I always hear white people complaining about how they don’t like that minority groups can have their own organizations (i.e. Black Entertainment Television, Vietnamese Student Association, etc) while white people can’t. Yet I can’t ever find anyone who can explain what whiteness even is. There are organizations for Poles, Sicilians, Jews, Greeks, Germans, etc who all share a common culture, language, food, etc. But what do all “white people” have in common other than occupying the highest rung in the racial hierarchy?
Now I’m not saying all white people lack a strong ethnic identification or that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’ve found that this might explain why some white people appropriate other cultures. And why the exclusivity of cultural organizations makes them uncomfortable. Because exclusivity highlights how people of color have a privilege (if you can call it that) over white people: an established network based on shared culture and history. As in, no amount of Western individualism will allow them to have what we have. No matter how much a white person thinks Vietnamese culture is cool and wants to be Vietnamese, he will never be treated like a Vietnamese.
You know how some frats and sororities haze their pledge classes to bring them closer to each other? To the point where it’s like a familial connection? I’m not saying hazing is okay, but collective struggle brings people together in a really powerful way. It brings Vietnamese-Americans close together even if we’re far apart, so that when a Viet person finds out I’m Viet, they’ll help me out, whether it’s offering me a discount on my meal or a job when I’m looking for one. My parents came here with no money or knowledge of the language, several of my relatives came here on boats fleeing the war, and some of them are stuck in Vietnam with invalidated work licenses because of the regime change. Every Vietnamese-American has a story like this. And it’s this narrative that binds us. The fact that we treat each other like family reminds us that we’re all in this together, and that even if we’re in an unfamiliar place with a different culture, history, and language, we still have a safety net to fall back on.
But white people can’t and don’t have a racial safety net in America because they don’t need it. This world is safe and familiar to them. They may experience struggle in other ways (like gender, sexual orientation, class), but they will not experience struggle because of their race. Yet they want to have a community that shelters them and takes care of them and loves them when society is hostile to them. So they adopt other peoples’ cultures (i.e. trans-ethnicity) to find a collective struggle that binds them with a community in a way collective privilege cannot.