National African American Museum Says ‘Being Polite,’ Respecting Authority Are ‘Signs of Whiteness’

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

Individualism, working hard, respecting authority, and even being polite are now “signs of whiteness,” according to a new “Talking about race” graphic produced by the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

The list is broken down into how “white culture” approaches: Rugged Individualism, Family Structure, Emphasis on [the] Scientific Method, History, Protestant Work Ethic, Religion, Status, Power & Authority, Time, Holidays, Justice, and Competition.

After the graphic was widely criticized, the museum released a statement saying they missed the mark.

“Since yesterday, certain content in the ‘Talking About Race’ portal has been the subject of questions that we have taken seriously. We have listened to public sentiment and have removed a chart that does not contribute to the productive discussion we had intended,” the statement read.

They also clarified what they mean by whiteness:

Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of are compared. Whiteness is also at the core of understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.

This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can navigate society both by feeling normal and being viewed as normal. Persons who identify as white rarely have to think about their racial identity because they live within a culture where whiteness has been normalized.

Thinking about race is very different for nonwhite persons living in America. People of color must always consider their racial identity, whatever the situation, due to the systemic and interpersonal racism that still exists.

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Whiteness (and its accepted normality) also exist as everyday microaggressions toward people of color. Acts of microaggressions include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults toward nonwhites. Whether intentional or not, these attitudes communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages.