In the past week I’ve received emailed links or Gchat status notifications that would have me reading/viewing/listening to items like Top 10 Raps Songs White People Like and the Stuff White People Like Blog. In the past month I’ve noticed similar Web 2.0 (if you will) manifestations, such as the hip office worker’s favorite SomeEcards’ treatment of Black History Month, or Black Heritage Month as I’m told by a New York Teaching Fellow friend it is supposed to be called. SomeEcards has cards with lines like “Let’s do the whitest thing possible” where a group of honkies (if you will) ride together in a ski lift. In another, it is suggested that an appropriate way to celebrate Black Heritage Month might be to abstain from shopping at JCrew. There are many more examples of a trend I’m trying to point to — indeed, a google search of “What White People Like” will also bring you to sites like Black People Love Us, a site I was already aware of because a hip friend had shared it with me several months ago. A good friend and his hip friend constantly refer to each other as honkies, and have for years.
So where does the soap box part come in? I want to put this succinctly, clearly. It seems to me what one couldn’t call anything other than a trend, and what I’ll call especially a trend specific to hip, (or would-be hip) white, college-educated often urban dwelling folks, has developed: ostensible (and that word is important here) white self-mockery achieved through defining white stereotypes (of a certain class, more on this later) but, perhaps more importantly, also perpetuating black ones across the web (2.0) and in the ever decreasing phenomenon, real life. I have zero respect for or interest in political correctness, so I’m no offended by any of these sites or cards, what have you, as such, especially in isolation. What troubles me is that this trend (these “white people” sites and cards) is perhaps not what it purports to be.
Allow me to explain. Nerds often like to make fun of themselves for being nerds, especially when they’ve gone to fancy schools (like I did) in similar company. These are not the nerds from the Revenge of the Nerds. These are, generally, economically advantaged nerds who relish in their nerdiness, knowing that they aren’t really making fun of themselves at all when they do so, but actually subversively talking about how awesome they are (because it is, afterall, both cool and of socio-economic importance as an adult to be a nerd, so-to-speak). I don’t have a huge problem with the phenomenon; I’m guilty of it myself.
What I do have a problem with is when the same idea is turned into a black/white dichotomy, instead of a smart/not smart one. I might have been born smart, but I also read and stuff. One is born black or white. More importantly, I reject the idea that it is better to be black or white (as I think most people would when put in those terms). It would be naive to say they aren’t different experiences (being black or white), but it would be undeniably racist to say it is better to be one or the other. If you look at the list of things white people like to do on the Stuff White People Like Blog — study abroad, eat brunch, recycle, spend money on expensive sandwiches, read The Times — these are largely things another group of people like to do: educated, and/or rich people. And yes, unless I’m completely out of touch, there are educated and/or rich black people. The thing is, when white people (full disclosure — I’m white) make fun of themselves in these terms, they’re really saying, as nerds do when they make fun of themselves as nerds, that they’re better than black people.
People feel good about themselves when they study abroad, recycle, order imported cheeses on their sandwiches and read the Times; they think they are better than people who do not do these things (don’t deny this; you’re lying to yourself if you do). The implication is that white people do these things and black (I should say other races, but I think this whole phenomenon is setup more as a black and white thing, so maybe I should stick with that) people don’t; according to this logic white people are better than black people. I don’t think this is what is intended, but I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, it is at least part of what is accomplished.
So while everyone is busy these days making observations and drawing conclusions and theories on what white people like to do, I’d like to go on the record, as the self-declared living expert on cilantro hate (ihatecilantro.com still hasn’t posted any news since early September), as saying this: There is absolutely no correlation between cilantro love or hate and race (both Oprah magazine and Gourmet feature cilantro recipes prominently). Because it is, however, a known fact that cilantro lovers are morons, there might in fact be a correlation between hipsterdom and cilantro love, and there might be an association between hipness and whiteness, but any conclusions you want to draw out of these correlations, I assure you I don’t mean them as false or subversive insults.