March 01, 2008

The White Stuff

I recently discovered a blog over on Wordpress called Stuff White People Like. It's a collection of pretty sharply observed cultural satire on topics such as Multilingual Children ("[All white people] dream about [their] children drifting in between French and English sentences as they bustle about the kitchen while they read the New York Times and listen to Jazz."); Threatening to Move to Canada ("Though they will never actually move to Canada, the act of declaring that they are willing to undertake the journey is very symbolic in white culture"); and Difficult Breakups ("Once breakup proceedings have been initiated, a white person is immediately thrust into the center of attention in their circle of friends. During this time, they are permitted to talk at great lengths about themselves, listen to The Smiths, and get free dinners from friends who think 'they shouldn’t be alone right now'.").

At first I got a good giggle out of it, mostly because (and I fully admit this) I recognise a lot of what they talk about in myself — I even look creepily like the guy in the "Difficult Breakups" picture.

But the more I read, the more it began to dawn on me that what is being coded here as "white" is really more like "liberal arts graduate". And that's kind of offensive. Multilingual children? Study abroad programs? Michael Gondry? These are not things that just any old "white person" is going to discuss during their lunch break.

Of course, to a large extent, liberal arts graduates are pretty much a subset of the white population — but why conceal the connection? That does a disservice to nonwhites who have/want a liberal arts education, and to whites who don't (and there are a lot of them, believe me).

Instead of (quite rightly) problematising the huge race- and class-based inequalities in snooty academia, what the authors are really doing here is blindly enforcing the sort of elitist snobbery they're trying to make fun of, and claiming all sorts of desirable, mainstream values as exclusive to the white and the university educated. What happens when black people want to recycle? Does that mean they are "trying to be white"? What about white people who don't want (or can't afford) to buy a Prius? They must just be dipshits, right?

I'm all for satirising intellectualism — just last week I called myself "insufferable" on this very blog for eating sushi and watching the Oscars (both "Things Like White People Like" according to the site) — but let's call a spade a spade. This is not "white" culture, and labelling it as such is both racist and classist.

The authors, by the way, went to McGill and U of T (as near as I can work out), which I'm guessing means they are white liberal arts graduates themselves. Which makes perfect sense, of course, as that's pretty much the only demographic in which you can find someone who will write about academic elitism as if it were a racial division, and still think they are being really clever.

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