For The Culture

What is it about leftist politics that makes someone stupid?  While I tend to police my social media feeds to get rid of as much political stupidity as possible, one of my online acquaintances made a post today that made me scratch my balding head and wonder what on earth she could possibly be thinking.  This is what she said:  “White skin is nothing to be proud of. Or ashamed of. But to be proud of being “white” implies there is a culture to celebrate.  So… what is white culture?”  It should be noted that this person is university educated and happens to make a living playing the cello.  She is a professional classical musician and she is unaware of what white culture is.  She needs to sue her university professors, because for someone to go through a university education in music performance, where she had to sit through however many hours of classical music education listening to samples of vocal and instrumental music composed by and for white people, has spent countless hours of her life practicing and playing this music, reading the European names on the sheet music, and not realize that this is an aspect of white culture is an astonishing degree of self-inflicted ignorance.  Education really must not be worth much these days, I suppose.  Sometimes politics blinds one to the obvious.

Despite the stupidity of the question, though, it is a question well worth answering.  Before one can answer the question of what white culture is, it is well worth answering the question of who white people are, because white culture springs from that context and from those cultures.  Admittedly, to judge people as white is to make a superficial judgment about these people based on superficial appearance and it is a label of convenience.  Nevertheless, by and large what we mean by this refers to those whose cultural origin springs from European cultures or their settler colonists in such places as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as a nation like Israel where a people of obviously Middle Eastern heritage nevertheless has an extensive history involving European background and the influence of European language and culture through Yiddish.  Judeo-Christian culture as a whole is frequently what is meant by white, and this term disguises a great deal of complex identities that exist between people who are judged to looking the same.  An interesting discussion involves the question of how it is that Eastern or Southern Europeans or Irish people became “white” in the eyes of Americans, but for the purposes of our discussion, we will look at white culture as springing from the peoples of Europe or their descendants.

What kind of culture do we find here?  If we go back far enough we have bodies of religious literature springing from the Middle East, myths, traditions of philosophy and engineering, historiography, poetry, and other aspects of written literary culture that have been passed down for millennia.  We have a folk tradition of fairy tales and music and poetry that is periodically appropriated by aristocratic and elite high culture, whether as the source for theater plays and opera, as melodies to be turned into more formal chamber and orchestral music, or as stories to serve as the fuel for novels and short stories and the scholarly study of vernacular culture.  We have religious music and literature and drama that takes the Bible and the lives of Christians as source material.  We have dances and costumes and idioms springing from complex interactions over the course of centuries with other peoples.  We have foods that have been enriched by travel and conquest and centuries of formal experimentation with a diverse set of ingredients that can be grown or imported to suit one’s tastes.  We have traditions of sculpture, of leatherworking, or textiles, of visual art.  We have the development of drama, the novel and short story, and the development of new forms of media like film and television.  All of these are aspects of European culture, and for someone to be actively involved in the propagation and celebration of that culture without being appreciative of it or apparently aware of it is a sad sign that people can do culture without recognizing that it is culture or respecting it for what it is.

It should be noted that there is a great deal of variety within this culture and a great deal of complexity as well.  In the early 20th century Italian cuisine was considered exotic enough that American soldiers in the Italian front of World War I were able to inform their relatives at home of this strange new cuisine [1].  Nowadays, of course, the idea that Italian food would be exotic is ridiculous, given that it is a default option for favorite food for many of us who love the combination of meat, cheese, bread, and marinara sauce in some fashion.  Many centuries of the spread of prestigious culture from some areas within the European world to others and the appropriation of folk traditions from less respected areas and populations by more elite individuals has led to a wide ignorance of the nature of European culture or the fact that the same tendencies that people lament in the interaction between “white” people and nonwhite culture have always been present in the way that the folkways of obscure and not very important people are always the source material for how elites can borrow/steal/appropriate from others, including those who are also similarly considered whites, and put that borrowed culture into a form that is appealing to fellow elites who appreciate enjoying what is popular among the lower sorts of society without having to live like them and create elegant solutions to the basic problems of survival.  Of course, someone who makes a living as an elite musician should probably not be hostile to the sort of privilege that makes it possible for her to survive.  But to expect such wisdom from a member of the contemporary left appears to be asking for too much.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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