Are there white privileges in Australia?

The latest twist in the American racism debate: Who knows, loves Barbie and likes bland potatoes

After accusations of racism, the Washington National Museum of African American Culture and History withdrew a graphic listing of the characteristics of "white" culture. The story is revealing - and thought-provoking.

Can avowed anti-racists be racists? That is the question that a curators' workshop at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington recently raised - involuntarily and rather involuntarily weird.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum, inaugurated in 2018, recently set up a special section on the NMAAHC website. The initially unsuspicious title of the educational portal was: “Talking about Race”.

Among the seven categories that are intended to stimulate the debate, there is also a section on the subject of “wisdom” adorned with quotes from “anti-racist” authors. It is currently the latest craze in the USA to understand white skin color - like black skin in the past - as a trait of people and to derive cultural behavior and practices from it.

«White» work ethic?

One detail of this venture was tough: under the title “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture in the USA”, an overview graphic outlined the core characteristics of the white population.

Accordingly, individualism, nuclear family with the man as breadwinner and the woman at the stove, objective, rational, linear and causal thinking based on the scientific method, Protestant work ethic, Christian-Jewish monotheism, appreciation of prosperity, property and property as well as respect for authority and order Majority principle the field of "wisdom". Punctuality, bland food (“steak and potatoes, best bland”) and the female beauty principle of the Barbie doll (“thin”, “blonde”) rounded off the cultural and aesthetic phenomenology of “Weissheit”.

What may appear to be a more or less flattering description of the cardinal virtues of Western modernity is, of course, problematic at second glance. Because the «whiteness» graphic itself is racist. In any case, it fits the definition in the "Merriam-Webster" dictionary like a fist on the eye: Racism is the prejudice that race primarily determines human characteristics and abilities and thus determines the superiority or inferiority of population groups. And that is exactly what the graphic in question does.

Not only is the taxonomy of stereotypes still as racist and absurd today as it was at the time when Spanish colonial rulers differentiated people as mulattos, mestizos, pardos, indios and zambos depending on their racial mix. Even those who believe that white people have to endure such prejudiced discussions of their culture as part of the analysis and processing of their "white" privilege would be well advised not to rush to rely on their validity. A counterexample is sufficient to put an end to the general validity of the characteristics for whites and all whites.

«Black» laziness?

However, the graphic collapses completely in reverse. Because if the list contains the exclusive features for members of the white race, are all non-whites a priori the opposite, i.e. unpunctual, lazy and incapable of rational thinking? You can't think more racist.

If one pushes the stringency of the classification even further, even the category of "whiteness" moves into the distance for so many whites. Caucasian late risers, lovers of fried chicken with spicy sauce, atheistic housewives and nihilistic idlers are skewed to the cultural category of “wisdom”. So don't they qualify as non-whites?

At this absurdity, ridicule and protest poured out over the NMAAHC. The museum quickly removed the offensive graphic, which originally comes from an older training manual for anti-racism by Judith H. Katz, from the website. In an apology, interim director Spencer Crew announced that they wanted to talk about ideologies instead of people, but unfortunately did not achieve the desired effect.

Of course, this is nothing more than cheap PR rhetoric. Because the question remains: What is all of this? Or more precisely: What does it express?

Ironic punch line?

One thing is certain: The anti-white racism expressed in the graphic, regardless of its contradictions, is becoming more and more socially acceptable, accepted by large parts of a younger, especially white, public socialized with diversity and sensitivity trainers. One could comment critically: They benefit from their “white” privileges - and as an encore get a good conscience, in other words: the moral certainty of belonging to the good guys. There has recently been an American word for this: «virtue signaling», the pretense of one's own virtue.

An interesting interpretation of the phenomenon suggested "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat. For Douthat, the anti-racist general criticism of “white” values, as practiced in the NMAAHC graphic, is not just an expression of an almost religious endeavor to be morally correct. For Douthat, behind the criticism of the so-called toxic “wisdom” there is also a deep disappointment about the failed American dream.

For a long time, meritocratic mantras were part of a pact both at home and at universities: Protestant work ethics, the pursuit of perfection and secondary virtues guaranteed a good education and sooner or later a comfortable job situation, home and family. Such scenarios have now become quite unrealistic for the generations of Millennials and Gen Z plagued by the great recession.

So the whole situation shows itself in a different light. The disappointed boys garnish their resignation with the allegedly anti-racist criticism of an allegedly racist status quo that they actually long for. And the NMAAHC actually considered the desperate criticism to be educationally valuable enough to put on its website despite the really screaming racism.

If Douthat is right, then the whole story contains a comical punch line, which of course has a tragic note in itself. If only there was still this “white” world in which one could actually work out a good life with the good old “white” virtues!