stuff white people like

I got a Stuff White People Like flip calendar for Christmas. I am enjoying it very much. This was last night's entry:

The Daily Show/Colbert makes up a duo that is held in such high regard by white people that to criticize it would be the equivalent of setting the pope on fire in Italy in 1822. It just isn’t done, in fact it isn’t even considered!

White people love to make fun of politics, especially right wing politics. It’s a pretty easy target and makes for some decent humor, but white people are actually starting to believe that these two shows are becoming legitimate news sources.

“Oh, I don’t watch the news,” they will say. “I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. You know, studies show that viewers of those shows are more educated than people who watch Fox News or CNN.”

White women all consider John Stewart to be the most perfect man on the planet. This is not a debate, it is law.

I can neither confirm not deny the truth of that statement.

I can tell you that my sister read the whole Stuff White People Like book and believed it to be written exclusively about me. (There is even a chapter on hating people who wear Ed Hardy. Yes. This book IS about me).

I don't actually believe this book or blog represents all white people, but I do think it makes some funny commentary on a certain demographic of caucasian folks. I'm having fun identifying with it, and I'm even feel a little pride in my whiteness as I read the things, both silly and serious and mortifying, that we white people like.

And yes. I did just say "pride in my whiteness". Let me explain.

As I've tried to dive deeper into racial equality and what that all means, I've actually noticed three things that hinder racial tolerance from white people. I really have no research to back this up. Other than being white for a long time, and being around a lot of other white people.

The first things I notice is defensiveness. We feel very defensive in discussions of race, because oftentimes the only time we unpack what it means to be "white" is in reference to racism. We don't have a healthy self-esteem or even an identity in regards to our own race - and therefore we move into a posture of avoiding blame instead of assuming responsibility. This is what people with low self-esteem do in relationships. It's the reason why improving self-esteem is the first step in counseling an abuser. Better self-esteem and a sense of healthy identity leads to a great ability to empathize with others.

The second thing I notice is that white people assume that white is not a culture (or worse, that white is just "normal"). Even the word "ethnic" refers to someone being non-white . . . as if white is the absence of ethnicity. We are unable to identify our specific cultural habits because they are so pervasive - so instead of owning our whiteness as a culture, we view it as "just the way things are." And then we expect everyone else to assimilate to our cultural norms that we don't even recognize as our own culture.

This leads me to my third observation, which is that white people feel threatened by the cultural expressions of others. Because we don't get our own culture, we get resentful when others celebrate their own. This is the reason people get perturbed when there is a Mexican fiesta at their child's school. It's the reason people whine about why we have black history month. It's the reason people ask a question like, when is it gonna be OUR day? (spoiler alert: if you live in America, it's EVERY DAY).

All that to say, I have a theory. I think that if white people start to understand what it means to be white, that they will actually relate to people of color with less defensiveness. If we celebrate what we like about our culture, we don't need to feel threatened by celebrating the culture of another. If we understand the negative aspects of our culture and we commit to making changes, then we don't have to feel defensive in owning the history of oppression that is also inherent with being white.

Now, is all of that going to happen by reading Stuff White People Like? No. But it might be a baby step in looking into what makes white culture unique. And then, we might dig a little deeper and read Stuff White People Do. Okay, some heavier stuff there. Then we might take a deep breath and dive into Peggy McIntosh's famous essay on white privilege (because we're getting more comfortable with ourselves, and we can acknowledge the concept of white privilege without self-loathing, right?) Then we might even be ready to read Tim Wise's White Like Me, at which point it becomes abundantly clear that this "white" thing is shaping us, and the world around us, in powerful ways.

And then we celebrate our affinity for Jon Stewart and Banana Republic and Whole Foods, while at the same time having enough humility to be mindful of the ways our white privilege might come into play.

Like when we write this blog post using the first-person plural, creating the narrative that our readers are also white and not considering how this might alienate/annoy any non-white readers.

Uh-huh.

And then we keep trudging along in this imperfect journey . . .

24 comments:

  1. You never fail to entertain and inform. Love you.

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  2. this is so interesting, and i think true, especially the part about how we fail to identify whiteness as a culture, and we think of it as *normal*--the source of so much misunderstanding and prejudice.

    and i totally heart jon stewart--he went to my college:)

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  3. Great stuff here. I keep finding things you say that my friends need to know about! ;)

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  4. Hi Kristen,

    There is a white identity theory out there, I think the theorist is Janet Helms. I studied it during a theory class in grad school, but if you're interested, it's definitely something to look in to!

    -Kristin (delurking :))

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  5. I'm curious about your thoughts on how this differs within America itself. I lived on the East Coast for 4 years and married a Bostonian. Everyone there knows what they are - Italian, Finnish, Jewish, Irish, etc. Yes - all European whites, but they have a stronger cultural tie to their roots (and their own prejudices, not just against color).

    Now when you head west the lines begin to blur. I'm from the West Coast and my answer to people about "what are you" is that I'm a West Coast mutt - a mixture of mostly Western Europe descent from long ago. It really befuddled people back there, including my husband.

    Does this western "blending" add more to this absence of identification with a white culture?

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  6. How do you say all of the things I THINK... but you can write an essay on it... and I just...sigh?!?

    I am thankful for parents who raised me amongst a myriad of friends from different cultures, backgrounds, races and economic situations...

    I am involved with a church where the congregation is rapidly becoming more and more diverse... My best friend has two children from South Africa... my brother-in-law is Ugandan...so my niece is bi-racial... I also have long distance relatives who are very racist...and don't even know it.

    These topics you tackle are not abstract for me, they are an ongoing journey, discovery and growing awareness in my everyday life.

    I love coming here because I wrestle with these injustices, I DON'T know how to be OKAY with having a better opportunity or an easier experience because of my appearance. I want to be stretched, and I want my world to be broader, deeper and wider in every aspect.

    I always find food for thought here...thanks.

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  7. This is such a touchy subject and it's so hard to talk about (especially if you're white) without being afraid of offending people. If your ethnic background is from a 'white' country and you want to celebrate that, are you being racist or are you being culturally aware of your own ethnicity? I think that many white people are afraid that if they celebrate their 'whiteness' they will be considered racist.

    I think one problem we (us white folks!) have is that BECAUSE it's perceived that 'every day' is 'white people day' if we designate a day to CELEBRATE being 'white' then we're being 'racist', yet other cultures are 'allowed' to celebrate. Maybe other cultures wouldn't really look down on us for taking a day, but I think that a lot of white people are afraid that that is what would happen.

    I also agree with Partyof5, there are certain cities in America where cultural heritages are MUCH more important than in others. In some ways I think having cultural-based neighborhoods is good, in that it's a place where people can learn about their own heritage (or that of others), but there is also a side of it that could lead to exclusion and furthering of racial stereotypes.

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  8. For those wanting more information on racial identity models, Derald Wing Sue wrote a counseling book (1998) that includes a variety of models based upon different theories. I believe he also includes different models for different races. Helms' model for white identity development can be found here: http://edweb.csus.edu/edc/class_downloads/borunda/edc171_white_id.pdf

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  9. I just recently found your blog and am loving it. :)

    As an Asian woman who grew up in a white family and now is raising a bi-racial daughter and a Korean-born son with my white husband, I think about race and its implications all the time. I have a post brewing about my experiences in trying to talk to others about white privilege and several of my own observations mirror the ones you have mentioned.

    Talking about race and examining it with a more critical lens than most of us were ever taught to do is never easy, but it's so, so necessary - for everyone's sake. I appreciate posts like these that encourage us to keep the conversations going.

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  10. I don't watch the Colbert Report or Jon Stewart. GASP!


    I do hate Ed Hardy though.

    and that McIntosh piece was something I read my first month of college, for a class. It constantly rattles around in my head and I wouldn't want to change that. I think the big one was "I can buy a box of bandaids and assume that they will match my skintone" This was something I'd never even thought about before. and yet there it was, so pervasive, such a tangible example.

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  11. once again, beautiful post. I find it interesting that we even have these *black* and *white* labels (though I do use them for ease of communication myself), because the range of cultures that exists among people with dark skin and people with light skin is so vast. stuff white people like could more accurately be called "stuff upper-middle class people of european descent like"... and consider the range of cultures that "black" people in America actually represent... I'm not sure there really is a "black culture" or a "white culture" without throwing on a lot more adjectives to describe the socio-economic make-up of said culture... for example, NASCAR culture is very different from Hamptons culture, but both are made up of white people...
    but yes, "white" people in North America need to recognize that we are not the control group in this grand science project called life!

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  12. Anonymous3:54 PM

    you nailed it! write on!!

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  13. I love this. You are brilliant. Yes, I do believe that. Don't start blushing, now. Write a book, woman! When are you going to write a book? Maybe when you don't have 4 children under the age of 5?! :) I can't believe you can still THINK such interesting things while exhausted. Kudos, mama. Kudos.

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  14. Anonymous10:03 AM

    well said. you'd enjoy (like you have time, but...) Richard Dyer's 1997 book WHITE - he's a British film critic and started exposing the whole "myth of whiteness" and invisibility thing... but your post certainly makes the whole discussion a bit more accessible than he does. thank you for always being candid and open about your values and beliefs. the world needs to be peopled by smart people like you.
    - Mom in San Diego, wishing that SoCal thought more like us...

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  15. One big problem is: What the heck is "white culture"? A lot of what you mention seems to be white AMERICAN culture. I grew up in a different country -- mostly white -- and The Stuff White People like wouldn't apply for the most part.

    Race and culture are different... Black history in American and the culture that arose from it, isn't the same as the experience of being black in most parts of Africa, for example. Which is also very diverse because Africa is an enormously diverse continent.

    Also, there is no biological basis to race -- it is a social construct. What can be said of white people is that they have been the privileged group, and share a range of similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds that shape who they are. What is there to be proud of about having one skin color or another? The pride is in where we come from, who we come from, what values and places and stories have shaped us. Skin color has affected this because of the meaning it has been assigned, but it shouldn't itself be a source of pride anymore than having two legs and two arms.

    This does get complicated to think and talk about. Thanks for the interesting post.

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  16. PartyofFive - yes, I do think this plays out differently in regions where white people have more ethnic or cultural identity. And as you said, I think it probably decreases the defensiveness, but not necessarily the prejudice.


    Zoe - yes, I agree. I was really writing this in the context of white American culture - as the social construct, not in reference to the skin color. I should have clarified that.

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  17. Anonymous8:21 PM

    You are awesome. I love the way you think. Very interesting post and definitely something to think about.

    Jill

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  18. Loved it. Linked to it from my blog. Probably won't be the last time since I always enjoy your posts and think all my friends (all 5 of them) should read them, too...: )

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  19. Anonymous6:29 PM

    Don't hate me....who really likes Jon Stewart?
    Really? There I said it~

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  20. Anonymous- how can you come on my blog and speak such blasphemy? :)

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  21. Anonymous8:56 AM

    I know it is true. I don't usually go to someone's blog and share my dislikes, very unlike me.
    After reading this blog page, I just want to belt out "I am trapped in a body of a white girl", by Julie Brown. I am probably dating my self here.

    Great, reads. Thank you for your honesty on SO many things. As we are on the road to adoption, it is helpful to hear your perspective.

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  22. I'm a new reader and did a google reader search for Jon Stewart and came upon this. I love both that book and Jon Stewart. I read McIntosh's essay for a class and had to make my own "privilege list." I'll have to give that book a try. I haven't read the other comments, but thanks for making such a hard subject easier to tackle.

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  23. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Because white Americans haven't had the experience of being a minority (most of the time anyway), we also don't have much of a "group" identity that comes from being lumped together and categorized.
    This is just such a difficult issue, one that I've faced as a minority blogger on a majority-black project. I don't have much pride in being white, like other races might have based on their race or country of origin. I don't think about being white. However, I'm from MS and one time I was driving around way in the middle of nowhere and saw a bumper sticker that said "white pride." That was really, really weird. I think maybe a reason white people don't want to admit to anything good or special about being white is we don't want to seem Third-Reichish. We don't want pride in race or nation.
    If any of that makes sense.
    I've been thinking about it a lot. Diversity is beautiful, but it almost seems easier to deny the beauty then try to appreciate it appropriately.

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