stuff white people like

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 ‘white’ with ‘young, middle-class, trendy, urbanite’? I don’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 — 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 “color without coloreds.” The title of Greg Tate’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 “whiteness studies” 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 author’s erudition and self-regard. (Is a trade paperback book deal far behind? Will Racialious blurb the back cover? ” 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?”) In the best whiteness studies, identification of what constitutes “white culture” 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…

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6 Responses to stuff white people like

  1. dawn says:

    I subscribe to the feed – not because I find it humorous. I don’t. I find it interesting because so many others do seem to find some relationship to the things he writes about. It is really about class. I am a white woman, but I have *very* little in common with the things he writes about. The recycling was one of the few things that I found to be on par with my experiences EXCEPT that my family has been recycling since I was a young child (and perhaps before then).

    I don’t think it’s about race (even though that’s what he claims). It is definitely about demographics that focus more on class and location.

  2. Danielle says:

    I’m actually disgusted by how self-absorbed most white people are regarding this blog. It is a joke and it’s an obvious observation that all white people are not alike. I think the responses to the blog are actually more telling than the blog. I’m surprised at the sheer numbers of white folks that try to split hairs about how “different” they are from other white people. Please get over yourselves and stop taking yourselves so seriously! Is this perhaps a universal characteristic of whiteness? Thinking you are more important, than in fact, you actually are?

  3. charlie says:

    I just ran into the site on directions from a friend. It is the funniest site I’ve seen in recent weeks. I found none of the posts to be offensive in the least. I had/have no ideas about who posts the messages, so I can’t say anything to that aspect. I can tell you a few of us were trying to think of a good message about SWPL to post. That is how I viewed the site. The jokes on me. I get it, and can laugh about it. I never did Study Abroad, but man I would have liked it I’m sure.

    I’ve worked in rural MS, and if you think only black folks are poverty stricken you’re wrong. SWPL is more about class than race-understood. It isn’t supposed to be the grand design of what “we” like. It’s a joke, and some of the best ones are when “you” are the punchline.

    10$ sandwichs?!?! Idiots! the lot of em. They (me) need to punished if only verbally and askance.

  4. Michael says:

    Charlie,

    I think your last paragraph gets at my ultimate point. Whiteness (and middle and upper socioeconomic classes, which the authors of SWPL intertwine into whiteness) are built on certain modes of domination, among them economic, racial, environmental. Sites likes SWPL are very humorous, and I think it’s always fine and dandy to laugh at ourselves. But where does this humor put us? Are we moving toward change? Or is SWPL just a conservative, postmodern ironic laugh at middle class [white] folk that leads most readers in a sense of complacency: continuing their rebellion in public while falling in line in private (as Slavoj Zizek has defined cynicism).

    I won’t agree with your call for punishment, but something does need to be restored. Verbal askance won’t do much, I believe. Instead, we need a radical shift in the ways we view ourselves and our raced and classed lives.

  5. Cooper says:

    I think the blog is a little bit lame. This one is more spot on:

    http://stuffwhiteparentslike.com

  6. Michael says:

    Thanks, Cooper. I’ll check it out.

    I would like to point out that a blog can’t be “lame” because a blog has no arms or legs, so it can’t have no use of them — by which I mean that lame is used to connote differently abledness, and I would prefer if commenters on my blog didn’t bring in ablelist language when they comment.

    Thanks for the link, though.

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