TRUE OPINION: White people need culture too

TRUE OPINION: White culture needs to move beyond just pleasure or guilt in racism and supremacy, writes Jemma Nott.

As the culture wars fuel on in the streets, social media and in the general consciousness across Western nations, it could be said the conversation perpetually falls short of the proverbial mark.

Whether the question is the Black Lives Matter movements, the Indigenous deaths in custody campaigns or simply attacks on ‘POC’ in any setting, there is a lot of well-meaning support from every sector of society (as well as quite a lot of cynical virtue-signalling).

Yet, what seems to be missing from the conversation is some kind of attempt at dialogue amongst ourselves – those of the bad, white working class. White people in movements like ‘BLM’ might refer to themselves as ‘allies’ but what actually is ‘allyship?’ Is it more meaningful to simply be saying or doing the ‘right’ things because that is the directive you’ve received from someone who fits into this incredibly, and perhaps unnecessarily, homogenizing title of ‘POC.’ Or Is it more meaningful to say and do the things that with introspection and genuine critical interrogation you have personally decided is ‘right?’

Someone of course might counter that people who are ‘POC’ might have narratives and world experience that ‘white’ people don’t and therefore they should take a step back and listen wherever necessary. Now, this is something that anyone who is not a fully fledged narcissist should really innately know to do with almost anyone who has a different experience of the world than them. But surely the same argument of sitting back and listening can apply to the white world presuming we are talking about skin colour and not simply of-Anglo-Saxon-heritage.

Do I know what it’s like to undergo an imperialist attempt to divide my country by locality so as to bomb it into the ground and use it as a cheap source of resources while my parent’s flee as refugees to a Western country? No, because I’m not Slavic. Do I know what it’s like to have my ancestors undergo an imperialist-designed famine and experience the economic devastation of occupation for decades to come? No because I have little connection with my Irish heritage. In fact, there are plenty of Slavs in Australia who receive more of a political education about the US destruction of Yugoslavia than some middle class Indians in the US or Australia know about the history of British colonialism in India.

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Now, I’m not making this point to denigrate anyone or any grouping of people. In fact, I raise it because I think it’s an important precursor to recognizing that in order to genuinely tackle racial divides in the West, ‘white’ people need to begin looking inwards. And in order to look inwards we first have to really grapple with the question of what ‘White Australia’ even is. It’s often a point of ridicule that white supremacists in Australia like Blair Cottrell when asked to name what ‘Australian’ culture is necessarily fall back on trivialisms that don’t actually mean anything like ‘BBQ’s’ or ‘having a fair go.’

If you sit on the left, when pushed to answer the question of what Australian culture is, you might respond with ‘colonialism’ or ‘putting kids on leashes.’ But I think what white supremacism highlights the most is that Anglo-Saxon and by the same token ‘Australian culture’ either isn’t real or has experienced quite a crisis since the onslaught of neo-liberalism. For those of us who have Celtic history we might cling to that like Leonardo Dicaprio clung onto that rafter but ultimately it’s not ours to claim at the point of being at least three generations down the line. After all what sense does it really make to identify with Boudicca or William Wallace where as settler classes our greatest enemies are class enemies and not that of a foreign occupying force? But ultimately, where does that leave us?

At a time, in which austerity only brutalizes the poor of every ethnicity and poor whites feel completely removed from any sense of security about financial stability, where do we find community? Hope? Something firm to grasp back on to? It’s rare that in diaspora cultures do you find teenage homelessness or parents who won’t financially in some way (provided they have the money) support their children. It’s also rarer in diaspora communities for the family to be quite so decimated as it is among working class white people.

Now, I’m in no hurry to save the traditional nuclear family, however, historically it was a source of finding community. In 1970’s Australia, when a single income could support a family, when jobs lasted a lifetime (or, you could literally walk into a new job the next day after quitting your old one) and when people could buy houses on a couple of years of a single income, people could get to know their environments, coworkers, and neighbours in a more meaningful way than anything in our modern digital-tech era. Where now we exist off a collage of social media interactions ever-superficializing real-life while young people bounce from contract job to contract job – just hustlin’- but really struggling.

There is no pride in genocide, there is no pride in the ongoing stolen generation, there is no pride in not radically transforming this country to reseed it back to meaningful Black management. But white people, on both the political left and right, really need to reseed our own culture if we’re to find meaning in this settler colony as it exists today.

It’s simply not enough to recognize what has gone wrong and what is going wrong, we can’t just perpetually be on the defense or we’ll forever be stuck with a political left who knows more about what they don’t want than what they do. It’s so easy to go to an anti racism rally, fly a banner and declare your opposition to racism. It’s much harder to interrogate where we should be moving and what an ‘ideal’ white culture or ‘Australia’ actually looks like.

We do need a culture though – we need something that looks beyond the self-serving, individualistic culture of the Western middle classes – where talking about what you’re going to buy on the weekend serves as a filler for the ritual, and sense of purpose that religiosity left behind. To a certain degree, tribalism is innate to the human condition – you find it in the US Deep South just as you would have found it in the Georgian USSR. But typically people are united by some kind of drive that gets them out of bed in the morning – whether that be religious, nationalist, or ideological. Increasingly, people have none of the above. And the question remains, where to from here?

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To the degree that diaspora cultures are slightly less inculcated with these hyper-individualist or superficial forms of organizing social life under capitalism it’s because they are first or second generation migrants from countries where family structures that are ultimately the remnants of feudalism still remain. A Greek or Nepalese person might not have to look very far to find peasantry in their recent family history, but my ancestry is a product of the first Industrial Revolution (funded of course by the pillage of India and China). ‘White’ people have had a much longer history with this misery-system we call capitalism and it shows now in how we organize on social lines – afraid of the social unknown, everything whether its in the family unit or the friendship circle is an exchange of some kind or another and obsessively searching for the newest trend so as to use what you’ve bought as somehow a signal of personality.

By comparison, to perceive your behaviour in public as somehow a reflection of your family or to be concerned about being socially shamed for not looking after a family member as a white person would be a very alien concept. Yet in poor countries where lack of a welfare system means that the family is the only source of support, the culture has always been predicated on these kinds of social differences.

So, ultimately the question of whether ‘white’ people have a culture is a less important question than the rather pressing one of what can replace the gaping hole of culture that capitalism chews up and spits back out at us as a two-for-one deal? At a point in history where the working classes of countries like Australia are truly struggling more than ever and we are climbing towards a Great Depression-era economy, people need a sense of purpose and hope. Whether it’s reigniting new paganism or searching endlessly for this or that subculture, there’s clearly quite a glut in ‘white culture’ that hasn’t yet been filled with anything quite compelling enough.

Ultimately, though, what is clear is that ‘white people’ particularly in Western countries are not going to be convinced away from the pull of white supremacism with a defensive campaign. Does Pauline Hanson really think that the guy who’s union job got offshored and who is now barely making ends meet, and getting food from charities on the weekend thinks it OK to be white? No, she doesn’t care. There’s no point beating guilt into white people who’ve been beaten over their heads by austerity their entire lives. Unfortunately, that tactic simply hasn’t and won’t work. Ultimately, working class people are driven by whatever will give them enough of a sense of pride to endure another shit day at work or in the line at Centrelink.

It’s not enough to simply have pride in endurance. No one has more hidden wounds than the bottom rungs of the working classes yet being able to benefit from a sense of victimhood has always been a uniquely middle class phenomena. What we ultimately need is more conversation that exists on the offensive and we need to begin discussing within the domain of what is possible and dare I say it ideal.

About Jemma Nott 2 Articles
Jemma Nott is a postgraduate student in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, writer and socialist with an interest in geopolitics and cultural affairs. She has a background in financial and business journalism. We are yet to confirm through DNA evidence that she is in fact a human.

1 Comment

  1. Great article! It seems a shame to have to congratulate the author for being “brave” when bringing such an important subject to the discussion table. Whether you agree or disagree, this is part of a conversation that must be had by each of us in these polarising times. Thank you for taking the time and making the decision to write about this.

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