German School and changing white culture

I’ve been thinking about white culture.  Joe Ho helped us with his observations about white culture, and communicating effectively within white culture on campus.  If you still doubt white people have a specific culture, why not go see My Big Fat Greek Wedding again just to think about the two families coming together, or remember about all the assumptions white people have together around how we do Thanksgiving, or how we do Christmas, or other major cultural events. Everybody has a culture, including white Americans.

Certainly, Doug and I both think that white culture has aspects which are positive and powerful. One of the core values of this blog is to be appreciative, looking for positive aspects to build on. White people tend to have a “can do” spirit, a sense of our own agency, a belief that things can change for the better, for example.

But white culture also has toxic, racist aspects. Black students at the university in my home city are speaking out about our negative effect on them, and their wellbeing. I share this “Being Black at UW” video to bear witness to the toxic aspects of white culture in my hometown.  Please spend two minutes watching it.

So because of this, and other situations like it, we need to change white culture. We need to learn to notice how the Holy Spirit is active in changing culture, and participate with what God is already doing. We can be in our own culture, be prayerful, be connected to white people, and call our friends and family and colleagues to a higher, better, more Godly standard.

How on earth do I change my culture? you might ask.

Here’s an example of this going badly. In Wisconsin, where I live, a hundred years ago there were publicly funded German language and dual language (German-English) schools. We had whole towns that spoke only German.   Our Wisconsin white American culture changed, because of the influence of English American immigrants, and the xenophobia between the two world wars. We burned German language books and closed schools.  So we all changed, in Wisconsin, a lot because of the hatred and fear of Germans between the two wars. Now most of our books and newspapers and blogs and schools are English based, and Muller brewery in Milwaukee has become Miller.  (My computer won’t let me put the umlaut over the “u” in Muller.) Sadly, part of the reason some white people are not aware of our own culture is because of these kinds of losses. My own paternal grandmother, who was German, never spoke German to me or in my presence. She and her sister erased most of my connection with German American culture.

But culture change can be redemptive as well. Last week, two guys came to visit me at church. They are in charge of a German language school and they were looking for a place to hold classes. Come to find out, they teach German language and culture to adults and kids of all ages. They are attempting to recover German culture in Wisconsin – in our last census, 44% of Wisconsinites reported German heritage and we have a lot of fun German traditions.  Culture changes, both for the negative and the positive. Culture is a real but fluid phenomenon.

In Germany itself, culture was intentionally changed in an attempt to become less anti-semitic, and heal from the Holocaust. After World War 11, the German people completely overhauled their education system in a concerted attempt to de-nazify and change their culture.

So the question remains, what will we do, to identity, confront and change the toxic effects of white culture? Here are seven simple ideas for adults and children:

  1. educate yourself and your children … find out who you are
  2. guard your own tongue (against hate speech and microagressions)… say kind, good things
  3. speak up against hate speech and unjust situations (be a witness, not a bystander)
  4. don’t take over (we white people, and especially white men, like to solve problems)… let’s avoid fixing and learn to be partners.
  5. leave space for the victim (of racism) to find his or her own voice, and validate it… this may mean, join the protest
  6. when the law comes (police, lawyers, teachers, principals)… stay.
  7. be present, be a witness, be a friend
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