White like us
Six weeks ago, 29-year-old Culver City Internet copy writer Christian Lander started a blog, stuffwhitepeoplelike. wordpress.com, on a whim, thinking he’d poke fun at himself and fellow white people. Spending roughly two hours a day writing satirical posts about “stuff white people like,” Lander had no idea how much his little inside joke would catch on. In the first week, the site received about 200 hits a day. The next week it jumped to 600, and then 4,000 the next. By last week, he was averaging 300,000 daily hits.
Lander, who arrived in L.A. from Toronto 2 1/2 years ago, came up with the idea for the blog after talking to a Filipino friend about how much they both liked the HBO police drama “The Wire.” For some reason he’s already forgotten, they both wished that more white people watched the show. Which got him thinking: What exactly do white people like?
By “white people,” Lander doesn’t actually mean the more than 221 million Americans who check that box on the decennial census. But that’s part of the fun. Lander is doing to whites what scores of journalists and politicians do to non-white minorities every day, “essentializing” complex identities -- that is, stripping away all variety and reducing them to their presumed authentic essences.
One irony-deficient reader complained that the blog was less about white people than it was about yuppies. And without knowing it, she was cutting to the heart of the joke. Lander is gently making fun of the many progressive, educated, upper-middle-class whites who think they are beyond ethnicity or collectively shared tastes, styles or outlook. He’s essentially reminding them that they too are part of a group.
“I’m writing about the white people who think they’re absolutely unique and individual,” Lander told me. “I’m calling them out and poking fun of myself. The things I post are all the things I like too!”
And what are those things? Recycling, expensive sandwiches, standing still at concerts, Toyota Priuses, natural medicine, irony, public radio, breakfast places, vegetarianism, organic foods and being an expert on ethnic cultures are just a few.
Lander thinks that most of his readers are actually members of the elite group he’s lampooning. Some of the comments on the blog suggest that he’s right. “Oh, lord, it only hurts because it’s true! Love the blog,” one reader who calls herself White Lady wrote. But others are more perplexed. Responding to a blog entry claiming that white people like Sarah Silverman, MC wrote, “I’m white and I HATE Sarah Silverman (and would take Monique ... ANYDAY, so there.”) Still another offended and anonymous reader listed a lot of racist stereotypes about blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, Jews and Chinese to even the score.
As unusual as Lander’s site is, it is also part of a sociological trend among whites who live in increasingly non-Anglo cities and regions: their transformation into a minority group. Whites used to think of themselves as standard-issue American -- they had the luxury of not having to grapple with the significance of their own racial background; they were “us” and everyone else was “ethnic.” Not anymore.
“Demographic shifts have put a new kind of pressure on that category of people who were once just considered the norm,” says Mike Hill, author of “After Whiteness: Unmaking an American Majority.” “White identity is becoming particularized and minoritized. No longer the normative category, it’s becoming one of many identities.”
This pressure naturally leads to a greater sense of self-consciousness as the new minority begins to negotiate their relationships with members of other minorities (everyone else).
Still, Lander is less concerned with cross-ethnic and racial relations than he is with how whites treat each other. As a onetime graduate student in the Midwest, he got tired of coastal condescension of the fly-over states and the glib assumption that “red staters are evil and stupid.”
“Too many white people don’t like to be reminded that they’re white. They like to think that white people are those evil corporate right-wingers or the uneducated masses who vote the wrong way. But ‘enlightened whites’ are white people too and have just as much of a group mentality as they think the red staters have.”
Still, Lander doesn’t want you to think he’s angry or taking himself too seriously. “First and foremost, it’s satire; it’s funny,” he says. “I’m trying to make people laugh.”
But he’s doing so in a brave new world in which we’re all becoming minorities, and nobody’s really sure who’s going to have the last laugh.
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