First, to preface this thought piece, yes, I am a heterosexual white. I am also something that American White Supremacists hate: a woman and a pagan. I do not hate other races because I am perfectly secure in my skin color and am not threatened by any other shades of flesh. I am secure in my gender and sexuality and am not threatened by any other genders and the only sexuality I am offended by is the one that does not take ‘No’ for an answer. I am content with my faith and not threatened by anyone else’s but those that show such intolerance they feel justified in doing harm to others simply because of it.
The rise of hate, the normalization of violence towards the ‘different’ and ‘others’ makes me sick. You can feel or think or believe whatever you want, no matter how abhorrent it is. But there is no place for taking action on it where it brings actual harm to others, or facilitates actual harm to others. This is why I disagree with someone like a bakery that doesn’t want to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Being offended does not hurt you, but it does harm the couple who has to hunt for someone else to provide what they seek. But I agree with services like hotels or transportation services or financial services from denying known violent (and likely terrorist) groups their facilities and services, because it would be aiding and propagating the violence on others.
I served this country in the Army because I believed that it wasn’t right that only men could potentially be forced into military service. I didn’t whine about it, though. It didn’t seem like writing my congressman would be more than a waste of paper, ink and postage (because the internet and email wasn’t the ubiquitous thing it is now.) I chose to step up and serve. And my oath, to me, was to every member of this country. I do not say ‘except for White Supremacists’ because there is no exception to make. White Supremacists have chosen to exclude themselves because they are no longer Americans in my eyes. They are vile traitors who seek to take this country for themselves and turn it into the horror they envision.
But. I started thinking about ‘white identity’ after reading a meme that explained why there could be ‘black pride’ but not ‘white pride.’ And I agree that most black people cannot trace their heritage because of our stupid ancestors’ need to own people. They have every right to be proud of their color because that is exactly all the identity we had left them. While we utterly destroyed most Native American society, most still have their tribal identities. (Side note, really wish we could start doing better by them. They are beautiful, fascinating people.) Most Asians that were brought over here held their historical ancestry.
And yes. Most white people can trace their lineage back to their immigrant ancestors. But here is the thing. If the DNA analyzing sorts expand their databases to be able to give black people the ability to discover exactly where they came from…would it really mean anything to them?
I mean, sure. They could finally say where their ancestors originally came from. I’ve had my DNA tested and it’s cool knowing the mix of starting points I came from. Even found out that I’ve got a good percentage of Neanderthal in me.
But here’s the thing though.
I do not feel anything for most of my heritage. Most of it are only places on a map. The cultures are not mine because I have never lived it, celebrated it, nothing. Ironically, the one that I loved learning about the most — Irish — I apparently have the least genetic traces of it. I am mostly German and *vague handwave* Eastern European. (There a lot of different pockets of identity to that. Much smaller than *vague handwave* African continent, but still vague. Vagueness kinda sucks.)
So, let’s go closer to home. I was born in Pennsylvania in “Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” The PA Dutch are also known as “PA Germans.” These are people who were early settlers of this area from Germany and didn’t wander much farther. You know who are PA Dutch now? Amish. You know what I am not? That’s right. Amish. I wouldn’t even want to be it because frankly, I love technology. Sure, we have some things like foods, hex signs, and a few words or phrases that linger, but pretty much the not-Amish PA Dutch aren’t terribly different from others.
Born in Pennsylvania. What does that mean? There are different regional identities within my state. There are the coal mining regions. The steel factory regions. The urban. The rural. Eastern. Central. Western. South Central. The things that make them unique are more nuanced, thus harder to claim as an identity or show pride. Which just reflects the difficulty in trying to show pride as an American because every region is different and if you move from somewhere else to join it, I’m pretty sure that most do not claim to be that identity because they were not born and raised as it. If I moved to Ireland or Germany or *hand wave* Eastern Europe, I am pretty sure even if I got citizenship there, I would not feel like and Irishman, or German, or *hand wave* Eastern European.
So, back to the question. What is identity?
Identity is connection. It is community. It is feeling a part of something. I suspect that if we really dug down, most of these people who fall into the White Supremacist groups do not feel like they belong anywhere. Not even with their families. Black Americans, as terrible as it is, have one unifying aspect they all share: their ancestors were slaves and they can look at other black people and know they share that heritage.
White Americans…don’t have that sense of community because of shared history. We can only tell it by things. Geeks can pick each other out pretty easily. We have conventions to gather at, even. Sports people can find each other if they’re wearing their team’s logo, or go to the games, but not everyone can get to their team’s games even locally, and then there is simply watching sports; you can’t share the event if you and your friends have different work schedules that precludes that moment.
My grandmother was Ukrainian. My grandfather was Slovak. They were first generation immigrants. In their effort to assimilate into this country, they stopped speaking the language when my mother was a very young child. They didn’t do anything to hold that identity. My mother had a few words and phrases they used, but otherwise, she is not Ukrainian. I know that my grandmother was from there, but I do not even have those few words or anything. I do not identify as Ukrainian, I only had them as ancestors.
I am not excusing the violence and hatred of the White Supremacist movement or their ideology. But I am saying that maybe the reason it exists at all is because we Americans are losing our sense of identity. Our sense of community. Some of us find communities elsewhere that are not harmful. Some get lost in addictions to drugs or alcohol or other unhealthy things. And some fall into hate and misguided belief systems.
We can’t ostracize people completely. This would be akin to backing something into a corner. If you give no way out, they aren’t going to change and they are going to fight back. Especially because we are Americans and it is in our national heritage to never give up, never surrender. But we need to make it okay to be able to change or Charlottesville will not be the pinnacle of the hate and conflict in this country, it will be a point in continuing escalation.