A Healthy White Racial Identity

A Healthy White Racial Identity April 4, 2019

I have blogged about issues of privilege in the past and thought a lot about the concept. I love well thought out nuanced articles on the topic. This article by Eric Kaufmann is a good example about what I like to see. He dismisses the notion of privilege as being attempts of whites to influence our society and indeed argues that much of the problem stems from punishing whites who develop some degree of white consciousness. It is a good read.

I disagree with Kaufmann about his assertion on whites’ attempt to influence our society by promoting white privilege. He does not find evidence of this attempt because that is not how white privilege operates. Rather it is an unspoken type of social force that does not need to be overtly supported. Indeed, unless we explicitly address white privilege, or just about any type of privilege, then it will continue to exist. So I think the first part of his paper is a misunderstanding of the nature of privilege.

But the second part of his article is quite intriguing. It has forced me to think about what is a healthy white racial identity and do we try to encourage such an identity in our current society. We have not really thought about what a white racial identity means in our society, and we get little discussion about in in academia. Yes there is a subfield of “Whiteness Studies” in race and ethnicity work, but I do not think that the work coming from that subfield is very helpful. Most of what I have read either encourages whites to abandon their white racial identity and/or to simply agree with people of color’s desires.

This has created a void which I think Kaufmann rightly recognizes has allowed the emergence of Trump. I do not think that any serious person believes that all whites who voted for Trump are racist. But a good many of them may be tired of being told that their racial identity is evil. That they should not be encouraged to think good about their group while those of other races are free to develop esteem about their racial group. We have made a lot of important improvements over the past few decades. But what we have not done is honestly think about what whites are supposed to think about themselves in this new racial reality.

Those who have read some of my previous writings on race relations know the premium I put upon having productive interracial communication. I am especially concerned about our inability to engage in active listening to individuals with differing perceptions on race. This communication and listening should help us to develop an empathy for others and to have some understanding of why they have certain beliefs. As I consider the position of white Americans, I get it that some of them feel that they are being left behind. I can see how they do not feel invested in this current racial narrative. We have to bring them into the conversation by thinking about what we would want in a positive racial white identity. And merely saying to stop being white or that whites are evil is not going to cut it.

While I am not white, I do think some of my empathy comes from being a Christian. An interesting thing happens when I talk about Christianophobia. At first individuals deny that it exists. Then when I document situations where Christians are being treated as second class citizens then I am told that the Christians deserve this. I agree that some Christians are just looking for reasons to feel like they are victimized, but there are some real issues that have been brought up and dismissed by so many people simply because they do not like Christians.

So I think I get it when whites feel that their concerns are not being addressed in modern society. That does not mean that whites know what it is like to be a black man being pulled over by the police and wondering if this might be a police stop that goes bad. But it does mean that unless we listen to them and help them to construct a healthy positive racial identity, then a good number of them will always be vulnerable to politicians like Trump.

At this point of our history it does us little good to ignore the fact that we have not done a good job of considering the role of the majority group in our emerging multiracial, multicultural society. Lord knows that as a black man, I have no desire to go back to a time where the silencing of our voices was the norm. But neither do I want my white brothers and sisters to have their voices silenced either. Working together I think we can figure out a white racial identity that is neither a pretext for white nationalism nor a negation of anything white. But we have to work to do if we want to see the emergence of a white racial identity. It is work worth doing because I do not believe we will have true racial peace until we have a healthy approach to whiteness.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Lc Sutton

    Thanks for another great article. Daniel Hill’s book White Awake does a goid job of trying to help create a healthy White Identity.

  • Ron Swaren

    I’ve been identified with all kinds of groups, so have been ‘called out’ at one time or another by all sides. Here are some “white achievements”, which I don’t think we want to turn the clock back on. 1.Alphabetic writing—-the ability to store and disseminate huge amounts of complex information. Basically a Middle Eastern invention. 2. Columbian Exchange. Combined with ships that could go anywhere vastly improved nutrition worldwide. 3. Industrial Revolution. Although other societies had a good run at it, the English broke though due to a combination of extensive waterways and cheap, coal energy. This eventually replaced human (often slave and child labor) with machine labor. 4. Harnessed electricity 5. Information Revolution. Gave access to anyone anywhere in the world top level information. 6. Developing ability to protect the planet from extra terrestial threats. 7. Common law, jury system and standardized constitution.

    On the downside> 1. World’s worst killers. 2. Loss of synergistic abilities with natural world. 3. Moral existentialism

  • Joseph Rhea

    Dr. Yancey, thanks for this article! I really appreciate your thinking and your writing.

    GK Chesterton writes somewhere about the Boer War, when Britons were struggling with the false equation of patriotism and imperialism, that a true patriot – a true lover of one’s own country – should also respect the patriotism of citizens of another country by not colonizing them. It seems like the post-colonialist movement accomplished the real good of opposing Eurocentric (mostly white) imperialism; but it inverted that false equivalence by writing historic white European culture as inherently evil, not simply wrong for being colonialist.

    An idea that seems unrelated, but that feeds into the conversation, is the distinction between “objective goods” and “relative goods.” Objective goods – financial, legal, relational, whatever – are things that Christianity teaches we should be grateful for and steward well. Relative goods are the (obviously) relative distribution of objective goods among different people or groups of people – i.e., that a black man is more likely to be stopped by the police than a white man.

    One of my fears as it relates to culture and race is that we make several logical assumptions, including 1) describing objective goods only in terms of relative goods with the language of privilege; and 2) assuming that all goods operate in a zero-sum economy when many do not. It seems that the growing elite perspective among whites is that whites must (at least symbolically) repudiate most of the objective goods that are part of the white European heritage and redistribute relative goods (usually implied: the possessions, services, and opportunities poor and middle-class people compete for) to redress privilege.

    A healthy cultural identity has to include gratitude for the positive aspects of one’s heritage, as well as a sense of responsibility for the failings of one’s forbears. For white people, this does include taking objective and relative goods from people of color; but seeking a more just relative distribution of goods can coexist with gratitude for those goods.

  • JoelJoeasJoe

    WTF?! “Working together I think we can figure out a white racial identity that is neither a pretext for white nationalism nor a negation of anything white”, again WTF?!, as a white male can someone explain to me why I need input from a non white to figure out white racial identity?????????

  • Tom Hering

    If you asked me what “White racial identity” means, my first response would be, “A highly questionable concept (race) based primarily on a lack of pigmentation.” I might then start talking about something of real substance, i.e., my cultural heritage gifted to me by my ethnic ancestors.

  • Dennis

    Thank you, George Yancey, for this article. I am white and you are exactly right when you say that whites are tired of being told that our racial identity is evil and that we should not be encouraged to think good about our group while those of other races are free to develop esteem about their racial group. I am sick and tired of hearing that any promotion of white pride means a promotion of hate speech and white supremacy. Yes, white people have done some bad things, but so have people of other races.

  • billwald

    If there is anything to the hypothesis that three “races” debarked from Noah’s Ark:

    “Rather it is an unspoken type of social force that does not need to be overtly supported.” Birds of a feather flock together. In humans, the force is called community/family social contract. Asians don’t conspire to be better educated, harder working, financially successful, or more civilized than white people. It is how they have evolved/existed for thousands of years.

    “Black” is visually and genetically a very dominant characteristic. “White” is very regressive. “Asian” seems to be the large median/middle class of racial characteristics. Dog breeding has produced physical characteristics that have created “races,’ subspecies that could not survive without human intervention in the real wild world. Mongrels are stronger and healthier than pure bred dogs.

    For 10,000 years, our human races/breeds have voluntarily segregated into tribes, religions, social classes geographical areas . . . that has produced purebred subspecies, each inferior in some characteristic and no “master race.”

    At least in our Pacific Northwest, our youngest generations, my kids and grand kids, seem to be socially voluntarily desegregating by ignoring traditional social barriers to integration back into a new and higher evolved species, the very ancient human species, sort of pan-Asian population.

    With the old social barriers gone, on what basis will my great-grandchildren choose their mates? I propose on the basis, of civility, education, ambition, intelligence . . . winners with winners and losers with losers. The losers will always be in a large majority.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    There is ONE Race, the Human Race. It’s broken down into four sub-groups, Mongoloid, Negroid, Caucasoid, and Rossoid. The original idea was to introduce a measure of surprise and excitement into the species, like colored peppers in a salad. What happened was a massive cock-up mess that is still being run on like a bad case of diarrhea. One Race. One People. One world. One goal to make life better. Just what is so freakin’ hard to do in that regard? Forget color, it’s barely an eighth of an inch on the outside; inside we’re all the same color. Realize that, and all the rest is easy.

  • White European culture is what it is primarily because for the last thousand years, Europe has been the home and seat of Christendom. Christianity brought about hospitals, the scientific method, universities, and movable type, among other things. And Christendom fostered the most compassionate and humane society history has ever seen.

    But Christendom cannot be solely the domain of Europe and whites. It belongs and ought to be offered to everyone.

    • Joslyn Renfrey

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_al-Haytham
      To be honest the earliest known uses of the scientific method as we know it today were done by this muslim man, al-haytham.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_printing_in_East_Asia
      The first moveable types where ceramic and invented in 1040 CE in the northern song dynasty in china.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_medicine
      http://www.legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-civilizations/ancient-egypt/ancient-egyptian-education/
      and fairly effective hospitals and schools existed even in bronze-age Egypt.

      As for the claims of “the most compassionate and human society history has ever seen”… well as a trans person I personally haven’t really experienced that compassion and humanity.

      • Re: Hasan Ibn al-Haytham. The Islamic world did not follow in his footsteps; they preferred a theology where everything happens because and ONLY because Allah so wills it, with no regard to logic or anything else. And it does not surprise me at all to learn he was active in Iberia only shortly after Islam conquered those previously Christian lands.

        In spite of earlier use of movable type, woodblock printing remained dominant throughout the Orient, and the printing *press* remains an innovation of Christendom, largely because first, the Roman alphabet lends itself far better to mass production than the huge numbers of glyphs used in most East Asian languages, and second, because each printed page remained a piece of craftwork, as both spreading the ink and transferring it to paper were done with hand tools.

        The Wikipedia article on Egyptian medicine mentions doctors and/or physicians, but nothing like hospitals. The “Legends and Chronicles” site mentions that medicine was a subject of study four times, but says nothing about its practice.

        While there were schools of various types throughout history, the university is widely regarded as a European innovation, evolving from cathedral schools. Certainly there is no historical consensus that any previous culture had any equivalent institution.

        The notion that defendants should have counsel in criminal proceedings is an innovation of the Inquisition. The idea that owning people as chattel should be illegal is directly out of Christendom. The belief that every sick person should receive treatment no matter what started with Christian hospitals. And while I hold no truck with transgenderism any more than transhumanism, or mutilation of healthy functioning body parts in pursuit of some disordered desire (which includes all non-reconstructive cosmetic surgery), by no means does that abrogate you of any right to life, liberty, or property, and you should be protected from assault, theft, robbery, and like harm. I doubt you’d get so well treated under Islam, and possibly not under Bhuddism, given that the Dalai Lama upholds stricter rules regarding sexual behavior than does the Pope (see https://youtu.be/kstH-8jwa80 )

        • Joslyn Renfrey

          “The idea that owning people as chattel should be illegal is directly out of Christendom.”
          I’m sorry, what?
          (Predominantly Christian) Western Europe happily partakes in the north atlantic slave trade for four whole centuries and you tell me that it was Christendom who gave us the wisdom that slavery was bad? Where the hell was wise old christendom when that happened?

          • I will freely admit that for nearly all of human history, slavery was regarded as normative. Compared to the history of slavery, the drive to abolish it is in fact very recent, and its origins quite well known and documented. So, where did the abolition movement begin, and with whom?

            I’ll give you a few groups that DIDN’T start the abolition movement.

            The movement to abolish slavery did not begin with Hindus, Bhuddists, Muslims, atheists, animists, pagans, or Jews.

            Would you care to venture a guess as to who DID start it, and what they cited as their reason?

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            “Would you care to venture a guess as to who DID start it, and what they cited as their reason?”

            http://www.persepolis.nu/persepolis-cyrus.htm
            Cyrus The Great?

            Wait, was it Solon?

            The Lex Petelia Papiria?

            Wang Mang?
            Ashoka?

            I know you wish to move the goal toward those that would identify themselves with the “Abolition Movement”, but fighting slavery under different names is still important.

          • Alright, but how many of those actually got slavery abolished? Cos if they didn’t do it, they can’t take credit for you living in a society where slavery is abolished.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            Slavery is still around, we just call it by different names, like “prison labor” and “amazon.com”. By your standards even the abolitionists can’t take credit for abolitionism.

            -but as for fighting it and reducing it, yeah, all those groups and people I mentioned did make a change for the better as well as inspiring future abolitioneers.