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Is it Ok to be White?

"It's ok to be white" sign spotted in a Laguna Niguel neighborhood.

Earlier this month, posters proclaiming “It’s ok to be white” started appearing on college campuses and on city streets across the country. The intent was to feed social unrest and sway white Americans to far-right ideologies.

The stunt brought to mind the calls for “white pride” during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. After the rally, I saw many posts on social media decrying "white pride":

But in his book White Like Me, Tim Wise describes how his grandfather struggled to tell him stories of their family’s Russian heritage and journey to the United States.

Wise writes, “Stories about the old country and a connection to that immigrant past were always the first causalities of whiteness…Only by giving up one’s past, and one’s family’s connection to it, could a person like my great grandfather make others comfortable enough with his presence, with his accent, and with his way of praying, that they might welcome him and his brood into the American fold.”

So if whiteness robs us of our culture and cultural history, is there a need for “white pride”? How can folks celebrate their heritage if they don’t know what it is and have no connection to its customs and traditions? And if whiteness is the only identity that many white folks have, how do we go about creating a positive white identity when whiteness does in fact symbolize the violence and oppression of people of color?

It’s not a question with an easy answer. The Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere – Los Angeles (AWARE-LA) stresses the importance of white anti-racism education: that by learning what it means to be an anti-racist white person, and by learning from the white anti-racists who came before us, we can begin to build a new culture of whiteness rooted in anti-racism.

It’s certainly a start, and for white folks already committed to anti-racist education, we need to turn our attention to calling in more white folks to learn with us. People want to have pride in who they are, so it is up to us to present a new white identity that is focused on equality and racial justice.

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