White People and the Stuff They Like

For our last post, Julia and I decided to write about the very funny blog “Stuff White People Like.” The blog provides satirical commentary on the things that white people are typically seen to enjoy. The curated list of activities, foods, and events provides insight into white privilege and the general ease with which white people engage in instances of racial crossing. While funny, it also shows that the tastes of white people are often determined by their generally more privileged positions in life.

The first category of things white people like are things that belong to other cultures. However, while frequently interested, white people don’t often have any serious investment in others cultures. White people, according to the blog, like to be superficial experts on other peoples’ cultures without any deep knowledge or understanding. They also like religions that their parents did not follow, as a way to show how cool they are — again, without any real investment into the religion they claim as their own. The theme of these posts, and many others on the blog, is that white people love superficial involvement in other cultures but have no real investment themselves.

The second key category is things that reflect wealth and socioeconomic privilege. Some reflect having the luxury of free time, like white people’s love for marathons. In addition, the blog comments on white people’s love of organic food and Whole Foods. These dramatically more expensive food options demonstrate how much wealth matters in discussion of taste, and how intertwined the idea of whiteness and wealth have been in our society.

Finally, white people like to seem passionate about political issues, like race and poverty. As this post satirizes, white people like diversity, but not often in a meaningful way. The blog jokes “white people love ethnic diversity, but only as it relates to restaurants.” White people also like to feel superior, thinking they know what’s best for poor people without any real understanding of poverty. White people like the cache of caring without doing any of the work to improve the world. However, as we heard during the Amherst Uprising showed, simply talking about diversity, while not ensuring real equality and safety, is insufficient.
As Baratunde Thurston points out in his book “How To Be Black,” his mother raised him to love many activities that don’t fit the black stereotype, such as yoga and camping. Additionally, many white people love things not on the “Stuff White People Like” blog. However, when white people do things that are typically thought of as belonging to black culture, such as listening to or performing hip-hop, it is usually not questioned and is seen as a positive addition to their white identity. This behavior makes them seem cool. While white people may face criticism for appropriation, the effect seems to be small and to not have a real impact on their psychological wellbeing. On the contrary, when black people engage in typically “white” activities,” the type of things that you would see on the “Stuff White People Like” blog, it is often seen as strange, as though they should not be permitted to pass into spaces outside of the racial stereotypes to which they have been relegated. I think this is an important aspect of the cultural appropriation debate: white people can pass freely into any space they desire, whether that be cultural or professional, but often when black people enter places historically denied to them, such as high-level positions of authority, their legitimacy in that position is perpetually questioned because of their race. While the white identity is given permission to expand, black identity is constantly constrained by racist stereotypes.

We have probed throughout this class the question of “what is race?” At the beginning of the class, we explored the idea of race as tied to culture, both passed down and generated anew within communities. However, in our current society, race transcends culture; due to the institutions of slavery and white racist projections onto black people, the idea of blackness has been degraded and devalued. Race thus functions as a “social fact,” determining many aspects of lived, everyday experience. But what if America can rid blackness of racist associations, can come to see blackness as more than an oppressive chain of history? It was very interesting when Thurston argued for the dynamic potential of blackness: because it is not bounded by strict cultural traditions, like Judaism, with its 5,000 years of history, blackness is something to be chosen and constructed by individuals, an agency to determine what blackness means for them. In this sense, blackness is not merely a label that constrains one’s abilities and interests, but a type of cultural building block; rather than being thought of as the defining factor of everything, blackness could be just one part of an individual’s identity.

Further, we read in “Wages of Whiteness” that historically, whiteness as a racial category was constructed wholly as a negation of blackness. White people projected feared characteristics — laziness, sexual promiscuity, abnormality – onto black people in an attempt to distance themselves from those traits, to define themselves as “not that.” It is interesting to consider what whiteness will mean when the psychological wages of racism are gone, when the degraded model of blackness is replaced by a non-racist, celebratory idea of blackness.

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