8 Growing Up White in America?
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8 Growing Up White in America? BONNIE KAE GROVER Growing up white in America. How do you do that? I mean, lots of folks grow up Italian in America, lots more grow up capitalist in America, and legions of us have grown up middle class, working class, poor, or even rich in America. But white? White is transparent. That's the point of being the dominant race. Sure, the whiteness is there, but you never think of it. If you're white, you never have to think of it. Sometimes when folks make a point of thinking of it, some (not all) of them run the risk of being either sappy in the eyes of other whites or of being dangerous to nonwhites. And if white folks remind each other about being white, too often the reminder is about threats by outsiders-nonwhites-who steal white entitlements like good jobs, a fine education, nice neighborhoods, and the good life. And now, in an instant, it comes to me-the burr I've been feeling since I started getting a nasty itch from this idea. It's this-Is "white culture" really white culture? Or is it just American culture, nothing more, and the white folks who think it's white culture have just moved in like they've discovered it, like the white Europeans decided they'd discovered America and just moved in and took it over like they were entitled to it, never mind that five hundred nations already lived and worshipped in America, or the Land between the Great Waters, they just moved in and said they had God on their side and the Indians weren't much anyway but a few of them could work for them sometimes if they behaved themselves, and the rest were lined up for disposal. Maybe I'm uncomfortable extolling white culture especially if it replaces other folks' culture, like prayer in the schools and boarding schools for Indian children and English Only and the Ku Klux Klan. It seems to me that too much of white culture is built on stamping out culture that isn't white, or culture that isn't white enough, or even culture that just doesn't happen to be the correct brand or shade of white. No, I'm not ashamed of being white. But I sure am ashamed of what being white can mean to some folks who are proud of being white. And I'm ashamed of what it can mean to be white when that whiteness can so easily be used to hurt people who aren't white. I definitely am ashamed of that part of whiteness. Because in America, whiteness means being dominant, and it stands to reason that if somebody's dominant, somebody else is down. It's delightful to be able to mindlessly enjoy "white" culture. But is it really white? Or did white folks just apply the Discovery Doctrine like the white Europeans did when they took over this continent? And did somebody else or at least their culture get stamped out in the bargain one more time? If one is going to get all sentimental over being white, be careful. With your white privCopyright © 1996 by Bonnie Kae Grover. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Growing Up White in America? 35 ilege, there ought to be one or two white responsibilities. Like, take the cleats off. They're in your genes. I realize it's tough having to be responsible about your whiteness. But blacks and Indians and Asians have to handle their own racial and ethnic selves with some level of awareness whites are not used to, even when they're celebrating who they are. When they celebrate ethnicity, they still have to be aware of themselves in the context of a larger society that is just not like them, and it won't hurt to become aware of ourselves in the context of all people, not just white ones. Whiteness is only one possible part-your part-of the greater wonder of being alive in this world. Make that awareness part of your celebration . And make a point of seeing what you can find in your family's heritage and traditions that goes beyond the color of your skin. How did your parents meet? How did your grandparents meet? Anybody in your family come to America in steerage? Or chains? Copyrighted Material ...