Indentity and Whiteness

I think this scene from the classic 90's show Fresh Prince exemplifies this topic well.

Basically in this scene, Carlton is trying to get into a 'black' fraternity and is rejected because he is too preppy. He is not 'Black' enough.

Sadly, this continues to this day with huge portions of people's identity being wrapped in being 'Not White.' Which of course begs the question... what does it mean to be white?

In the case of Carlton, being white means
  • being rich
  • dressing preppy
  • being educated and refined
  • being successful
  • ...
What is means then as that as soon as a black person starts attaining those things, they begin to be tagged as a sell-out or less black than someone else.

Which of course begs that question, what does it means to be black? In the case of this fraternity and in many parts of life, being black thus means
  • not being educated
  • not being refined
  • not being successful
  • ...
I've ran into this myself. I once critiqued a black friend of mine having some baby-mama drama. He got a couple women accidentally pregnant.  I thought he was too good to be screwing up. Yet, rather than take the criticism as an individual fault, he took it as an attack on blackness. That I was being anti-black because baby-mamas are part of black culture.

The Muslim Leaving Religion Example

I've faced the same thing in my life. Indian people generally don't have a problem with education and success. But there are no-go zones as well. For example, as I have rejected religion, I often times getting told I'm trying to be 'white'. In the context of today being religious/Muslim is seen as being 'who you are' and rejecting religion means 'you are trying to be white'.

The Source

I think the main source of this is two fold
  1. Viewing 'white' society as 'the other' and dominant
  2. Lumping in many traits with what it means to be 'white'
In communities where this is the case, I think you tend to see these traits. In the case of Muslim immigrants, as I was to Canada, there is a big emphasis on not become westernized. Not to lose yourself in the corruption of the West so to speak.

This puts people in a bit of a box meaning any change made that hints at similarity with the rest of society will be seen as 'being white'. This puts a huge damper on actual natural change and natural states of being. In the case of leaving religion, it perplexes the identity of those that a person could simply leave religion and not be trying to 'be white'. Atheists and Agnostics and Reformers have existed in every culture and region of the world. The list of people born in Muslim countries with heretic beliefs is long and prevalent.

Does anyone seriously think every Muslim born person has subscribed to traditional Islam? Of course not. It is as natural a thing to doubt religion and live a different life. Yet, done within the context of viewing 'white' society as influencing, this is viewed as trying to be 'white'.

Consequence of Colonialism

At times I wonder if this is a consequence of Colonialism. That is to say the colonizers tend to takeover the ruling/elite of the society. The results leave the rest of society without a positive view of 'upper class'. The 'upper class' becomes associated with the external colonizer... or generalized as 'white people.'

I think you could make a similar case with black people in North America. Slavery created a situation where these was no natural 'black upper class'. What blacks did rise above did so within the context of a dominant and oppressive 'white culture', so that success became tied in with being 'white' and thus a sell out.

I'm sympathetic to that identity struggle. The idea of carving out one's own identity aside from the colonizer or dominant culture. Yet, that does not alleviate the issue as it relates to individuals and cultures. It is an identity crises in so many respects.


Probably the biggest consequence of all this is stagnation of one's own culture and people. It impacts so many people, it's sad. I think to an extent it impacts Native Americans as well, though I certainly don't know that many to really grasp their identity issues. Yet, based on what I see on the news, there is a huge identity issue in these communities with so much of it tied up in retaining their own culture as it existed before colonization. 

Yet, it has been hundreds of years since Europeans came to the Americas. Who knows what Native American culture would have been without the Europeans arriving. Who knows what technological progress would have been made that would also work with cultural progress? Left alone would they have become farmers, industrialized, moved into cities? Who knows what might have been. Yet, today, their identity is tied to a way of life that means they cannot simple be.

Does every Native American *have to* be someone who wishes to live on the land or be an environmentalist? They cannot be an industrialist? Ponder that for a second.

Token Culture

In a way I've come to see a slight racial tone to a lot of the politics around this. In the celebration of diversity, there is an almost celebration of stagnation as amusement. The Social Justice Warriors take an exotic look at the diversity and try to stagnate it. It appears that they would try and preserve Native American culture; not for the sake of the actual Native Americans, but for their own sense of diversity...having something different and exotic.

I'll use a crude analogy. A lot of people in cities celebrate diversity for something as token as food. 

We like diversity! You can get food from all over the world
That is what you see with a lot of fascination with other cultures and trying to celebrate it. You 'others' be who you are, so we can be amused by your culture. Yet, of course the 'future' life is for the 'white people'.
Leave Space to Elon Musk. Leave great thought to European philosophers. Leave great chefs to fine European culinary cuisine...

A fine example I saw in the paper recently.

Basically in Canada you can't force students to participate in religious activities. Heck, in general religious activities are frowned upon in schools. Yet, in this case, the Aboriginal ceremony was allowed as a normal classroom activity. I'll theorize why here.

Canadians don't think of Aboriginal religion as a serious thing. Christianty? That's a serious thing. That's talk of hell and heaven and morality. We can't be forcing that on children!

The Aboriginal religion? That's silly stuff... like Zeus. No one takes it seriously, so what's the harm and having kids do it?

You'll see the same fascination with say Islam in the West. Some exotic religion with Hijabs and beards. What a fascinating culture they say. Oh they'd never celebrate their own sexual repression in Christianity. But with these exotic Muslims, it's just fascinating isn't it? Nevermind the honor culture. Nevermind the oppression...


I laugh to myself now. Maybe I'm just too proud to think that anyone on this planet can be an equal to anyone else. I just live my life. I don't see this kind of identity and tribal association going away anytime soon. I suppose if Team Black has staked out its ground under values and a way of life that is not you... perhaps other teams offer more of a home. The same can be said of Team Islam or Team Indian. What should a label matter in the end?


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