Do White Americans Have Culture? 

By Anjali Nayak 

Sitting in the terminals of SFO, I am reminded of my love for airports. People of all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences in one building. Some are on their way to start an adventure. Others are on their way back from one. 

The majority of the time I am sitting in the airport, it is to go on a trip to visit friends and family in India. Time and time again, my mom says the same phrase: “I can’t wait to go and eat actual Indian food again.” As grateful as I am for the bustling Indian culture in the Bay Area, and the handful of seemingly authentic Indian restaurants that follow, I can’t help but agree. Nothing beats the chaat on the streets of Mumbai, or even the fish fry in Kerala. 

It then got me thinking, do people come to the United States for “real” American food? 

And on a broader scale; what is white American culture? What are the customs and practices of typical white Americans? I’m not talking about the predominantly European pockets of the French Quarter or the Ultra – Orthodox Jewish residents in Brooklyn. I’m talking about the white culture that has cultivated in the United States — guns blazing and all. 

Like most of my Op/Ed ideas, the definition of white American culture made its way into conversations with friends. Fellow softball survivor Ellie Rodhouse laughingly said “Anjali, what do you think clapping when a plane lands is?” Lily Bourne pointed to the freedom of religion and speech granted by the Constitution — maybe the basis of American culture is in its status as a cultural melting pot? But during a lively Speech and Debate meeting, Diego Mannitelli proposed a metaphor for white culture that most resonated with me: 

“American culture is American cheese. It’s fake. It’s superficial. It’s cheap. It’s a product of capitalism. You don’t want to admit that you like it. But you do.”

On a surface level, American culture is made up of components of other cultures. During the first waves of immigration in the early and later 1900s, refugees sought out America for a second chance at happiness. With them, their rich heritage followed. Specific cultures by themselves are not distinctly American, but what makes up American culture are the compromises these groups have to make once entering the land of the free. 

Culture does not come to the United States to flourish, but rather to be compromised — to be profited off of and to be mass produced. American culture is made up of corporatism. Starbucks, Taco Bell, Panda Express, and many other fast food chains are appropriations of cultures that have come to the United States. Even the formerly grounded and descriptive holidays of Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day have become consumerist shells of themself; thus, stripping away the cultural backing and meaning behind such celebrations. 

And that is white culture. A country founded well into the first Industrial Revolution, America’s values can best be deciphered through the lens of capitalism. From the very beginning, the ownership of private property has been tied to the liberties provided in the Constitution, the ideal American man is one who works a 9 to 5 for his families, and the most respected individuals have the most money in their account. White American culture is “lifting oneself up from their bootstraps” even at the expense of other cultures. 

There’s a lot of beauty in the United State’s religious tolerance. Few nations in the world are as lenient towards foreign culture, religion, and tradition as America is. But in order to understand the distinct American culture that has been created from the melting pot, one must point towards cultural appropriation.