White culture: is there such a thing? Are there certain aspects of “white culture” that are really actually more accurately viewed as “majority culture”? What I am trying to say is how much of the cultural identity of white people is wrapped up in the fact that white people are the majority in the United States and how much of it is actually “white culture”?
I have begun to realize lately that I do not feel as though I have a well defined cultural identity. This is false of course and so this peculiarity has resulted in much reflection on my part. In the past, I have come across the idea that there is resistance from the majority groups of the US to understanding minority culture. When I first answered the question for myself I must be honest I say my answer was “because it is overwhelming.” While there is some truth to that, I could not leave it there. I met with a member of the administration here at Princeton Theological to discuss this and I realized that I was not taking into account how different groups perceive their need of their cultural identity.
To try to put words on what exactly I am trying to say, I will speak some about my time in the military. After graduating college I was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy. I served for a little over four years and completed 2 overseas deployments that lasted 6 months each. There are joys and trials I experienced in this time and isolation was one of the largest hardships. As a Christian, military service was challenging. For one, being that I was on a smaller ship that did not have a chaplain. We occasionally had chaplains that came onboard to conduct services but due to the ship’s mission it was often not logistically feasible for chaplains to come to our ship. As a result, I served as the Protestant Lay Leader. While there were other Christians onboard, between standing watch, doing your regular job, participating in various training and qualification exercises, there was not much time where more than a couple people together for any type of Bible study or church services. In addition, the fraternization policies of the military further isolated me. For those who are not familiar with “fraternization,” this is the term used to discuss the nature and extent of relationships between Officers and Enlisted personnel as well as the relationships of those of higher rank with those of lower rank within these two groupings. For instance, it is illegal according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for an Officer to have a romantic or sexual relationship with an Enlisted person. But fraternization dose not just address romantic or sexual relationships. It is also not permissible for Officers to be close friends with Enlisted personnel even if it is “just” plutonic. While it might seem harsh, and in a certain sense is, in life or death situations these types of relationships cloud decision making processes upon which the lives of others rest. To get back to the point, I was isolated. To put it another way, I was in the minority of people onboard my ship who considered themselves to be part of the culture of Christians. I clearly saw the need I had (and still have) to be in community with fellow believers. I suffered because I was isolated from Christian community. And it seems to me that my experience, while merely an acute case, is enough to give me a small amount of perspective for those who are part of minority groups. To use the terminology of my experience, those who are a part of a minority group are chronically isolated which as I see it would create a larger need to claim their cultural identity and seek out others who are also part of the minority group which they are a part of.
So what I am beginning to start to see is that while I, as a member of a majority group, can choose to place myself in a situation wherein I become a minority, those who are in minority groups do not have that choice. Ever. So while it is tempting to believe that white people do not know what it feels like to feel as though they are a minority, I beg to differ. It seems to me that it is really that as part of the majority, I could go for weeks, months, even years depending on where one lives and where one chooses to go not ever stepping into a place wherein I become a minority. There is always someone with whom I will be able to relate regarding concerns I have or questions that come up. This is not always true for minority groups.
And so I would like to take this opportunity to repent and apologize for my lack of intentionality and complete inattention to the struggles of being a minority group. It is still very uncomfortable for me to talk about race. And it is still very hard for me to choose to become the minority in a group of people (i.e., being the only white person at the table during a meal). But what I have decided is that discomfort is a small price to pay for the opportunity to get to know people who I would otherwise not necessarily get to know.
To end, I would ask for the grace of those whom I may offend in my discussion of race. I assure you it is not intentional. If I do offend, discourage, or negatively affect you by this post I would be most grateful if you let me know. I appreciate the feedback and hope to have increased dialog about these issues. Not talking about it saves face, but deepens the divide.