Aspects & Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the U.S.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (plus some additions added by Robin)

Note from Robin: The way I see it is these individual aspects are not necessarily unique to white culture in the U.S. when they stand alone. I think if we look at this list as a cultural package a broad-brushed summary emerges.

1. Rugged Individualism

  • The individual is the primary unit
  • Self-reliance
  • Independence & autonomy highly valued + rewarded
  • Individuals assumed to be in control of their environment, “You get what you deserve”
  • “I, me, mine” language

2. Family Structure

  • The nuclear family: cis-man father, cis-woman mother, 2 children is the ideal social unit
  • Husband is breadwinner and head of household
  • Wife is homemaker and subordinate to the husband
  • Children should have own rooms, be independent [babies sleep alone]

3. Emphasis on Scientific Method

  • “Objective,” rational linear thinking
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • Quantitative emphasis

4. History

  • Based on Northern European immigrants’ experience in the U.S.
  • Heavy focus on the British Empire
  • The primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition

5. Religion

  • Christianity is the norm
  • Anything other than Judeo-Christian tradition is foreign
  • No tolerance for deviation from single god concept

6. Binary thinking

  • Hyper-categorizing and judging people and situations as bad or good
  • Gender = binary (M/F)
  • Sexuality = binary (gay/straight)

7. Status, Power & Authority

  • Wealth = worth
  • Your job is who you are
  • Respect authority
  • Heavy value on ownership of goods, space, property

8. Time

  • Follow rigid time schedule
  • Time viewed as a commodity

9. Future Orientation

  • Plan for future
  • Delayed gratification
  • Progress is always best
  • “Tomorrow will be better”

10. Aesthetics

  • Based on European culture
  • Steak and potatoes; “bland is best”
  • Woman’s beauty is based on blonde, thin – “Barbie”
  • Man’s attractiveness based on economics status, power, intellect

11. Communication

  • “The King’s English: rules
  • Written tradition
  • Avoid conflict, intimacy
  • Don’t show emotion
  • Don’t discuss personal life
  • Be polite (unless you have power) 
  • Stuck in the head – numb in the body (physically stiff)
  • Over-valuing personal opinions / lack of humility

12. Holidays

  • Based on Christian religions [white-washed Jesus and God who is gendered male]
  • Based on white history & male leaders

13. Justice

  • Based on English common law
  • Protect property & entitlements
  • Intent counts
  • Police others – rule-oriented

14. Competition

  • Be #1
  • Win at all costs
  • Winner/loser dichotomy
  • Action Orientation
  • Master and control nature
  • Must always “do something” about a situation
  • Aggressiveness and Extroversion
  • Decision-making
  • Majority rules (when Whites have power)
  • Compete to prove worthiness and value

15. Protestant Work Ethic

  • Hard work is the key to success
  • Work before play
  • “If you didn’t meet your goals, you didn’t work hard enough”
  • Perfectionism (but not for ppl with most power)
  • Productivity over relationship