A few months ago, I decided that my new favorite blog was Stuff White People Like. If you don't keep up with all the snarky, zeitgeisty corners of the Internet, Stuff White People Like is a pseudo-anthropological list mocking the habits, tastes and whims of people of non-color. (Entry #1: Coffee. "White people all need Starbucks, Second Cup or Coffee Bean. They are also fond of saying "you do NOT want to see me before I get my morning coffee.")
This site has blown up. The creator just got a six-figure book deal. And... he's ignited a minor existential crisis in me. My dad is black and my mom's Chinese. What do I care about stuff white people like? But, when it comes to race in America, nothing's quite that easy.
When chatting about the blog recently, my close friend Rachel, who is melanin-challenged, asked, "What do they mean by 'white people?' I mean, you like some of that stuff, right?" As I waxed socio-economical on how the authors were trying to make a statement about classism and yuppies and liberal mind-traps (#62: Knowing what's best for poor people. "They feel guilty and sad that poor people shop at Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods, that they vote Republican instead of Democratic... deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them"), I thought, "Oh crap, she's right. I like ALL of that stuff!"
Well, most of it. I like living in Manhattan (#26) and by the water (#51), and going to Wrigley Field (#30). I preach the educational value of liberal arts degrees (#47) and study abroad (#72) and I have big plans to raise my children multilingual (#78). I love my gay friends and wish I had more (#88), and I have a thing for NPR (#44), Asian fusion food (#45), The Wire (#85) and Patagonia fleeces (#87). I appreciate microbreweries (#23) and Mos Def (#69). And I have two last names (#22).
In fact, the only thing on the list so far that I definitively oppose is Vegan/Vegetarianism (#32). I love meat.
So, this is a blog making fun of white culture albeit a very specific slice of urban elitist white culture and it completely implicates me. What's going on here? Was my dad right when he fretted that I was bougie and sididdy as a child? Was my boyfriend Keirn, now fiancé, right when years ago he, without thinking, turned to me in a black nightclub and said I am not joking "We're the only white people here"?
I called Damali Ayo, a black social critic and artist who wrote the book How to Rent a Negro a satire inspired by the same sentiments as another thing that white people like (#14), Having Black Friends. She thinks the blog, oddly, represents a form of social progress. "I'm really glad that white people are stepping up to critique white culture, because in general white people like to deny that there is such a thing as white culture," Ayo says. And she sort of made me feel better about being enmeshed in that culture. "Stuff white people like is what we all live and breathe everyday. Turn on the TV: it's all stuff white people like. I've been studying stuff white people like since I was four just so I could have a conversation."
For good measure, I went and checked out the knock-off blogs Stuff Educated Black People Like (#9 Town Homes; #16 Moving to Atlanta) and Stuff Asian People Like (#30 Cash; #46 Cutting in Line). I was alarmed to see that while I get those lists and they're kind of funny, I don't like most of that stuff. I especially hate Atlanta.
But, Ayo says, how far can we take this conceit anyway before it becomes meaningless? She suggested "a list of stuff half black people half like."
Sounds ridiculous, right?
But then I asked some friends and relatives what they would put on a list of Stuff Mixed People Like. My little brother, Jaysen, darkly joked, "You get to hate twice as many people. For example, Chinese people hate the Japanese, blacks can hate whites, etc." Great. My friend Anthony, who has a Mexican dad and a white mom, offered less evil suggestions including:
Having people guess their background
Pulling rank during conversations
Turning up/down their ethnicity per their surroundings
Having "such good features!"
Filling out applications
Between us, these are mostly things mixed people say they hate... but secretly like. In other words, it's funny 'cause it's true.
That's the key to Stuff White People Like and the stand-up of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Roseanne Barr, Jeff Foxworthy's Redneck shtick, and Dave Chappelle's comedy, says Leon Rappoport, Kansas State psychology professor emeritus and author of Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor. "Instead of seeing these traits as something to be ashamed of, they're something to be laughed at." And the laughter is cathartic; it gives people a sense of empowerment and competence. "It's like they're mastering knowledge of themselves," he says.
So merely recognizing myself in these nouveau white stereotypes should help me get over feeling uncomfortable about them. And it kind of does. "Even when the point is something negative about the individual, when you can say 'That's so true,' you're transcending the critique," Rappoport says, pointing out that one person who seems to truly believe we should just try to understand ourselves and move on is running for President. "Speaking of transcendence," he notes, "that's part of the appeal of Barack Obama. He makes us think we can set aside these hang-ups, not by resolving them, just by getting past them and rising above them."
Rappoport's right. If Obama gave a passionate speech about these lists, I've no doubt he would admonish us to close the chasm of misunderstanding between the races and find common ground in the blogosphere! And that shouldn't be too hard. Obama himself clocks in at #8 for Whites and #12 for Educated Blacks. And he's obviously #1 on our hypothetical list of Stuff Mixed People Like. Maybe I'll put all the other stuff white people like on that list too.