We’re not White, We’re European: Reflections on Culture

CeadMileFailtePlaque (1)
i.
It seems normal to me, having extended family in my home. I still remember rushing outside to greet my Grandmother when she would pull up after a hard day’s work cleaning other people’s homes. I remember her smile more than anything else. No matter how hard her day was she would always smile, and tell stories.

My Grandma would tell us about the depression and sharing one orange with her siblings for Christmas. She taught me about God and Jesus and explained why we were Catholic. She told us how we came from the southern part of Ireland and that the British had pushed us down to the rocks. She has a plaque that hung in her room which read “Céad Míle Fáilte” a hundred thousand welcomes in Irish. Being Irish was important to her.

“Top of the Morning to you” I responded the way I had been taught: “and the balance of the day to you.” This is the way we greeted one another on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t a huge holiday in our family, I mean we wore a little shamrock to school and if it was an out-of-uniform day we made sure to have green on. As I got older I realized other people were much more excited for the day than I was. I asked my Grandma why we didn’t get excited about it like other people did, after all we were actually Irish shouldn’t we be the most excited? She simply said “St. Patrick’s Day is for the Swedes.” I am not exactly sure what my Grandma meant but I know every St. Patrick’s Day, without fail, mobs of people flood the bars and streets in order to celebrate their/our ubiquitous Irishness and very few can respond to my greeting of Top of the Morning.

ii.

Christmas Eve. There was nothing quite like it. I looked forward to this night all year long. When I would get excited about Christmas it was often less to do with presents and more to do with going to my father’s childhood home, where his mother still lived, 216 5th Ave SE.

Before you even got in the house you knew there was something special about it, that life lived there. Maybe it was the vines that hugged the fence; maybe it was the yard that bared the signs of my Grandma’s dogs. We love dogs. It was probably different things at different times but more often than not, for me, it was the sound of laughter coming from the house.

When you walked in on Christmas Eve chances are it would take a second to get adjusted to the smoke. My family smoked like chimneys. My Dad says a lot of it came from the doctors telling his Dad to pick up smoking when he lost his eyesight, apparently it would distract him. Plus, smoking was the thing to do in their generation. Anyway, the house was quite smokey, but after a short time you barely noticed it. We would spend the rest of the night shadow boxing our uncles, teasing our cousins, meeting family friends who may as well of been family they were so connected. That’s just how my family was. Shit, I remember times when somebody my Pops grew up with would come tell me about how my Grandma let them stay there, some 20 or 30 years ago, when they got put out of their house for one reason or another. It seemed everybody showed up on Christmas Eve. I don’t know if my Grandma or anybody else in the family would tell you they did it because they cared about community, or some other fairly abstract lofty ideology, they would just tell you it was the right thing to do.

Today 216 5th Ave SE is rental property and when I drive by all I see is college kids on the porch and thousand dollar bikes locked to the fence. When my Grandpa died my Grandma was not financially secure and she ended up selling the house to Pillsbury. Pillsbury let here rent the house and when she passed on 216 went up for sale. I remember standing outside the fence watching as workers dragged out the stained and tattered carpet and everything else that had witnessed so much life and carried so many memories. They dragged out so many things that were so much more than things and just tossed them in the dumpster parked on the street. Some even commented on how old and “gross” the house was. I remember not hiding my tears.

I suppose it’s fitting, nothing else in the neighborhood is still there. Instead of the parks my father grew up on there are condos. Instead of the family owned grocery store there is a Lunds. Things change, I get it, they tell me it’s for the best.

iii.

“We’re not white, we’re European”

I wrote that line and paused. I wasn’t sure if I could say that publicly. I had been toying with the idea of publicly denouncing the identity of white but understood the complexity and nuance required to take such a stance. But it felt so good to say so I left it.

Saturday I went to a workshop titled “Healing Roots.” It was a workshop dedicated to helping European Americans begin to reconnect with their root culture, where we came from. It was an amazing experience and incredibly liberating. The general thesis presented was that whiteness is not a culture, it is not rooted in anything other than consumerism and various other superficial aspects of life, and that in order for us to ever deconstruct white supremacy, in order for us to begin to heal and be full human beings, we need to develop culture. I left Saturday afternoon feeling more hopeful than I had in a long time.

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3 thoughts on “We’re not White, We’re European: Reflections on Culture

  1. This is a great read:) I too have been entertaining the idea of denouncing the term white and using the term European. I mean really glad I’m not alone in this thinking!

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