Opinion Columns & Blogs

No such thing as ‘white culture,’ and that’s a good thing

Los Lobos is a Los Angeles band that blends rock ‘n roll with Mexican, bluegrass and other forms of music.
Los Lobos is a Los Angeles band that blends rock ‘n roll with Mexican, bluegrass and other forms of music.

While driving to work, I was shocked to hear a mainstream radio station interview alt-right leader Richard Spencer. Along with a host of other misguided white nationalists, Spencer was one of the instigators of the deadly Charlottesville, Va., incident last August.

Since Donald Trump has been in the White House, fringe racists like Spencer have been rallying, speaking at colleges and creating a media presence.

The alt-right’s beliefs are insulting, especially considering their ignorance of the very culture which they assume authority to lecture about to the rest of us. Not only is America not a “white culture,” as they claim, but it never was.

The more one studies the world’s cultures the more apparent it becomes that they are all at their roots combined from multicultural sources. Look no further than rock-’n-roll, one of America’s great cultural gifts to the world. It originally was an African-American creation which featured as a key instrument the Middle Eastern guitar.

Before going further in the cultural argument, we should be clear about one thing that ought to have ended the alt-right’s baseless arguments before they were formed: From the Revolutionary War to today, people of all colors, nationalities and religious backgrounds have fought for and died for this country. All anyone has to do is type into a computer search engine “military history of (choose an ethnicity or religion) Americans,” and you can learn this for yourself.

No one has to die in battle to give any other person or group legitimacy; but the fact so many non-WASPs have fought and died in defense of our country would shut up the alt-right if they had any sense of decency.

From black African descendent Crispus Attucks, who was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre, to the next African, Muslim, Jewish or white American soldier who is sent home in a coffin, decent people should be able to agree that a whole lot of people of every ethnicity and religion have a right to call America their home.

The origin of Western Civilization is often referred to as the Homeric Age after the author (or authors) who created the Iliad and the Odyssey. These mythic adventure stories center on a war in the Middle Eastern city-state of Troy. The first Western philosopher was reportedly a man named Thales who is thought to have lived in what is today Turkey. During the Middle Ages it was the Arab-speaking world that protected much of the Greco-Roman texts, including those of Plato and Aristotle, in their vast libraries.

The most confused among the alt-right are those who claim to be Christians, but who are in denial of the fact that Jesus and his followers were all Jews. The famous Last Supper scene depicted in so many churches is a Passover meal.

Throughout the foothills above Merced, and in the Merced County Courthouse Museum, there are sites and artifacts dedicated to the Chinese who were influential in building this area. I was born in Los Angeles, which is in Spanish because that was spoken here long before English. These cultures are not what Spencer and his followers consider white, but they are deeply American.

Whatever it is that the alt-right desires, it isn’t American nor would it look like America. What precisely do they imagine? In a new nation of Whitelandia will it be illegal to fall in love and marry anyone but a white person? Will all but purely white cultural expressions be outlawed? One thing for sure; it would be a totalitarian state – which explains their shameful fascination with fascism.

Trump and the Birther Movement he led have disdain for non-white, non-male leaders.

Right-wing apologist Ann Coulter claims there is nothing wrong with wanting the nation to look like she believes it did in the past, i.e., white. For her it’s an aesthetic thing, like a Norman Rockwell painting. (Rockwell was an active civil rights advocate.) For these bigots, colored people are OK as long as they remain minorities, powerless and in service to white people.

As I finished this column, a truck passed my house. Inside were workers listening to Tex-Mex music, a blend of Mexican folktales, Moorish guitar, lots of brass and accordion-based polka. Like America itself, Tex-Mex is a cultural smorgasbord blended into a unique art form. Right now, it sounds like the liberty and justice for which all Americans are supposed to stand.

Keith Law is an instructor of Philosophy at Merced College; he wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.