behaviors in this society and to mythologize them: e.g. “rugged individualism”. It is preached that “rugged individualism” is the American Way, which is part of the frontier myth, the idea that if you don’t fit where you are, just get on along and blaze a trail ( * ). And of course, “rugged individualism and self reliance” is easily redefined by those in the inside group as however YOU lived your life - nevermind if you got land from a public land grant, education from a scholarship or a legacy admission, a start-up loan from your father. American Constructed Whiteness, IS heavy with Anglocentric values, and the promotion of assimilation and homogenization even among the other “white” ethnocultural identities. Which is reflected in the “the new immigrants are not assimilating” complaint.

( * But the majority of people who populated the frontier did not blaze trails individually, but set up communities in lands they were granted under homesteading laws. They were “rugged and self reliant” in the sense that all rural farmers in pre-mechanization, pre-mass-consumer-goods days HAD to be self-reliant, do their own work, fix their own things; at the same time they also had strong family and church support networks.)

Yeah, WTH was that about. When you prepare a work like this, you have to resist the temptation to take such pokes.

In any case good on the NMAAHC for pulling it upon realizing it was not getting out the message they had intended.

This chart is really another example of how liberals suck when it comes to messaging. Though it may be well-intentioned and make some valid points (and I do think it makes some valid points), it’s designed in such a way that it’s open to gross misinterpretation. As someone mentioned up above, it would not be all that surprising to see chunks of this chart on a KKK flyer.