Response article

Konner Hancock

An alternate viewpoint of whiteness at SPU


What does it mean to be white at SPU?

This was the leading question posed in Op-Ed “White Culture at Seattle Pacific,” published in The Falcon on Oct. 17.

The answer is a quick dictionary search away: the Merriam-Webster defines white as “being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin.”

What does it mean to be white at Seattle Pacific University is the wrong question to ask, because your complexion does not define you. In his article, author Charlie Lahud-Zahner defines white “as a majority European-American culture,” but fails to mention whether he specified his definition to the individuals he questioned on the subject.

That may explain the reason why he stated many of the answers he received to his question on what whiteness is at SPU solely consisted of “uhhh,” “ummm” and “I dunno.”

The color of one’s skin should not matter except for statistical research and the biological purpose skin provides.

What I felt Lahud-Zahner was aiming for was an understanding of the cultures, morals and integrities many white people at Seattle Pacific University might associate themselves with.

But again, as far as one can tell, that was not asked or specified in any way shape or form. Investigating the purpose of a race, or the purpose of a race at SPU, and expecting answers that go beyond the tone of an individual’s skin will lead the people asked feeling at odds with the question.

A more befitting question might have been “What does it mean to be your ethnicity at SPU?” instead of asking about the meaning of one’s race.

Race is not ethnicity. Ethnicity is the social group that has a common national or cultural tradition, whereas race is a group of people thought to share certain distinctive physical characteristics, such as facial structure or skin color.

This is the same reason many schools, churches, mosques, temples and employers sometimes establish clubs or groups based on ethnicity rather than race.

For instance, one of SPU’s student groups, the Black Student Union, prides themselves on sharing “the richness of African-American culture with the SPU community,” as stated in their club description. The organization is based off learning an ethnic (African-American) heritage.

Other examples in SPU society is Ekene, Japanese Student Association, Korean Student Association, International Student club and several more can be found on the SPU website under the Multi-Ethnic Programs directory.

If a club was simply in place to gather individuals only on their complexion it would be a dry biology lesson.

Unfortunately, Lahud-Zahner’s article pointed out his difficulty in finding an answer with deep meaning, which lead him to state prejudiced claims. “Being white at our school means nothing more than deciding whether to wear Birkenstocks or Brooks,” he wrote.

Comments such as those would be far more suitable in a comical environment; however, in a serious opinions piece, grouping a multitude of cultures together by their race and concluding that comment as the meaning of their Euro-American culture is insulting and belittling.

He then moved on to write that “Whiteness is so under-explored.” I interpreted this as him saying that white people had yet to make a culture for themselves.

All throughout history, white people have been immersed in culture. Culture is made up of a multitude of factors including but not limited to cuisine, religion, language, holidays, traditions, etc. Many people entitle their culture with the commonalities in their country’s origins and the famous individuals that stem from those countries.

A massive part of what I consider my culture is non-denominational Christianity. Statistically, for many years, any and all branches of Christianity were predominantly white.

A monumental amount of history can be found on individuals that were from countries throughout Europe. Here are just three many examples:

First, Leonardo da Vinci one of mankind’s most known painters, was of European descent.

Second, Maria Sklodowska-Curie, of Polish descent, was the first woman to ever win the Nobel Prize and the only person to ever win two Nobel Prizes in two different sciences.

Third, Albert Einstein, of German and Jewish descent, was the winner of a Nobel Prize in physics.

All three of those individuals had much more to their name than the accomplishments I listed, but all three are strong representations of whiteness throughout history.

Much of my culture is made up of eating a traditional meal on St. Patrick’s day, a many of my ancestors traveled from Ireland to the U.S. many decades ago. My culture also includes always staying family oriented by celebrating holidays, birthdays and common gatherings with as much of my extended family as possible.

Lahud-Zahner’s article then moves into “rebranding whiteness.” He writes how it should be white peoples’ focus to help the marginalized. I believe it is everyone’s job to help and uplift each other.

Despite physical features, mental abilities or materialistic wealth, everyone should strive to better themselves and those around them.

My favorite point in Lahud-Zahner’s article is when he said, “That being white at our school meant nothing.” This comment was where I felt he was closest to an accurate answer.

The color of an individual’s skin should mean nothing except as statistical data or for biological sentiment. It is unhealthy to think otherwise. It is then that preconceived notions are created by just a single physical characteristic of a person