White Pride is For Losers
Reflections on Race, Self-Doubt and the Psychology of Getting Suckered
This is for the guy who wrote to me this morning to tell me about the sheer awesomeness of white people, and for all the other white folks who have done so over the years.
All of your messages are dear to me, but none more so than the one today, which read simply:
“I’m very proud of being a white male, and I don’t care what you say! White people are the BEST!”
Personally, I think it’s the way you capitalized the word ‘best’ that really sold it.
I mean, had you kept the caps lock off I might have doubted your claim for racial superiority, but since you insisted upon it with a more muscular font (not to mention the compelling exclamation point), who but the most cynical could take issue?
Surely we can all recall how the world’s top scholars, scientists, mathematicians, surgeons, and artists regularly proclaim to the world how their racial group membership — presumably encoded in their ancestral lineage — is due all the credit for their accomplishments.
Every year, when the Nobel prizes are awarded, there’s the predictable stream of winners giving thanks to the haplotype clusters found in their DNA, or smugly mumbling that of course they won: after all, their 17th great-grandfather was the Count of something-or-other, or the Duke of this other thing, or at least from the same continent as those guys, and once upon a time read Chaucer, so what would you expect?
All kidding aside, and having now exhausted as much snark as is probably allowed before lunchtime, your e-mail is almost certainly the best evidence I have yet seen — seriously, the BEST! — that those who proclaim white racial superiority and pride are among the world’s most likely washouts, and the least self-aware.
Pro tip: Truly accomplished people tend to let their actions speak for themselves, no cheerleaders required. White folks who go around telling people how great their “racial group” is, likely do so because they’ve never done much of anything personally, but are hoping that maybe one day the European “genius gene” will kick in and deliver them from a life of mediocrity.
Oh and yes, I know you’re probably wondering if I would apply the same arguments to people of color who express pride in their groups. But although I do find all group-based pride claims somewhat problematic (after all they call it self-esteem because it’s about the self and what you’ve done, not what someone else distantly connected to you did) there really are some differences between whites and folks of color proclaiming pride in their groups.
At least when black folks speak of pride in their group it tends to be about pride in the perseverance of their people in the face of oppression and great odds; it’s about overcoming and surviving and even thriving despite systemic attempts to bring them to heel. It’s about refusing to be defined by someone else’s terms, or holding high your group’s accomplishments, not because you think they necessarily imbue you with some magical properties but precisely because others are so quick to dismiss them, deny them, or simply never learn of them at all. That kind of pride is an act of resistance.
But for us? There is no remotely comparable reason for us to be proud of our “racial” group.
In fact, the very notion of white pride is for losers. Not because people of European descent don’t have things of which to be proud. We do (as well as some things for which we ought not to be proud in the least), but that’s not about whiteness.
Whiteness — the very notion of white people — was a 17th-century invention, crafted principally in the American colonies, as a way to link even the most impoverished European peasant or indentured servant with the elite, in a united front against enslaved Africans and indigenous persons.
Before that time there were no white people. We were not one big happy family. Most of European history had been about killing each other, building some truly beautiful churches, and looking for the witch. There was never pan-European unity, let alone a concept like whiteness to bind us to one another.
But in the colonies, the rich needed to divide and conquer working peoples — the riff-raff — so as to vouchsafe their economic status, which they felt was threatened by the prospects of class-based rebellions across lines of color. So they began referring to poor Europeans as whites for the first time and extending certain privileges to them so as to place even the lowliest “white” person above all defined as non-white. By doing so, they could endow the European peasant class with a “psychological wage” (as W.E.B. DuBois put it), which allowed them to think, “I might not have much, but at least I’m not black.”
Of course, psychological wages don’t pay the bills or allow for much financial security in a system built for the wealthy, so the price of accepting our newfound caste status as whites was the cementing of elite domination over us as well. It kept us quiet and acquiescent, and fighting people of color over the pieces of a pie that none of us owned.
Thus, to be proud of being white is quite literally to be proud of having been suckered by rich folks, conned into thinking we have more in common with billionaires who happen to share our skin tone than with the black and brown folks who struggle to make ends meet just like most whites do.
So unless being played for a fool is now to be seen as evidence of superiority (rather than something quite the opposite of that), it’s hard to see what exactly there is about whiteness of which one should be proud.
But hey, at least you’ll always have the caps lock button.
I excitedly await our next therapy session.