Stuff White People (and Macalester) like: #47 Liberal Arts Degree, #72 Study Abroad & #7 Diversity

By Alex Park

Alex Park: You said that to white people, sushi is “everything they want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy and hated by the ‘uneducated.'”
Christian Lander: If you can throw the word “sustainable” in there, too, that makes it even better. But at the same time that white people intentionally make consumer choices because they are “hated by the ‘uneducated,'” they are also “concerned” (I use this term in quotes) with poor people, non-white people and especially poor, non-white people in other countries. It comes through in a lot of that stuff. As much as white people wish the uneducated shared the same taste as them, they’re also petrified of that happening because then they can’t like it anymore. So if every uneducated person started reading McSweeney’s, and then it turned into a USA Today, it would lose its cache, regardless if the contents stayed exactly the same.
AP: So there’s a class element as well
CL: Oh yeah, absolutely.
AP: Is whiteness just a cover for class in your book?
CL: They’re the same thing. Most of where this came out of is that the class that I’m talking about or the group of people I’m talking about desperately…don’t want to believe they’ve experienced white privilege…There’s a definite race element to it, but it’s really about class. Along those lines, a number of the things on the list are a little tongue and cheek-sweaters, indie music and brunch all make the cut. These are white things, plain and simple.
But some of the others like recycling and bicycles and the Prius have a measurable benefit to society.
Vegetarianism, non-profit organizations, public transportation that’s not a bus: all of these things have a great benefit to society. But at the same time … all of your other needs have been taken care of that you can devote your life to being concerned about the environment. … So there’s a class element to environmentalism, I want to point out. And the thing [is that] when you start using these [inherently good] things as commodities, as a way to measure your value against other people, then they lose the altruism that makes them good in the first place. …The concept of anonymous charity is lost.
AP: Bicycles are now the providence of a wealthy elite?
CL: Not all bikes. It’s very specific how bikes operate with white people. For example, there’s a billion bicycles in China, but … it’s a different thing. That’s bikes for utilitarian purposes, and that’s not how white people roll with bicycles.
AP: Let’s talk about something that has no relation at all to consumer choices, like a humanitarian crisis in Africa, for instance. How have white people approached Darfur?
CL: T-shirts. Problem solved. Raise awareness. Done. That’s what white people do, in the circle of life. They raise awareness and then hope that some other white person solves it. That’s how we roll.
AP: One of the ways you say that white people lead a lifestyle that is aware is to move into an area they consider less white and less of their class … helping to gentrify it, forcing out the poor minorities he wanted to live among, raising the rents and changing the character of the place, all of which detracts from its original “authenticity.”
Fighting for authenticity, no matter how much work it takes. Which sort of says something: how authentic is something when you have to fight so hard to preserve it?
Where’s the balance between “authenticity” and a level of comfort that’s acceptable to white people?
You want it to be authentic enough, but not so authentic that it doesn’t have a good bakery.
Where does that exist?
CL: Brooklyn [laughs]. No, it’s a tough thing. I don’t offer solutions, I’ll be the first to admit. This is satire, it’s a joke. I wish I had solutions, because I’m part of this. … It’s this battle between authenticity and parasitic, yuppie development. There’s no middle ground! And it’s a tough challenge.
API see a lot of those questions getting asked at my liberal arts college.
Don’t you have to write an essay about that to get in that outlines which crises you’ll have in which year? And you have to meet with an adviser that’s like, “No, no, no, no, you’re supposed to have your travel crisis in second year, not third. Have your drug problem in first year so you have it during easier courses.”
AP: Should white people take pride in their whiteness?
CL: Yes and no. Every white person-at least the ones I’m talking to-is always filled with guilt because they know what their ancestors did … and there’s an inherent shame to that. And there’s an inherent guilt … to understanding the privilege. But at the same time, there’s a lie-and I’m guilty of this-that you’re somehow better than the other white people, that somehow you’ve done something more authentic or slightly different … that makes you better than them. And so, it’s a weird mix of pride and guilt, and I think the book kind of captures that mix of pride and guilt that come out in some strange ways, to say the least.
AP: So there’s pride, but it’s only pride as the individual, it’s not pride in the group?
CL: Yes. If I were to do a site called Stuff White People Hate, entry number one would be other white people. It’s definitely an individual pride. It’s a belief … that you are better than other white people. I guess you could say, if you were going to summarize it, that it’s collective guilt and individual pride.
AP: Have you gotten any interesting reactions from non-white people?
CL: Oh yeah, a lot. A lot of white people [have showed up] to hear me speak, but it’s not all white. But amazingly I’ll say, different races, same class, all the way through… A lot of people say they wished they had this book before they left for college, because it would have saved so much misunderstanding over the course of four years. So the reaction has been really positive, because these are observations that a lot of people can share and a lot of people can relate to. And again, coming from a certain class, there’s a lot of humor to this that people can pick up on.
The race question doesn’t seem to go away. White people are also really race-conscious, and they get that there are race issues in America, but they’re hard to deal with… Yeah. It’s hard, because it’s a good thing to change your light bulbs, but to change your light bulbs and think that everything’s fixed is a problem. And it’s the same thing with this election, in that … Barack Obama is fantastic, it’s amazing. But there’s this sense that, Barack Obama wins and racism is over? It’s that same sort of idea that things can be fixed, almost symbolically and things are fixed forever. … As amazing as it is to see a black president in my lifetime, it doesn’t solve racism.
AP: So does white people’s concern with racism just die after they vote for Obama?
CL: No, there are other things. I’ve said before that one of the things that will offend a white person more than anything else is being accused of being a racist. If a white person hears that from a minority, that will stick with them for months and months and months. It’s one of the things they’re most petrified of. And again, on this side-and I don’t offer solutions … It’s tough because there is that powerlessness. What can you really do? … Some people take these kind of ridiculous approaches-and I’m sure you’ve seen it in your classes-getting offended all the time and shutting people up, and refusing to recognize anybody’s view except for their own somehow solves it, but it doesn’t. ­­
AP: You’re from Toronto, and #105 on your list is “pretending to be a Canadian while traveling abroad,” so that must have a special resonance for you. Do you think distancing yourself from being American is similar to distancing yourself from being white?
CL: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s another way to distance yourself from the wrong kind of white and to try and reject it and believe that the white privilege that comes from suffering, right? … There is a belief that all of the privileges [the super wealthy
in America] have and all the things they enjoy are descended fundamentally from pain-slavery, colonialism, whatever you want. … White people want to believe that everything they do is based on their own achievements and not through the shared history of evil. So by distancing yourself from being American, that sort of says, “Oh no, no, no, I earn everything I do. I’m not the American that’s had it handed to me,” which is ridiculous. But Canadians are awesome, so that’s why they do it.
AP: I just can’t tell sometimes if you’re being sarcastic or not.
CL: All the time [laughs]. I’m incapable of actual genuine conversation. I lost it a long time ago.
AP: You say “it is a poorly kept secret that, deep down, white people believe that if given money and education, all poor people would be exactly like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things.”
CL: That was my favorite one to write because it was the one that sounds out for me as the most important, personally, because I had those thoughts. … And it took me till I got older to realize, holy crap-that is one of the most egotistical, horrible things you could possibly say… So in writing that, I was really just going after myself and the beliefs that I had, and I think that’s part of the resonance behind it.
AP: But I see people who harbor those kinds of thoughts and they still read your book and say things like, “Pshh, I don’t do that. White people suck.” … It’s as if they’ve appropriated their own criticism.
CL:[laughs] Yes, I did it, I co-opted-
AP: I don’t mean you-
CL: No, no. It’s still funny though, the idea that the best criticism of white people is coming from white people. It’s like they have to own everything, don’t they?
AP: Have you gotten any negative backlash from white people?
CL: No, never actually…There has been some more serious criticism saying that what this does is it’s just another pat on the back for white culture, saying how great they are and the chance to revel in it, and that’s totally fine. To be without criticism is to mean people don’t care. So there is valid criticism and there is rather stupid criticism and I can accept both and they’re both completely valid… I’m glad it’s got people talking about race and class and what it means.