The beginning of February brings with it the end of the excitement of a new year, the hope of spring, and the annual reemergence of a lot of idiots insisting that because Black History Month exists, we ought to have a White History Month. It’s a form of deep and racist foolishness expressed by everyone from former actress Victoria Jackson to randos on social media. But all this stupidity and privilege actually reveals something very interesting: the extent to which people ignore that whiteness isn’t a natural phenomenon, but an aggregation of ethnicities.
It’s not just that the orientation of our public education system means that the history of European peoples and Americans gets prioritized over the study of Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, which is the rationale for Black History Month in the first place. It’s a corrective to an imbalance that’s only invisible to people who are aggressively not paying attention.
It’s that we actually have a lot of things that constitute commemorations of the history of white people. By presidential proclamation, we’ve recognized March as Irish-American Heritage Month, May as Jewish American Heritage Month, October as Italian American Heritage and Culture Month, and we even mark March 25 as Greek Independence Day. But to recognize that these are white history commemorations is to recognize that, if you start tracing back the history of whiteness, you’ll find that it’s extremely short. Those of us who check the Caucasian box on forms that ask for our racial identities used to be Jewish, or Italian, or Irish, or German, or French, with -American tacked on to the end depending on whether we’d been born in the United States or not. Those identities have been aggregated into whiteness, in part as a way of consolidating privilege and leveraging it against members of other racial and ethnic majority groups. I’m not sure what Jackson and company would make of that history if they actually studied it. But it’s what they’d find.