Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been reading Stuff White People Like for a few months now. The chair of the committe on diversity here at LTS recently got wind of it and asked what we thought about it... here is my response as well as a fellow collegue.

Some parts of SWPL i find really funny, others i find really insulting. i think it's useful despite that it furthers a privileged POV and it really isn't original as Jerry Sienfeld and Chris Rock have been pointing these things that white people do and like at a deeper, funnier and thought-provoking level.

after talking with a collegue about white priviledge at length she told me "i react to you because of what you symbolize to me, not how you act. your actions are very supportive of not only the LGBT community but in all communities in general." i responded "and what do we call reacting to people because of what they symbolize to us? it usually ends with an -ism attached to it."

priviledge is a double-edge sword and i think it's a very useful tool but is too easily wielded the other way and it shuts down a conversation before one can really develop. i think SWPL helps get past the intial boundaries through humor and stereotyping the priviledged.

but how useful is SWPL? Our own PA Dutch Asian (her description) Courtney Harvey, head of Leadership NOW and is pretty much the smartest person I know, had this critique of it:

Whiteness which everyone may not participate in fully but very rarely challenge.This is the important question I ask- Do you think it is better for the SWPL to exist or not? Yes, SWPL is flawed and may support Whiteness rather than deconstructing privilege and power. However, I think the very act of looking at a culture of Whiteness challenges the idea that there isn't one and that the "neutral setting" most White people take for granted has been created by upwardly mobile White people.

If I am completely honest this is the material culture I participate in. Furthermore, I don't think about privilege or power every time I get coffee, send an email on my mac or quote Colbert. I want to be reasonably critical without being completely hypocritical.

Does it do more good to participate in a White material culture without defining it
in the public sphere - to be quiet about the share of whiteness I have
bought into - or is it better to put it out there to be discussed,
critiqued and challenged. I opt for the 2nd choice.

i've found SWPL a useful conversation starter to get into the true issues. sometimes it's better to start in the shallow end of the pool and wade to the deep as some people panic when you jump right into the deep end.

what do y'all think?


That Guy on Campus said...

I hadn't heard about Stuff White People Like before your post, and I think it's pretty interesting. I myself am Asian-American, and to be honest, I relate to a lot of it, perhaps because the majority of my friends are white, and also perhaps because as an upper middle-class male, I experience much of that same privilege, although I've also experienced a good deal of racism as well.

I think the idea that SWPL "challenges the idea" that there isn't a culture of Whiteness is interesting. I don't know what I think. I feel that in America, "white" people have a diverse set of cultures within the larger demographic, and that SWPL only tackles one specific manifestation of "white" culture (particularly that of liberal, upper middle-class, college-educated, 20-30 something year old white people).

But maybe that's the point. And maybe that's seen, at least by those who participate in it, as the "neutral" culture, as you put it. I dunno! It's definitely though-provoking though.

Tit for Tat said...

Some people just have too much time on their hands. ;)

Luke said...

neutral culture is a myth, but for those priviledged it's easy to keep your blinders on.

it's a hard issue to tackle and thanks so much for writing! i hope to post more about race and cultural issues, so thanks for being open and thoughtful in your response!

Luke said...


i take personal offense to that ;-)