I got a Stuff White People Like flip calendar for Christmas. I am enjoying it very much. This was last night’s entry:
The Daily Show/Colbert makes up a duo that is held in such high regard by white people that to criticize it would be the equivalent of setting the pope on fire in Italy in 1822. It just isn’t done, in fact it isn’t even considered! White people love to make fun of politics, especially right wing politics. It’s a pretty easy target and makes for some decent humor, but white people are actually starting to believe that these two shows are becoming legitimate news sources. “Oh, I don’t watch the news,” they will say. “I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. You know, studies show that viewers of those shows are more educated than people who watch Fox News or CNN.” White women all consider John Stewart to be the most perfect man on the planet. This is not a debate, it is law.
I can neither confirm not deny the truth of that statement.
I can tell you that my sister read the whole Stuff White People Like book and believed it to be written exclusively about me. (There is even a chapter on hating people who wear Ed Hardy. Yes. This book IS about me).
I don’t actually believe this book or blog represents all white people, but I do think it makes some funny commentary on a certain demographic of caucasian folks. I’m having fun identifying with it, and I’m even feel a little pride in my whiteness as I read the things, both silly and serious and mortifying, that we white people like.
And yes. I did just say “pride in my whiteness”. Let me explain.
As I’ve tried to dive deeper into racial equality and what that all means, I’ve actually noticed three things that hinder racial tolerance from white people. I really have no research to back this up. Other than being white for a long time, and being around a lot of other white people.
The first things I notice is defensiveness. We feel very defensive in discussions of race, because oftentimes the only time we unpack what it means to be “white” is in reference to racism. We don’t have a healthy self-esteem or even an identity in regards to our own race – and therefore we move into a posture of avoiding blame instead of assuming responsibility. This is what people with low self-esteem do in relationships. It’s the reason why improving self-esteem is the first step in counseling an abuser. Better self-esteem and a sense of healthy identity leads to a great ability to empathize with others.
The second thing I notice is that white people assume that white is not a culture (or worse, that white is just “normal”). Even the word “ethnic” refers to someone being non-white . . . as if white is the absence of ethnicity. We are unable to identify our specific cultural habits because they are so pervasive – so instead of owning our whiteness as a culture, we view it as “just the way things are.” And then we expect everyone else to assimilate to our cultural norms that we don’t even recognize as our own culture.
This leads me to my third observation, which is that white people feel threatened by the cultural expressions of others. Because we don’t get our own culture, we get resentful when others celebrate their own. This is the reason people get perturbed when there is a Mexican fiesta at their child’s school. It’s the reason people whine about why we have black history month. It’s the reason people ask a question like, when is it gonna be OUR day? (spoiler alert: if you live in America, it’s EVERY DAY).
All that to say, I have a theory. I think that if white people start to understand what it means to be white, that they will actually relate to people of color with less defensiveness. If we celebrate what we like about our culture, we don’t need to feel threatened by celebrating the culture of another. If we understand the negative aspects of our culture and we commit to making changes, then we don’t have to feel defensive in owning the history of oppression that is also inherent with being white.
Now, is all of that going to happen by reading Stuff White People Like? No. But it might be a baby step in looking into what makes white culture unique. And then, we might dig a little deeper and read Stuff White People Do. Okay, some heavier stuff there. Then we might take a deep breath and dive into Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay on white privilege (because we’re getting more comfortable with ourselves, and we can acknowledge the concept of white privilege without self-loathing, right?) Then we might even be ready to read Tim Wise’s White Like Me, at which point it becomes abundantly clear that this “white” thing is shaping us, and the world around us, in powerful ways.
And then we celebrate our affinity for Jon Stewart and Banana Republic and Whole Foods, while at the same time having enough humility to be mindful of the ways our white privilege might come into play.
Like when we write this blog post using the first-person plural, creating the narrative that our readers are also white and not considering how this might alienate/annoy any non-white readers.
And then we keep trudging along in this imperfect journey . . .