An Open Letter To Peter Cvjetanovic

There's a difference between fighting for white culture and white dominance.
08/15/2017 01:58 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2017
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Dear Peter,

It looks like the internet has put you in its crosshairs. The image of you at the Unite the Right rally having gone viral, there are those who want to see you punished, including calls for you to be fired and expelled from the university where you work and study. If I were in your position, I know I would feel a great deal of internal pressure to double down on the belief that, as you said,

the replacement of the statue [of Robert E. Lee] will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland.

It’s human nature to get defensive and even more committed to our views when we come under attack for them. I’m sure there are also members of the white supremacist networks that you’re involved with who are using the episode of you being singled out as proof that the left is trying to destroy white culture. Everything is in place for you to commit more deeply to the white supremacy that is the “alt-right.”

But you don’t have to. 

Everything is in place for you to commit more deeply to the white supremacy that is the 'alt-right.' But you don’t have to.

I’m going to ask you to think about what culture is in general and white culture specifically a bit. Culture can be the outward expressions of a group, such as arts, language, cuisine, history, etc. This is often called “culture with a big ‘C’.” It can also be the worldview that comes from the shared assumptions of different group members, often called “culture with a small ‘c.’” Without getting very specific about white culture, or going down the rabbit hole of the many myths that explicit white supremacists tell about whiteness, let’s agree that there is a white culture and that it is imperfect and at times beautiful. Having said that, here is why your participation in the Unite the Right rally is misguided: Unite the Right is using white culture as a smokescreen to perpetuate white dominance.

White supremacists have done this throughout history, or at least for as long as it has been unacceptable to mainstream society to advocate openly for white dominance. White dominance means that we whites can expect our own experience to be centered in society. We can expect education to reflect the white experience to the minimization or exclusion of all others. It means that our entertainment centers whiteness and only appropriates forms from other cultures in a superficial way that serves to keep us whites centered rather than exploring other groups’ cultures. It also means that we can simply exclude the rights and experience of other racial groups as not mattering. It means many more things as well.

The reasons for removing confederate monuments are many. One is that while they may symbolize grit, determination, and independence of white culture to you, they also symbolize the reality that this nation was literally built by indentured servants as part of a wholesale, multigenerational genocide that not only has repercussions in the present but is also being denied by the very groups that are marching to “preserve their white culture.” We remove monuments to the confederacy because our non-white fellow citizens feel that their presence is a pointed message that we whites do not respect them and that our society does not fully include them. We remove them because we care about our fellows. There are many more reasons to remove these monuments, just as there are many more ways that non-whites in the USA are disenfranchised, excluded, and often murdered because of white dominance.

If we want to honor some kind of white heritage, we do it within a context in which no reasonable person can deny that society favors us whites. That favored status means that we may feel under attack at times. That’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that we are slowly, hopefully, relinquishing our dominance over society. Losing dominance feels like we are being oppressed. We aren’t. That feeling is just the feeling of losing some of our privilege.

People who feel victimized are more easily controlled: It’s easier to get people to fight for their liberty than to fight to control others.

You don’t have to retreat into white supremacy. You don’t have to wrap yourself in the mantle of white dominance and convince yourself that you are fighting for your survival. That’s what white supremacist want you to do, because people who feel victimized are more easily controlled: It’s easier to get people to fight for their liberty than to fight to control others. To be sure, some of us want to dominate our fellows, but most of us just want to feel like things are fair. Confusing white culture for white dominance will never lead to fairness.

I hope you are not fired and/or expelled. I also hope that you reflect and learn more about the lived experience of other races in our country and that you do it from sources that are not invested in continued white dominance.

If you want to talk, you can find me here.

Peter

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