Sunday, June 2, 2013


My friend seems to think that being interested in my ancestors makes me a bit of a white supremacist.  I find that in American society today, we are encouraged to celebrate African, Latin American, Native American, and Asian cultures.  We are to a certain extent allowed to celebrate Irish, Italian, Greek, and Armenian culture.  But it's frowned upon at times to embrace the 4 centuries we have of white American culture, or English culture.

I think humans have an instinct to take pride in their heritage.  Adopted children want to know about their birth parents.  I feel very fortunate that my grandmother has told me about her memories of her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.  I identify with stories of Quakers because I grew up Quaker and my ancestors were Quaker.  I'm more interested in New England history than in history of other parts of the U.S. because that's where I grew up and where my ancestors grew up.  I'm interested in England, Scotland, and Ireland because that's where my ancestors are from.

In high school, my Latin teacher taught us not only the Latin language, but also something about the history and culture of people who spoke it.  She liked the culture.  I did not find in myself the same fascination she seemed to feel.  Many years later, I realized that she is of Italian heritage.

I'm interested in the people I see as my forebears.  It's not a rational thing.  It's not like I learn something about my heritage and then decide to be interested in that.  It's instinctive.  Certain things draw me and certain things don't.  I may have ideas about what I ought to be interested in (including my culture telling me I ought to be interested in African, Latin American, Native American and Asian cultures).  But there's clearly a difference between what I tell myself what I ought to be interested in, and what  my instincts draw me to.

My interests are not exclusive to what I perceive as my heritage.  I like Ethiopian food and Andean music.  Nor am I drawn to everything that I know to be in my heritage.  I am drawn to Quakers because I come from a long line of Quakers.  But I also have ancestors who were Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist, and I'm not drawn to that at all.

Is it wrong to embrace our cultural heritage?  No, I don't think it's wrong.  I just think we have to be careful that in liking our own heritage, we don't start to believe that our heritage is better than other heritages.  In my druid studies, I have read some things that seem to glorify druids and Celtic peoples above all others  (Peter Berresford Ellis, Ross Nichols, and Ellen Evert Hopman).  It's tempting to glorify our heritage.  We have to restrain ourselves, and remember that people of all cultures have both good and bad attributes.  We have to be careful, but there is also good to be found in embracing our heritage.  It gives us a path to learn history, values, music, crafts, healing practices, etc.  It gives us a way to be part of a community.  It gives us a sense of who we are.  It inspires us, gives us the courage to strive to be better.

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