While I was visiting Michigan State’s campus last week, quite a few grad students were talking about the blog Stuff White People Like. When I got back home, I checked it out. It’s an hilarious site that chronicles the behaviors of white people, poking fun at them. For Instance, from Being the Only White Person Around:
In most situations, white people are very comforted by seeing their own kind. However, when they are eating at a new ethnic restaurant or traveling to a foreign nation, nothing spoils their fun more than seeing another white person.
Many white people will look into the window of an ethnic restaurant to see if there are other white people in there. It is determined to be an acceptable restaurant if the white people in there are accompanied by ethnic friends. But if there is a table occupied entirely by white people, it is deemed unacceptable.
Funny, right? That’s not even the best one, but it’s one that’s making me giggle at the moment.
But let’s consider this further: what makes this funny? what makes this humor appropriate when other humor about other races or social classes is often deemed inappropriate (because it maims the dignity of those without institutional power).
So let’s think “on paper” or “with my fingers.” Racialicious has a discussion of this blog, in which they link to an interview with the the creator at The Assimilated Negro (part 1, part 2). From the interview:
TAN: do you consider yourself aligned with the white people you profile? You’re white, but are you whom you describe/study?
SWPL: oh yes. this site pokes fun at ME. that’s why I use pictures of myself. those aren’t taken out of irony. this is the shit that I do. I need to call myself out for all of the stupid shit that I take for granted. why do I need $300 bike rims? why is a $10 sandwich considered normal?
I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll start with SWPL’s claim that these photos aren’t “out of irony.” It strikes me, though, as very ironic to poke fun at oneself for behavior one finds ridiculous and continue and document that behavior. “Here I am, doing the ridiculous, and I’ll continue it, and document it!” A $10 sandwich for lunch and $300 bike rims? Ridiculous in its privilege, but let’s revel in it.
I’m not trying to critique this from some moral high ground; in fact, I largely identify with many of the things SWPL writes about. Though I rarely buy $10 sandwiches (adjuncts don’t get paid that well), I do recycle and find myself annoyed when recycling isn’t around (not asking why I’m buying the plastic bottle to begin with).
Let’s continue: What does it mean to be white? Or, perhaps, is this blog an accurate picture of whiteness? SarahMC left a comment on Eric Stoller’s blog stating that perhaps this would be more aptly titled, “Stuff Coastal Yuppies Like.” Commenters on Racialicious echo similar sentiments: this blog is more about class than whiteness. Certainly, by focusing on whiteness, the author obfuscates issue of class: This is not white behavior he is mocking, but a certain, contextual (though rather extensive) white behavior. This is not the behavior of my parents, a farming couple in rural Iowa. The behavior being lampooned is that of somewhat socially conscious middle class people, probably largely white. One comment on Racialicious asks:
What do other[s] think about this constant equating of â€˜whiteâ€™ with â€˜young, middle-class, trendy, urbaniteâ€™? I donâ€™t think this is unique to the SWPL website.
And I would concur. This site draws attention for its witty self-referencing and self-deprecating, but it does move in a larger field of discourse on race and class, wherein whiteness is equated with certain middle class and trendy, urban standings (which leaves the poverty of rural and certain urban white folks largely invisible, a general point made even by many conservatives I’ve read â€” though they are usually ignoring the issue of race).
This becomes evident in the interview:
TAN: How do you explain Bush? White people who love their prius, recycling, and being aware … they can’t like Bush, right?
SWPL: Bush was elected by the wrong kind of white people.
Whereas, for SWPL, a white person supports Barack Obama, the “wrong kind of white people” support Bush. If we look at the blue/red map by county (which I’m not going to bother to look for), it’s pretty evident that “good white people” are urbanites, whereas “wrong white people” are ruralites.
I think I’ll try to wrap up this rambling a bit. I’m most impressed with this response from ebogjonson on Racialicious:
Stuffwhitepeoplelike represents a trajectory where it becomes increasingly possible to imagine â€œcolor without coloreds.â€ The title of Greg Tateâ€™s recent anthology Everything But the Burden gets to a similar point:
Q: What is it white people are taking from black culture?
A: Everything but the burden.
The author of Stuffwhitepeoplelike has his â€œwhiteness studiesâ€ jargon down pat, but the thing about whiteness studies is that it exists to dismantle white supremacy (or at least purports to). In contrast, Stuffwhitepeoplelike in the main seems to exist to display the authorâ€™s erudition and self-regard. (Is a trade paperback book deal far behind? Will Racialious blurb the back cover? â€ A hilarious, satirical Wikipedia-esque guide to exactly what the title says, filled with dead-on observations that make you laugh in surprise and recognition?â€) In the best whiteness studies, identification of what constitutes â€œwhite cultureâ€ treats unique/demographically distinct cultural practices and comes part and parcel with a sometimes difficult examination of things like white privilege. Here it mostly comes with a high five, a pat on the back and endless blather about how smart some random white dude is for making funny about sandwiches. Talk about lowered expectations. Talk about affirmative action!
How does this blog circulate, and what are the effects (reinforcements?) of this discourse in fields of dialogue on race and class? Does this site just prop up whiteness as not something to be interrogated, but rather something to be ironically celebrated? Does the attention to this site feed into a field of discourse of de-racialization, wherein, rather than breaking down race for how they are constructed, race is made equal: all races are worth mocking and self-referencing. I’m not saying SWPL isn’t funny, but how has this humor been already somewhat determined by structures, and how does the circulation and re-circulation of this humor affect how we conceive of whiteness… Still pondering…