Stuff White People Like

Everyone will agree that race is a tricky subject. What is correct, what is polite, what is offensive, who can say what and how is confusing. Race plays out in our lives in the biggest and smallest ways simultaneously. A few of my favorite shows are Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld. I watch reruns incessantly and have an embarrassing amount of dialogue memorized. A friend once told me that she didn’t watch Friends because there were no black people. I had to pause and think about it because I honestly had never noticed. (Gabrielle Union and Aisha Tyler did make appearance on the show as love interests, no less). Should I have noticed? I never realized the lack of similar faces, because I felt the characters and I had similar minds. How did the never-ending drama of Ross and Rachel become a part of the racial debate? The salient point was were they or were they not on a break? Navigating these color-centric land mines is exhausting, so I get jazzed when someone can artfully walk the line of race relations with dexterity and humor.

I discovered Christian Lander’s book Stuff White People Like while listening to National Public Radio (my fave radio station) in the car. FYI: NPR makes the list at #44. In full disclosure, I find many of the books (#138) I read while listening to commentary on NPR. I was so entranced with Christian Lander that I knew I had to read his book. If President Obama’s authored The Audacity of Hope, Lander’s authored the Audacity of Funny Truths. It remains one of my favorite books.

Lander presents a list of items, ideas and attitudes that he satires as quintessentially Caucasian. To stereotype an entire race should be offensive, but in his deft hands, it is interesting and clever. Because he is the insider it comes off as insightful, yet slightly sardonic. Guided tour behind the white curtain by an insider? One for admission, please. Lander pokes more fun with each chapter, letting the cat out of the bag that ‘these tastes’ are really the need to remain authoritative and above it all. He’s the nephew that returns from college for Thanksgiving dinner and for the first time exposes the pretentiousness of everyone at the table. What a cheeky lad!

Having spent much of my life as one of the few minority faces in any group, I laughed with every page. It is ridiculous, but not in a bad way. It’s honest and wry and so silly, making me realize the ability to make fun of oneself is so attractive. Taking the piss out of the heated race debate is refreshing. Lander is obviously from the John Stewart (#35) school of drawing attention to the elephant in the room and then making fun of the elephant, the room and the elephant trainer. I appreciate that Lander wrote this book and audaciously promoted it, weathering the obvious flack it would attract. It’s so ballsy. As a subject, it could be controversial, but it is mostly just fun. Every time I read it, I close the book thinking “This guy’s a genius AND a nut case!”

In the best Jeff Foxworthy way, Lander ends the book with a simple quiz. You might be White if… Check the boxes and determine your personal Whiteness percentage. I will not disclose my score, but it would align with the adolescent taunts that I was “not Black enough”. It’s actually high enough to get me kicked out of the meetings. (Do they exist? I’m sworn to secrecy). But as I’ve always suspected, having the “unique tastes of millions” does not make me one of them. At the end of the day (and the book), we are just people wearing skins of any color, enjoying ‘stuff’. So when I see you at Starbucks (#1), I’ll be the one reading the New York Times (#46), planning a return visit to the Modern Art Museum (#144) or perhaps San Francisco (#91) while wearing a scarf (#101). We can exchange a knowing glance because, like Christian Lander, we are in on the joke.

                                                                        Recommended Reading:

Stuff White People Like              Dear White People                how to be black
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