The article on Salon.com was called “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.” A clever play, of course, on The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the dark, sexy novel and film by Czech writer Milan Kundera.
White people like going to foreign films, according to Christian Lander, the subject of the Salon interview and founder of the satirical blog: “Stuff White People Like.” They also like irony, Lander says. And “the idea of soccer.” And farmers markets. And gifted children. Netflix, nonprofits, and “knowing what’s best for poor people.”
Lander is 29, a native of Toronto, now living in Culver City, Calif. He is, by his own whiteness test on the website, “91 percent white.” He’s also a funny guy who has hit on a gently mocking style that pokes fun at urbane, educated, left-leaning whites – his own people. And, by definition, a healthy chunk of Telluride people, or Ridgway people, or people you know who live in San Francisco.
In fact, San Francisco is number 91 on Lander’s list of stuff white people like. Hating corporations comes in at number 82, just behind attending (but not necessarily finishing) grad school and just ahead of “having gay friends.” Film festivals rank way up there at number three. Farmers markets are number five. The Sunday New York Times appears at number 46, just behind sushi and public radio, and just ahead of the Toyota Prius. The Salon writer Katharine Mieszkowski likens the list to a “you might be a redneck if” joke “recast for a more upscale set.”
Organic food comes in at number six. Seven is “diversity.” Eight is a passion for Barack Obama. Nonprofits earn high praise at number 12. Yoga is 15. Followed by “awareness” (18), traveling (19), writer’s workshops (21), having two last names (22), and microbrews (23).
Bottled water (76), earned a full, tongue-in-cheek explanation from Lander: “It’s all about ranking. It’s essentially a contest. It used to be that bottled water was the status symbol. You drink Evian, or you drink Fiji… But advanced level white people, the higher-ranking white people, realized that they were creating a lot of waste, and so they switched over to the Nalgene bottle. That also reminded them of going camping. So then they could take a stance of superiority over the people who were drinking bottled water. And then, that whole story came out about Nalgenes leaching I don’t know what the exact toxin is [Bisphenol A]. So then super-advanced white people went even further and got those metal Sigg bottles, and now you have this really solid hierarchy and ranking of white people: commercial bottled water, Nalgene bottle, and either glass or metal, twist-top bottles.”
In other words, your water bottle is one more way “to claim superiority over regular-level or subpar white people,” along with your Prius, your carbon offsets, your reusable shopping bags, etc., etc.
At number 25 David Sedaris was one of a handful of individuals named on the list, along with Obama, filmmaker Michel Gondry, and Stephen Colbert. “It’s hard to talk about it [Sedaris]. It’s like talking about a love of oxygen. It’s just there… he’s funny, and he lives in France, and he’s gay. He’s like everything you could possibly want in an ideal friend. Oh, and he also writes for The New Yorker. He hits so many things on the list it’s unbelievable.”
Sedaris may be an acquired taste on the Western Slope, but everybody here owns “outdoor performance clothes,” number 87 on Lander’s list. “From the time white people are raised, they’re taught that being indoors is a bad thing, and that it’s always better to be outside. So they’re always on this constant quest to be camping or bicycling or eating outside, whatever it takes to get outside. The more time you spend outside the more credibility you have to dump on other people for not going outside.”
Lest anyone mistake Lander’s satire for something mean-spirited, he has subtitled his book: “The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions.” Like all successful social critics, his aim is to pop unexamined balloons. To his own, rather smug, Caucasian minority, he is saying: take a look in the mirror.
Nobody likes being defined too closely. Number 101 on the “Stuff White People Like” list is “being offended.” So there.
And number one? Coffee.