The White Stuff: What Does an Extremely Popular New Blog about White Culture Tell Us about Race in America?
Mukhopadhyay, Samhita, The American Prospect
THEY LIKE RUNNING MARATHONS and eating sushi, venerating Jon Stewart and bragging about not owning a TV. They talk endlessly about HBO's The Wire and dance self-consciously to '80s music. They're into "irony" and have a tendency to threaten to move to Canada.
"They" are white people, and they're the subject of "Stuff White People Like," a flavor-of-the-moment blog that, since appearing in January of 2008, boasts nearly 30 million hits. There are over 100 numbered entries, including Having Two Last Names (entry No. 22), Dinner Par ties (No. 90), Arts Degrees (No. 47), and, yes, Barack Obama (No. 8). Think of it as a project to affectionately examine the classic conservative description of "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading" liberal elites. But despite the name, it's not about white people, not really. It's about a certain kind of highly educated, generally young, culturally liberal white person who has enough disposable income to discover an affinity for kitchen gadgets (No. 54). And it's written by just such a white person: 29-year-old Christian Lander, an Internet copywriter who recently snagged a $300,000 advance for a book based on the blog, which hits shelves this month.
Commentators and bloggers of all races have hailed the site as groundbreaking. Some have said it is edgy and deals with white privilege in a real way; others have said that it is a refreshing and funny take on racism in our culture. But this is true more on an implicit than explicit level. Even though some posts deal directly with race, such as the entries on Diversity (No. 7), Being an Expert on YOUR Culture (No. 20), and Being the Only White Person Around (No. 70), Lander didn't set out to write an academic treatise on whiteness. Rather, he set out to joke about it. What sets it apart from the hundreds of other well-written, funny Web sites is that it's hit a nerve--especially because it appeared at a time when America was captivated by the issue of race in the presidential primary. And so it's worth thinking about exactly what this blog tells us about whiteness and why its mostly white, affluent audience has so enthusiastically embraced this gently mocking rundown of their culture.
Part of the reason StuffWhite People Like is a "safe" place for white people to talk about race is because Lander fits the exact profile he mocks: He's a white, 20-something, "creative class"-type based in Los Angeles. The blog is primarily a place for white people to chortle at the oddities of race and class and then congratulate themselves for having done so, thus neatly avoiding the need to delve any deeper. Or, conversely, they may like the blog because it allows them to disassociate themselves and laugh at those white yuppies. The core message is that it's OK to be rich and white, as long as you laugh about it. No further analysis required. It's a message that, unsurprisingly, rich, white people love to hear.
It's worth wondering if such a blog could have thrived were its author a person of color. Would white people still read it and find the humor affectionate? Or would they suddenly detect a more harshly critical undertone? There are many people of color who write regularly (and yes, sometimes even with a sense of humor) about racism and whiteness, but they're not getting six-figure book deals. In effect, Lander is rewarded for being white, even though he is making fun of white people. To his credit, he is self-aware enough to mock this irony. He broke the news that he had a forthcoming book by publishing an entry on Stuff White People Like titled, "Book Deals" (No. 92). But that doesn't change the fact that, were he a person of color, No. 92 might instead have been "Calling Me A Racist."
To be sure, I find the site funny, and much of it rings true. I live in San Francisco, land of Prius drivers (No. 60), gentrified neighborhoods (No. 73), and Asian enthusiasts (No. …