Scrutinizing whiteness


It’s OK to be white.

This is the last one, I promise.

African American History Museum Publishes Graphic Linking ‘Rational Linear Thinking,’ ‘Nuclear Family’ to White Culture

The article begins:

The [Smithsonian] National Museum of African American History and Culture has published a graphic on its website that suggests concepts such as “rational linear thinking,” the “nuclear family,” and an emphasis on “hard work” are specific to “white culture.”

Controversy swirled around the graphic, and after a few days the museum took it down.  There was no media discussion of the context in which the graphic was displayed, which could profoundly affect the way the graphic was construed.

The graphic was based on a 1990 “paper” by Judith H. Katz, “Some Aspects and Assumptions of White Culture in the United States.”  The link points to a PDF copy of the same, that I have uploaded to this blog.

One can ask whether her assertions are factual, and if so, what to make of them.

The media controversy assumed that the very saying of these things about white culture constituted a condemnation of them.  As the National Review article concludes, “The [museum] did not respond immediately to a request for comment on whether it stands by the assertions made in the graphic.”  Now, it ain’t necessarily so; the mere statement of facts does not necessarily constitute a value judgment on those facts.  White people, like any people, can be merely uncomfortable — in this case, they became very uncomfortable — with having their culture scrutinized.

So, one can ask what was Judith Katz’s agenda in creating the graphic.  The National Review article seeks to question the agenda of her current employer, the name of which is Net Impact.  It would seem to me more appropriate to question the agenda of the employer for whom she produced the graphic in 1990, which was The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.

Are the assertions factual?

Contrary to the National Review’s first paragraph, the graphic does not say that an emphasis on “hard work” is specific to white culture.  To say that the nuclear family consists of “father, mother, 2.3 children” may be taken as a slight or slur of that practice.  It may be that, to the extent traits like these are specific to white culture, the fact that they’re not normative among blacks (if they’re not normative among blacks) may account for some of the wealth gap between races.

I doubt whether Christian cultural hegemony is as intense in 2020 as this graphic indicates it was in 1990.  I also doubt whether the role of husband as breadwinner is as prominent now as it was then.

Are the assertions unbiased?

That’s a bit of a trick question.  I did look at the context in which the graphic was displayed on the museum’s website, and it doesn’t please me.  It’s a long article about white privilege that I’m not going to read, in that it appears to be the same old same old and doesn’t equip me to do one, not a single, positive thing in life.

The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.

There are things I cannot change, and things that will not change no matter how angry anyone chooses to be about them.

It is enough for me to be content loving myself and loving my neighbor.  I don’t need to do any more than that in life.

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