Thursday, March 20, 2008

The heart of whiteness

A new cultural paradox has emerged this year. The controversy surrounds a relatively recently created website entitled "Stuff White People Like" that claims to offer "a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff white people like." The paradox is that some white people are apparently infuriated and offended by a list that purports to be of things the white people are supposed to love and cherish. How do we explain this contradiction? One theory is that the website is simply gauche, yet liberating (embedded hyperlink removed):
Dean Rader, a pop culture critic who authors, says readers flock to Stuff White People Like because it's hip and hot and the place to be seen and heard online. "It's just as much about class and coolness and yuppiness and consumption (as race)."

And yes, if the some of the posts push far beyond the boundaries of good taste, readers seem to find liberation in an environment unfettered by political correctness.
It's a nice try, but I find it hard to believe that white people are offended by "Stuff White People Like" because it has too much snark. Dave Chappelle has just barely missed out on an entry of his own there, after all, so snark can't exactly be a bad thing. The idea that the website provides a liberating environment from political correctness does have a ring of truth to it, which brings us to an analysis from Gary Dauphin (embedded hyperlink removed):
Envy aside, though, SWPL also smells like a classic racial con-job. It goes without saying that the specific entries (Oscar parties?) don't really apply to anyone. That makes Landers' [the author's] overall pose--and the uncritical response to it--the real action. You'd think from the approving hubbub that SWPL had discovered (white) America or something, but white comedians, academics, and artists have been thinking and cracking wise about "white" culture since before Landers was in, well, short pants (#86). Usually, even jokey talk about whiteness has a whiff of danger to it, but SWPL is likely the safest, most affable racial satire ever, a loving high-five between friends passing as critique.
Here the problem is that "Stuff White People Like" is not too snarky, but that it is not snarky enough. But wait, there's more (embedded hyperlink removed):
If you want an instructive flipside to Landers' wan irony, try tooling around the archives of Race Traitor magazine ("treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity" must be the most bitchin' magazine motto ever), or try to get your hands on a copy of Julius E. Lipp's 1938 ethnographic study "The Savage Hits Back."
That's right, any thinking, feeling white person would have realized that "Stuff White People Like" is only a mild, tepid critique of whiteness compared to the more serious critques of whiteness dating back to the struggle against Nazi fascism and before. In other words, "Stuff White People Like" isn't white enough, because, apparently, the author didn't conduct an extended literature search back to the 19th century -- fully peer reviewed, of course -- before writing down his own personal opinion in a public space. Perhaps the author should have attended a few more years of graduate school before attempting to be funny?

This almost seems like an answer, but then Gary Dauphin switches gears and decides that "Stuff White People Like" is too white after all (author's italics):
Ultimately, Landers' site echoes an exchange that writer Greg Tate recounts in his recent anthology Everything But the Burden, where a family member observes that in a world of [w-----s], Eminem and Bill Clinton being called the first black president, white people are taking "everything but the burden" from black culture.
According to this critique, it appears that "Stuff White People Like" has managed to be simultaneously too white (it's not edgy enough; it's not authentic) and not white enough (it doesn't "advance the dialogue" on race in an original way). Or to read between the lines, a critique of "ignorant, therefore racist" is is just another way of saying that "Stuff White People Like" deviates from political correctness.


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