Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Death of Particularist White Identity

Last week, the City of Newark, New Jersey, replaced its Christopher Columbus statue with a Harriet Tubman monument. “We have created a focal point in the heart of our city that expresses our participation in an ongoing living history of a people who have grappled through many conflicts to steadily lead our nation in its progress toward racial equality,” proclaimed Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Clearly, Mayor Baraka doesn’t think Senor Columbus progresses America toward “racial equality” – and cities across the country seem to agree. At least 36 Columbus monuments have been torn down since the 1970s. Many refuse to celebrate his holiday, having renamed it “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Columbus’s public fate reflects America’s growing intolerance for particularist white identities. These identities allow–or once allowed–white Americans to express pride in who they are and where they come from. They never celebrated “white identity,” as not all whites could participate, but highlighted the achievements of a specific group. Italian-Americans saw Columbus as a hero of their people and a symbol of their contribution to America. Southerners fly the Confederate flag to express pride in where they come from.

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