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May 14, 2008

Stuff Non-white People Don't Like

A lot of people sent me links to Stuff White People Like when it first hit the wind, and, not having anything productive to say and not wanting to be a killjoy, I just plain didn't say anything about it.

But it made me uncomfortable.

I was too busy to tease out why, but Double Consciousness has done the job for me here.

The problem with StuffWhitePeoleLike.com (or SWPL) is that there is actually nothing that offensive (all though some white people have thought it that) or thought provoking within the site. The reason for this is obvious, as whites are the majority in the country that have never experienced racial discrimination, institutionalized or socially. Because of this a site such as SWPL, which purports to "make fun of" white culture, can become profitable and can garner a large book deal from a major publisher.

Whiteness is essentially an invisible and often overlooked (in mainstream culture) factor within the United States and because of this most whites are blind to their own privilege as it is never talked about all that much.

In fact, even when people of color want to bring up certain offensive characteristics of white culture, such as naming mascots after Native Americans, and try to show them how offensive certain aspects are; white people can actually shrug all of that aside and laugh it off. After all, white folks are the dominant ones in society and have all of the advantages that have been built up over hundreds of years of racial preference toward whites; so when a group of Native American students name their intermural basketball team "The Fightin' Whites" in order to point out the stupidity of naming a team "The Fighin' Reds" white people find it funny and laugh it off because it is not a real threat to whiteness.

In other words, if you're already on top, and all the media already talks about your strengths and foibles, a site that DIRECTLY addresses your strengths and foibles by racializing them is just more ego-stroke. Also, this site really addresses white, upper-middle class people.

I'm pretty sure if there was a Stuff Asians Like site for upper-middle class Asians, created by an Asian American, or the same for African Americans, or Latinos,  nobody would have a problem with it. And the fact that there isn't such a site is telling.


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actually, there is a "Stuff Educated Black People Like" site. However, it doesn't get as much press as SWPL, which is telling. there are a few "Stuff Asian People Like" sites floating around out there but I don't think they are targeted to upper class asians...at least there weren't any the last time I checked...

wow, michelle, could you please provide links?

hi claire,
sure--here's the SEBP site:

and several SAP sites:

the tone is more varied than that of SWP...I feel like it swings from the satirical, dry humor like SWP to the defensive to the educational. given that this is coming from minorities who have been and continue to be discriminated against in subtle and not so subtle ways, it's not surprising.

wow, thanks for the tips, michelle!

looks like both those blogs (the two asian ones are two different urls for the same blog. the second one was moved to the first one) were created in response to the white site. i wonder if any poc did sites like this BEFORE the stuff white ppl like site? it doesn't seem like a very poc thing to do.

The one time I commented in the sociology TA office that I never thought SWPL was particularly funny, I got accused of being a humorless overprivileged whitey (by another white person). I saw someone else somewhere talking about how it's basically failed satire, which I think is a similar argument to this one.

They definitely came after SWPL. I remember my cousin thinking SEBL was funny, and I thought it was stupid and trite and divisive. Especially when we (blackfolks) started arguing w/each other in comments behind the list. (eyeroll)

We don't need to mimic every dang thing we read!

Dear Claire

A very late comment about your inspiring blog:

It intrigued me when you asked about why Stuff White People Like makes you feel uncomfortable and then I started to explore my own impressions. Perhaps it makes some people feel uncomfortable because of the following psychological process, (a vicious circle of vilification, stereotyping and domininance), that it establishes:

1. Vilification incites or encourages hatred of, serious contempt for, revulsion or severe ridicule of another person or group of people on the grounds of their race or religion. It is illegal. SWPL is full of vilification, and that vilification sets clear boundaries between a stereotypical white group - "left-leaning, city-dwelling, white-folk" - and other stereotypical racial groups. Looking through the SWPL web pages this vilification of the white-folk often generalises to all whites.

2. Stereotype Threat - when a person who identifies as a member of a group feels threatened by a negative stereotype attached to their group, they subconsciously conform to that negative stereotype. SWPL is reinforcing not only that a special white group exists, but that this is how these 'sillies' do/should behave. Its website provides a list enabling people to identify with the stereotypical norms of that group. In addition, SWPL has spawned spinoffs (other racial groups) that reinforce rather than challenge long-held negative stereotypes of non-white groups. Where is the 'individuality' of each and every person which is the primary premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

3. Dominant Culture - majority groups that form based on stereotypes are able to build their power by defining a set of majority group norms and then ostracising nonconforming individuals to minority groups. Moreover, they have control of social institutions (communication, educational institutions, artistic expression, law, political process, and business) and therefore the means to promote their stereotypes to their advantage. SWPL promotes majority group's norms. It also reinforces the majority group's links to social institutions as natural and logical. There's one comment on the SWPL website where Lander is proud of telling other groups how to interact with white people, supposedly to create some kind of balance.

To me, SWPL is the most insidious form of racism, because it uses an inbuilt disclaimer, 'humour'; tellingly Lander himself denies being a comedian. Genuine satire aims to create positive social change but nowhere is this agenda carried off in SWPL. Conversely, negative stereotyping (in this case vilification dressed up as humour) reinforces majority group normative behaviour.

Humour is a common excuse for perpetrators of covert racism. Lander ridiculed a Canadian who pointed out his breaches of human rights; his responses were in line with typical covert racist defences such as: It's just a joke, You're too sensitive, or That's political correctness gone mad? If his agenda was truly one of challenging racism, why didn't he respond to this accusation seriously and work through the issues?

Further, Lander only looks at vilification and stereotyping in terms of their negative effects on the target group. He argues that as no white people have been victims of his vilification and stereotyping, it must be OK. Of course there haven't been any 'white' victims. When vilification and stereotyping are directed at a majority group, they actually serve to bolster that group and its dominance. We know who the real victims have been. It makes me wonder - is Lander naive, devious, a victim himself or all of the above? He has certainly profited from it all.

In Australia, the book has come to be used as an excuse, a form of cover, for bigotry that is clearly in contravention of human rights legislation. One journalist brushed off blatantly racist comments published in a restaurant review to me today as being a joke inspired by SWPL.

"Owners Tam Tran and Long Nguyen also know that Western [suburbs] diners don't want to be in a room full of other whities so they balance the accessible sweet-and-sour bits of their menu with authentic Vietnamese dishes that ensure Asian customers fill a fair proportion of the tables."

For a bit of harmless fun and humour, SWPL is also pretty sickening.

That's why I ended up looking for blogs about SWPL and came across yours. It's given me the opportunity to start to put my ideas in writing - though they still need some more work. I think I'm seeing the light.

Thanks and best of luck in the new year.


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