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The White Issue: Smothered by 90210

“Although you might not think so, the phrase ‘white people’ is, in and of itself, a slur against white people.”

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The White Issue: Smothered by 90210
May 18, 1993

The Resisting Defamation Caucus, a San Jose-based spin-off of what was once called the European American Study Group, first came to the Voice‘s attention in its capacity as a media watchdog, firing off letters objecting to slurs against white people. Although you might not think so, the phrase white people is, in and of itself, a slur against white people; by the RDC’s lights it smothers our diversity. Other de­famatory terms resisted by the caucus in­clude, but are not limited to: blue-haired, fair-haired, caucasian, heathen, heretic, lily-white, peckerwood, infidel, and my person­al favorite, yankee dog.

Small and local though they may be, the RDC didn’t just fall off a turnip truck: “People active in our coalition of groups have been interviewed lots of times,” ac­cording to Dale Warner, sometime secre­tary of the European American Study Group and RDC member. Warner believes that “usually the reporter has, as his or her agenda, the goal of ‘unmasking’ some racist point of view. As soon as it becomes clear… that we are just regular folks, they usually back away, disappointed.” But then he also believes that “lily-white” is a “bizarre dyad” with which journalists are “slapping” the European American com­munity. And we only had, as our agenda, the goal of unmasking some incoherent, un­justified point of view:

VOICE: It seems that the bulk of your resistance is logocentric, as with your objection to the phrase dead white male. Do you also object to depictions of European Americans in the media and so forth?

DALE WARNER: We do, as a matter of fact. For example, we object ve-e-ery strongly to sitcoms like All in the Family or The Powers That Be, or 90210. We feel that those programs deliberately hold European American characters up for ridicule and stereotyping. On 90210, the European American characters are pretty mindless, pretty shallow, and they’re unaware of their ethnicity, they’re unaware of their place in history.

VOICE: And you wouldn’t consider that in the greater context of our culture that’s not necessarily the sole, definitive image?

WARNER: I think those shows are a very powerful statement of a stereotype that’s widely held, yes.

VOICE: And you don’t think that’s a little paranoid?

WARNER: Paranoid?

VOICE: Yes.

WARNER: On our part?

VOICE: Yes.

WARNER: Well, let me think about that…

VOICE: Considering, say, that the curriculum for virtually 100 per cent of American education emphasizes European American arts, history, language, and geography, don’t you think that considering Beverly Hills 90210 as damaging to your ethnic group is a little paranoid?

WARNER: Let me, let me, let me make this distinction… Don’t forget that here in San Jose a third of our population is La­tino or Chicano, almost another third is Asian American, with the remaining third being European American, so we’re looking at the local world through that lens!

VOICE: But Beverly Hills 90210 is not a local phenomenon. And the overall U.S. population is 75 per cent European Ameri­can. Do you take the multiculture to be a fait accompli?

WARNER: Oh, yeah. We have no doubt about it. It’s here to stay. And it will change over the next century as all of us get closer and closer related, but right now…

VOICE: And you’re not troubled by the fact that all major cultural and economic indi­cators say that the multiculture is not a fait accompli, and perhaps might never be?

WARNER: Well, it is here, I can tell you that. The census of San Jose of Santa Clara County, which is the fifth most powerful industrial county in the United States shows very clearly that we’re very diverse.

VOICE: Do you consider any criticisms of European American culture to be just?

WARNER: Yes. We’re much too sheeplike, and we don’t resist certain elites within our own ethnicity who are not operating in the interests of the greater community… That would be two criticisms… Oooooh! I want to tell you another criticism. Some­how, European Americans have forgotten that it’s okay to talk about the diversity of their ethnicity with other people. I am stunned at how many people have no idea that the English are different than the Irish. This is a third criticism: We are not telling our story! We are not letting new Ameri­cans of other than European origins know about our diversity. I am frankly shocked that we have done that. Latinos have no objection to making it clear that the His­panic population is remarkably diverse. Asian Americans have no hesitancy. And we feel that European Americans should do that too, and we’re not. We’re just one big blob.

VOICE: Look. I’m a product of the American educational system, and I would not exactly say that anyone ever withheld from me the knowledge that European American heritage was diverse; on the contrary, infor­mation of that kind constitutes approxi­mately 95 per cent of any liberal arts education.

WARNER: Not out here.

VOICE: I see. So the colleges of San Jose do not teach Shakespeare. Or Yeats.

WARNER: There’s a difference between teaching European artifacts and saying: This was a product of 17th-century English culture. This had Irish roots.

VOICE: So you’re saying that when they teach Yeats, they say, here’s a poet, he’s from some European country, they’re all the same, figure it out for yourself.

WARNER: Yes. And also us European Americans are almost embarrassed to talk about it. We need to talk about it with our friends who are not European Americans a lot more.

VOICE: Mr. Warner, it’s very hard for me to believe that you can look at the map of American culture and feel that European American culture is not fairly represented.

WARNER: We don’t feel that way.

VOICE: That’s what it says in your literature.

WARNER: What we would like… what we want to emphasize are the stereotypes, the first of which is that we’re not a diverse group.

VOICE: Again, that’s something you tell me you see, but can’t give me examples of.

WARNER: The newspaper! The newspaper consistently puts us in a single homogenous population group: The white people. And we’re more than just that.

VOICE: I’m sorry, but I think you’d have to be awfully sensitive to read that as some­thing intended to represent, in an objective total sense, the entire population that it comprises.

WARNER: Well, there you go. We are sensitive to that. And we see it as a big problem in this culture.

VOICE: A problem resulting in exactly what suffering.

WARNER: Oh, I think, I think the suffering of young children, young European Ameri­can children who would go to school every day, out here anyway, and hear about the diversity of this group, and the diversity of’ that group, and that they’re just a big homogenous blob…

VOICE: Please. That does not happen in elementary school. There’s Saint Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, Columbus…

WARNER: That may be true on the East Coast but out here, even the county says there are two kinds of student, one, main­stream student, which is a code word, and two, minority, and it’s emphasized that mainstream students are to learn to be sensitive, and minority students are to learn self-esteem. So there’s a two-track, and it’s real.

VOICE: Yes, but minority students come from a population that is the object of a programmatic discrimination. Mainstream, it seems to me, is the accurate term to give an individual who is part of a 75 per cent majority of the population.

WARNER: But that’s not so in San Jose! ■

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