Should White American Culture Be Preserved?
Being Circassian American
I grew up in rural upstate NY, in a predominantly white, small town. While school, friends, television, radio, and the entire outside world taught me what it meant to be American, my father's stories taught me what it meant to be Circassian. He taught me about the importance of honor, being generous with guests, caring for the young, and respecting our elders. He also shared our history, which was full of conflict and war. I learned how Circassians fought off the invading Huns, the Mongols, and for 100 years they fought off the invading Russians. Each time, defending our homeland and our community with their lives. By the end of the war with Russia, even the women were fighting on the battlefield, shoulder to shoulder with the men, in one last desperate attempt to protect their families from annihilation.
Unfortunately, invasions weren’t the only horror we had to endure. My father also taught me how some of our ancestors were taken as slaves into the MiddleEast, serving as a military elite, known as the Mamluks. They eventually rose to become rulers of the empire, only to be wiped out a few hundred years later to make way for the next ruling dynasty.
These stories of becoming a minority in our own homeland, and our culture and language slowly but surely disappearing from the world, created in me a sense of responsibility to protect that identity and those traditions. As a result, the Circassian community works hard to preserve our language, our history and our culture, to the point that we discourage each other from marrying anyone outside the community.
Speaking to my Arab, Indian, Turkish, Korean and other friends, I’ve learned that they have similar experiences. These friends, as children and young adults, returned “home” during their summer breaks to reconnect with family, to learn their language, and deepen their cultural connections. Many of them also attended weekend schools to learn more about their languages and cultures. As adults many have also chosen to marry a spouse from the same cultural background, to hold onto the familiar and pass down those traditions they grew up loving.
The Future of White American Culture
As I was pondering these topics, something struck me. While it’s perfectly acceptable for Circassian Americans, Turkish Americans, Korean Americans and other immigrant groups to work to preserve their cultures, that’s not so for white America. This has been understandable as the white-American experience has dominated US culture as a whole, from holidays and music to TV and movies. However, projections estimate that America will become a “minority white” country by 2045, so should this cultural norm be re-evaluated?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning white nationalism, or racism of any kind. As a matter of fact, while I may be proud of my own heritage, I don’t feel the same need to preserve it as others in the Circassian community. I’m more driven by learning about those who are different from me. It’s the reason I learned how to use chopsticks from my Korean American roommate in college, as we enjoyed bulgogi and dukbokki, and listened to 90s K-pop. It’s why I enjoyed hanging out with Turkish friends, as we listened to Tarkan together, or contemplated the words of Fethullah Gülen. It’s also the reason I married my wife, who was born and raised in Hong Kong.
Americans will increasingly have experiences like the ones I had, meeting people from around the world and incorporating these diverse cultures into their own. I believe this has always been a strength of America and I believe it will be incredibly important as we move into the future. I also believe that an increasing number of Americans will embrace this new cultural norm.
That being said, just like many of my minority friends, I understand some feel more comfortable with their own culture, with the familiar. If it’s right for minorities to preserve their cultures, is it also right for white America to preserve their culture? Do projections that America will become “minority white” by 2045 change our current equation? In a land of minorities, should everyone be given the latitude to preserve their cultural traditions? Do we risk pushing people to adopt more extreme ideologies if we don’t allow them this outlet? Or is preservation of one’s individual culture disruptive to the idea of national unity? Should all groups conform to an ever-evolving American cultural norm?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Together I believe we can better understand these complexities, and even pave a path forward. Please share your thoughts …