Christian Lander: Yeah, the message is that this generation isn’t impressed by wealth anymore. It’s not about a bigger house or a more expensive car. It’s about more “authenticity.” And there is a competitive aspect to this. There’s a sense of superiority that comes with saying “I don’t need an SUV” or “I don’t need an 8,000 square foot home.”
Still, the site strikes me as a being pretty cynical. You’re pointing out that what you think makes you unique is actually shared by everyone else in your class and from your background.
White people are a group that loathes the mass media and the idea of mass culture, but are being forced to recognize they are a part of a mass culture. This [he points to the aisles of Whole Foods] is a mass culture. It’s interesting to see that so many people for so long believed that this is uniqueness. But it’s sold the same way as every other product out there. Matador Records makes money at the end of the day, just the same way that Universal does.
As you’ve pointed out elsewhere, Stuff White People Like has as much to do with class as to do with race.
Any person of color who likes stuff on this list has been accused of being white at some point in their life. And a lot of people think I’m racist for saying that. But when I grew up, people of color who liked this stuff were called “banana” or “Oreo” or “coconut.” And fundamentally, all of them were generally of the same class.
Well, that brings up a question I wanted to ask you about Obama and “post-racialism.” A New York Times article the other week suggested that the idea of a post-racial America might be exclusively a white perception, and that blacks in this country feel that an Obama victory wouldn’t do that much to heal old wounds.
White people want overwhelmingly to believe that their class and their group--the upper-middle-class left--is color-blind. It’s sort of interesting to see that desperation for post-race emerge out of this group.
Is this solely because of white guilt? Or is there a “coolness” factor at play here--with tolerance being a way to prove how hip you are?
There is a coolness factor to it. And there’s some kind of
idea of competition--that you can find a way to become authentic enough to buy
your way out of whiteness. “Oh, you married an Asian girl and you adopted a kid
One theme you return to is that when white people try to be more “aware” of social issues or more “just,” they often end up coming off self-righteous.
The white solution to problems reminds me of that
Are you rebelling against the culture of our generation?
Yeah, but how can I do it? I indict myself on every post. Our generation is pretty selfish. We’re all gifted. We’re all special little children. And it’s hard to break away from that. Where does all of our generation want to work? In all of these “look at me” professions, like media. High prestige, low-paying professions. And there is selfishness to that. We do honestly want to help, but we also want to be recognized as helping. And there’s this weird thing about mass culture. I think that’s why everyone latches onto indie music, for example. It’s like: “I need to desperately feel like I’m not a part of this sinking ship. That I’m a part of this smaller lifeboat that’s going to make it.” And then this leads to a crisis of authenticity that has people like us fighting for hours over who liked Cut Copy first. Ultimately, as this search for authenticity becomes a real thing, it just becomes a circle-jerk. What can we do? What else can you do but become selfish in a situation like that?
One of my favorite posts is the one in which you dissect white folk’s love for irony, as exemplified particularly in the phenomenon of the trucker hat. Are you afraid that your site will go the way of the trucker hat?
Oh, it will. And it should.
James Martin is an editorial web intern for The New Republic.
By James Martin