Columnist John Sheirer questions definition of ‘white culture’

  • City workers prepare to drape a tarp over the statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in Justice park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 23. The move to cover the statues is intended to symbolize the city's mourning for Heather Heyer, killed while protesting a white nationalist rally earlier in August.  AP FILE PHOTO

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I’m white. So you’d think I’d know what “white culture” is. Not so. The people ranting that they’re victims of attacks on “white culture” never seem to define the term adequately.

“White culture” often gets reworked as “white heritage” and “white history.” Look closely enough at anyone who uses these terms, and you’re likely to find “white supremacist” just beneath the surface. These are the folks who recently rebranded themselves as the alt-right. They say that statues erected to reinforce Jim Crow are somehow sacred. They spread the nonsense that the Confederate flag isn’t about slavery.

Donald Trump himself recently said that moving Confederate statues from public grounds is “trying to take away our culture … our history.” He left out the word “white,” but otherwise sounded just like the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists.

Does the Confederacy represent the best that white people have accomplished in human history? I hope not. Believing your race has the divine right to own people of a different race should inspire shame, not pride.

For people who feel a strange need to boast about Caucasian accomplishments, classical music and Renaissance art are much better. Ice hockey and pizza are far superior to slavery. Basically, anything white people have ever done beats slavery. Yet white supremacists cling to slavery and riot to defend Confederate statues.

“White heritage” and “white history” are often just more socially acceptable versions of the term “white pride.” Mentally healthy people are proud of their family, their career, how they work toward making the world a better place, and how they’ve overcome obstacles to succeed.

“Black pride” isn’t simply the inverse of “white pride,” but a reference to overcoming the obstacles of institutional racism. “White pride,” by contrast, celebrates institutional racism. “White pride” is really about “white power.” White supremacists aren’t afraid of losing their “culture.” They’re afraid of losing their white monopoly.

Life must be very sad for those who measure the accident of their skin color as their greatest source of pride. Unfortunately, these folks consider their whiteness is no accident. They believe being white is a sign from God of their superiority. That’s called, “white delusion.” White supremacists are generally the least “supreme” white people around.

Hillary Clinton had these white supremacists in mind when she described some Trump supporters as “deplorables.” Her candor might not have been politically expedient, but the substance of her claim is accurate: Not all Trump supporters are racists, but the vast majority of racists are Trump supporters.

For example, no one was surprised when the official newspaper of the KKK endorsed Trump for president. Well, many were surprised that KKK members could actually read. How do Americans who voted for Trump feel about the fact that they sided with the KKK in the presidential election? Any regrets?

Let’s play “Who said it?” Who has repeatedly called himself a “gene believer”? Who said, “I’m proud of my German blood. There’s no question about it. Great stuff.” Was that Trump or David Duke, former KKK leader, Charlottesville white supremacist agitator, and vocal Trump supporter?

Those are Trump quotes, of course. (Look ‘em up.) Sure, Duke has said worse, but he’s a pretty low bar for comparison. We can’t ignore the fact that Trump mimics white supremacist rhetoric. During the recent statue debate, Trump even compared our nation’s founders to the Confederate traitors who fought to preserve slavery: “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”

That’s the verbatim argument that white supremacists use to justify their rage over moving Confederate statues. Duke himself beamed with pride, tweeting, “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage.” For some Trump supporters, smearing our founders represents “honesty and courage.” Deplorable, indeed.

Trump’s racial rhetoric trickles down and emboldens closet racists to vent terrible views. In a recent Facebook discussion, I observed a white guy repeatedly telling a black woman to “get over” slavery because she was “never a slave herself.” That may be the worst example of “white-’splaining” I’ve ever encountered.

I would hope we could all agree that white people shouldn’t dictate how black people should feel about slavery. A better starting point would be empathy for people different from ourselves so that we could learn from each other instead of forcing limited views on an issue as complex as America’s racial history.

Trump hasn’t shown an aptitude for complexity. Instead, he cultivated bigotry by blaming “many sides” for the racist violence in Charlottesville. Then he pardoned Joe Arpaio and ended DACA protections —indefensible actions that serve no purpose other than exciting his worst supporters. Polls show a large majority of Americans oppose these moves, but you can bet that at least 90 percent of white supremacists agree with Trump on Arpaio and DACA.

Republican politicians have courted the racist voting bloc for half a century, and now Trump gives racists a presidential champion. Future historians will not look kindly on Trump and his enablers during a time when our first African-American president has been followed by the KKK-endorsed president.

If that’s what passes for “white culture” during the Trump era, then it’s hard to imagine a more disappointing quantum leap backward.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His most recent book is, “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” Find him at JohnSheirer.com.