Living With The Denial of Culture

The following arrives at the point of asking:

In the face of too much irresolvable complexity, must we simply say “fuck it” and accept and live by the (untenable) premise that we can go on living “without culture” by taking whatever we pick up (individually) to have the sustaining and grounding quality that actual culture provides?

That’s the question I have for us.

The Basics

As someone once said of white folks, “I don’t think they know they’re white.”

On the premise that the notion of “white” denies it is a race at all–that is, while other people are member of the “coloured” races, people of the white race are just people in a universal sense–then what effect does that have, what part or role does it play, in the dynamics of transracial adoption?

Some (obvious) basic consequences:

  • if (the nonexistent race of) white makes for universal people, then anyone not “white” becomes a non-person, or at most only a semi-person;
  • if race doesn’t matter or is not granted any social reality, then the denial of culture, history, place, home, that transracial adoptions inflicts automatically ceases to be seen as undesirable, much less harmful, by those adopting;
  • it establishes a catch-22, where the transracial adoptee must strive for a condition (of race) that his or her adopters do not recognize as a fundamental reality, even as they demand or at least expect conformity to the “universal” condition of personhood;
  • this all hides or masques the dominance of “white” as a socioeconomic category more than a fact of biology (though biological facts have real-world socioeconomic consequences)
  • in a technocratically optimistic and now neoliberally desiccated social world, what passes for the culture we must strive for seems more like anti-culture (because the “white” universal being, of course, cannot be limited to one place, one time, one culture).

The Consequences

As a perceived white person raised by a Hispanic male who aspired to the socioeconomic condition of whiteness–and succeeded, of course, to some degree–I do feel at times a massive gap where I know I should find “culture”; I find myself wanting to research Welsh and Nordic history and mythology then, because that’s culturally white (for the most part).

But I experience it viscerally also when I go (as they say around here) “north of Bradley” to get my hair cut in a predominantly Black part of town, and I feel the life, activity, vibrancy, and bustle of the social world there compared to the “white” parts of town. I felt it also when visiting Vietnam.

In the face of too much irresolvable complexity, then, do we just say “fuck it” and accept and live by the (untenable) premise that we can go on living “without culture” by taking merely whatever we pick up (individually) to have the sustaining and grounding quality that actual culture provides or imparts?

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3 thoughts on “Living With The Denial of Culture

  1. I have to come back to this really great question. Given the situation of the s—hole of a country I’ve returned to, I’m hard-pressed to explain why I might stay here. But it’s for exactly the kind of “resonance” or “vibrancy” you see “across the tracks”, which I also remember growing up and watching disappear, both in the New Jersey of my youth and the New York City of mid-life. If it is any consolation, it meant completely turning my back on the class of people who get to define “culture” in Lebanon; I find it in the nooks and crannies here, and among those equally displaced and dispossessed, with whom it is an active “currency” of social exchange.

    It’s funny, because a good friend and colleague, third-generation Lebanese-American, grew up not far from my town in New Jersey. When we are together, we fall into a “Jersey” mode that is quite comfortable for us; we are equally “estranged” from what should be our culture, both here and there.

    To me it’s a question of working with “living” cultural exchange; everything else is pretty much affectation….and I’ve vowed to drop that completely from my life….

  2. I’ll probably keep coming back to your question Snow Leopard because it raises so many points of discussion….sorry these replies are coming piecemeal, but they hit me every now and again….

    If I may restate a bit what you are saying here, we have moved from a situation where “culture” is a valid and living exchange among those who share this culture, to a commodified good that is purchased, or affected, or “soaked up”, or slummed. What is still most disturbing to me about the American experience is the fact that every group now mishmashed together in the category “white” was once a distinctive group with its own “culture”.

    Some groups have managed to hang on to this much longer than others, and the longer they hold out the more they are destined to be targeted for extermination (for example, I’m amazed and appalled by the number of television shows that either target the Amish, for one example, or which make minstrels out of Italian-Americans—The Jersey Shore; The Cake Boss—which also bring us back to New Jersey).

    This mediation is crucial to the decimation of original cultures and the imposition of a commodified/globalized/cosmopolitan culture. I remember growing up watching Hee Haw which was a case-in-point attack on “white” culture (despite being adored as a show by this very population). The banjo player in Deliverance stands for me as a similar motif of such destruction.

    Where are these arts, crafts, musical references, instruments, communal lifestyles today? If it were possible to bring them back, then we might return to this question in a different light….

    In a class I used to give one of our “modules” is Art, and we explore the move of art from a popular form of expression to an elitist and commodified product. One of my favorite books on this subject is The Necessity of Art by Ernst Fischer (interestingly, it is translated into Arabic as: Art and Socialism). Another great book along these lines is Community Art by Kate Crehan.

    There are a few places I’ve come across that celebrate this idea; The Lower East Side Printshop (http://www.printshop.org/web/home.html) and The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (http://missionculturalcenter.org/). To me the answer lies in going back and producing culture; not simply consuming it….

  3. While the idea of “White” is an attempt to be the culture that ends all cultures, the reality is that “White” is not a real race. How white is white? How does one get to be white? One gets to be White, (Read Blank Slate) by denying one’s history and culture, and blending into the “melting pot” that allows (forces) the discarding of memories of culture down the memory hole. The resulting “white” identity thereby becomes an absence of any real culture, and assumes: identities from other cultures, its dominance over others, history on its own terms, and then demands that all others who assume the identity of white do the same. Blank slate, you say? But isn’t that what adoptees are supposed to be? Why, yes, yes it is. Because the dominant abusive colonial white power is a blank slate, determined to wipe away all other colors, all other histories, all other cultures and create a completely blank slated culture so that it can sell you something, make you dependent on itself for your culture, and dependent on itself for its lie of history. For, if you were to sit down, meditate, and listen to the truth hiding in the memory of your cells, then you would know, that the blank slate is a lie, it’s the wizard behind the curtain with all the controls.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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