As Christians, we emphasize the importance of knowing our identity in Christ. Our personal identity also builds on other things, such as moral values, interests, experiences, etc. Our identity is personal; it is how we choose to view ourselves.
Say that you come from a wealthy home, and everyone you know is wealthy. You have little idea of what poverty even means. You don’t see your social class as a significant part of your identity because it is not individual or unique to you. Everyone you know is that way.
In a similar way, being white in America is normal. Especially for those who grew up in white communities, being white is not something integral to personal identity. While this is a completely natural process, I would argue that this overlooking of one’s own ethnic background is detrimental. Whether we realize it or not, our racial background affects our culture, perspective and a variety of other things. Unfortunately, it is easy to become so comfortable with being white that these things are not even noticed.
Do you know your ethnic heritage? Are you Irish, German, Norwegian or from somewhere else? Do you know why your ancestors came to America? Do you know how they made a living or what their culture was like? Do you know what their celebrations were like?
As someone who is half Dutch, I value my heritage. We make Oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts) for New Years Eve. My uncle is a cheese farmer. While I am definitely American, there is an understanding of a historical culture that also influences me. This history helps give me a sense of pride that contributes greatly to my personal identity.
Yet there are many of us who have no idea what our ethnic background is. Or, we’re so mixed that it’s hard to get a feeling of personal identity without feeling like a mutt. In these cases, as well as for those who know some of their families’ history, I think it is important to consider what it means to be white in America. Generally, as white people, we rarely have to think about our skin color. We rarely feel self-conscious or out of place simply because we’re white. Many have never experienced their whiteness until they travel internationally. However, I don’t think you have to leave the country to experience life as a minority. You definitely don’t have to leave the country to at least think about your culture and environment.
Why do I suggest that we begin to realize how much race influences our identity? Because I believe that white people are the last to see their race as a part of their identity. This lack of identity leaves us feeling insecure and fearful when others begin to promote their racial identity as being important. We don’t understand our own identity because it’s never been challenged. Yet, as soon as it is challenged, we are unable to say what our culture or history is.
It is a common assumption that a disregard or lack of pride for ethnicity will promote diversity and inclusion. I don’t believe this. For diverse communities to exist and thrive, each individual must be affirmed in their unique attributes.