White, like me?

Reviews | published in Real Change on Oct. 15th, 2008
Subject: Stuff White People Like blog

Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions” by Christian Lander, Random House, 2008, Paperback, 211 pages, $14

Third Place, Humor, 2008,
Society of Professional Journalists, Western Washington Chapter

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I was born a poor Black child.

Okay, maybe not poor poor, like the Jackson family across the street, but when my family went to an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant, my daddy, reminding us how broke we were, made everybody order extra plates of fried shrimp, the mass of which we’d cram into the Tupperware my momma brought, so we wouldn’t have to spend money on food for the next few days. As for having been a Black child, ask my Tupperware-toting momma and she’ll tell you: Yeah, that boy is Black.

But — and how can I write this and not lose my race card? — I think the woman would be lying. I’m starting to believe I’m only 60 percent Black. Which means the other 40 percent is — how it sticks in my craw like a fried shrimp tail — White. That’s right. Caucasian. Vanilla. Honky.

Now, I might’ve been able to convince myself that my coffee-brown hue proves I’m Black, but — dammit! — I read Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like and, well, all the evidence I needed was right there, in good ol’ ebony and ivory.

If you’ve been anywhere around a computer — and if you’re white, that computer would be a Mac — you already know about the stuff the melanin challenged go for. Lander started the blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com in February 2008 and, like Tiger Woods’ career, it took off, having received 45 million hits since then. The publishing world caught wind of the storm and, before you could say “Sure, I’d love to go snowboarding, but I’ve got therapy tomorrow,” his Web fame blew a book contract right into Lander’s pink little hands. Talk about a lucky white guy.

When I picked Stuff up, all I wanted were some laughs. Because, honestly, who doesn’t want to read a book where a white person makes fun of other white people? (And, given that it’s a New York Times bestseller, I’m not alone.) But, oh, how cruel the Fates, how bitter the irony when one finds one’s Black self reflected back on numerous pages. How did I, with my nappy dreads, wind up in this book? Well, I’ll tell ya.

Lander’s guide explores 150 items/practices/beliefs that epitomize what our country’s lighter-toned citizens enjoy. For each entry, he offers a quick analysis (a skill picked up, no doubt, in the Ph.D. program he eventually bagged). So, right up there, in the #1 spot, he files coffee. Of course every race loves a little joe. But, he tells us, “It’s worth noting that where white people buy coffee is as important as the drink itself.” Starbucks, even while being a corporation —which, #82 reminds us, is something white people hate on — is generally loved by the souls of white folk. Still, “white people are given extra points for buying Fair Trade coffee, because paying the extra $2 means they are making a difference while their peers are drinking liquid oppression.”

What else is on the list? #2: Religions Their Parents Don’t Belong To. #23: Microbreweries. #25: David Sedaris. #29: 80’s Night. #33: Marijuana. #37. Renovations (“Just as Muslims have to visit Mecca, all white people must eventually renovate a house before they can be complete.”) #73: Gentrification. #75. Threatening to Move to Canada (which shows that white peeps’ “dedication to their lifestyle and beliefs is so strong that they would consider packing up their entire lives and moving to a country that is only slightly different from the one they live in now.”)

Of the above, only one applies to me (no, it’s not pot — anymore, anyway — but non-parental religion,) but my life does encompass a few others, including: #6: Organic food. #15: Yoga. #57: Documentaries. #140: [Eye]glasses. But what really did me in was that I watched tons of plays (#43) while doing a study abroad (#72) in London as part of a liberal arts degree (#47), which taught me to follow my dream (#131), leading me to cart around tons of books (#138) as I entered a graduate school program (#81) centered around creative writing workshops (#21). In all, 60 of the 150 were/are a part of my life. Making me 40 percent white. Except…

Lander ain’t really talking race. He’s talking class — specifically, that vague arena of the wanna-be-upper-middle class. Of course, we’ve conflated race and class for such a long time, it’s easier to call something white when you really mean upper-middle class. After all, just like white people, all the Black people I know will vote for Barack (#8) and wouldn’t mind free health care (#112).

No matter your race, or class, chances are, by the time you get to #83, Bad Memories of High School, you’ll start to think that Stuff might be wearing out its welcome. That’d be because almost all the entries follow the same formula: brief intro, pithy example, then a several-paragraph primer for engaging a white person who favors said practice, ending with another wry remark, the whole entry lasting about a page. Perusing one or two entries on a blog every few days might be funny, but reading 150, in succession, extracts the teeth out of the biting humor. By the end, you feel gummed into numbness.

As for me and my “whiteness,” I chalk it all up to momma. She wanted her baby boy to do good for himself, to succeed. And college, grad school, attaining these goals meant I had gone further than anyone else in my family. That she projected upper-middle-class aspirations upon me, and I took to them, which meant, by extension, she had made it too. Which makes my being (almost half) white a little easier to bear.

Of course, I probably wouldn’t have seen all I have in this world if Miss B hadn’t saved a few dollars by squirreling away fried shrimp to help send me to college. It was there, with 1,600 mostly white classmates in Maine, that I learned I could navigate the realm of the upper-middle class and stay Black doing it. Too bad none of the Jackson kids across the street had the chance. I’m sure they would’ve loved international travel (#19) as much as this (mostly) Black kid.

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