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Stuff White People Write

20101115_lander1.jpg
Christian Lander brunching at Beauty’s in Montreal.


That all those jokes about how white people drive or dance or fornicate have been exhausted has itself become a bit of a joke. Just like moaning about the prices at movie theatre concession stands or the wacky names of caffeinated beverages at your local Starbucks, it was getting tired—at least until Christian Lander came along. In early 2008, the decamped Torontonian started Stuff White People Like a WordPress blog dedicated to dissecting “the unique taste of millions.” By July of 2008, Random House had released the Stuff White People Like book, a collection of Lander’s riffs on the curious value white people place on finding a good brunch spot, watching The Wire, or pretending to enjoy classical music.


Besides being funny (and often eerily on-the-nose), Stuff White People Like etched a concept of whiteness that exceeded mere pigmentation. For Lander, being white isn’t about being Caucasian as much as it is about being a fairly well-to-do upper-middle-class liberal who values, above all else, their capacity for discernment. In Lander’s terms, “whiteness” has more to do with privilege than skin colour. (Though the thorny connection between privilege and skin colour, and especially skin colour edging towards the white, is always implicit in his writing.) These sociological threads expanded the profile of Stuff White People Like, landing its author not just on cross-continental book tours, but college speaking engagements.
Criss-crossing across North America speaking about whiteness inspired Lander’s follow-up book, Whiter Shades of Pale, which will be released on November 23 by Random House. Whiter Shades has Lander further plunging into the falsely differentiated fauna of middle-class whiteness, dissecting the differences in white people from coast to coast. Though there may be some broad anthropological imperative at play, make no mistake, Lander is a comedy writer first, and any racial fallout arising from his perhaps reductive exploration of whiteness is largely incidental.
We chatted with Lander, who is currently writing an animated sitcom for MTV, over the phone last week about his new book and various shades of whiteness.
Torontoist: Is it fair to call Whiter Shades of Pale a sequel to Stuff White People Like?
Christian Lander: Yeah. Or a continuation, I guess, is another fair thing to call it. Looking at it, it’s not really radically different from the first one.
What does differentiate it from the first book?
The new one breaks down regional white people from across North America: breaks down their strengths and weaknesses and that. The entries are loosely arranged based on which things are most applicable to people from that region.
You’ve often talked about Stuff White People Like as not being about some sort of grand, uniform concept of whiteness, but about a certain type of person, who is often white. Does the new book look to further expand this concept of whiteness, if only superficially?
That’s the joke. For sure. It’s a reminder that white people are separated by small, superficial differences, but small, superficial differences are a huge deal to white people. Just ask them what the difference between punk and post-punk is.
Was there a lot of research involved in this, or is it just based on people you’ve come across in the past few years?
In the past few years I’ve been doing book tours and college lectures, so I’ve been touring a lot all over North America. Part of it is based on just basic experiences. But I’ve learned things about Boulder, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin and Austin, Texas that I would not have noticed had I not travelled there.
So what are some of the differences you’ve noticed, say, between white people in Boulder and white people in Austin?
Well, Boulder is full of a lot of old hippies who got in while Boulder was still affordable. You see a lot of skullets: you know, the bald head with the ponytail. Whereas in Austin, people are a lot more into the music scene and that. There’s a lot of people in band and beer t-shirts and that. The differences are sometimes very, very small.
And what things remain the same across the board? Is it this idea of distinction or some snooty level of refinement?
Yeah. All the entries definitely apply to all white people. They just apply more or less to each group. One of the things I focused on in this book is white people getting older, partly because I’m getting older. So there’s stuff like expensive versions of cheap food. And I talk about how as you get older, the passion you had for indie rock switches over to restaurants. Because you can never be the oldest guy in a restaurant.
When the blog started, and when the first book came out, you were getting pegged with a little bit of controversy about Stuff White People Like being kind of reductive or, pardon the pun, whitewashing white people. Has this died down over time? Do you expect the new book to reignite some of these flames?
The new book is probably going to reignite things, if only because the regional white person for San Francisco is an Asian woman. So we’ll see where that takes me.
Well, how do you defend that one?
I’ve always said: you don’t have to be white to be white. You just have to be rich.
When the first book came out, you did talk about how a lot of the things white people like came not necessarily from Caucasians, but from well-off Asian kids you knew growing up in Toronto.
In a lot of my college lectures I talk about how so much of this stuff comes from growing up in Toronto. And how if you liked any of the stuff I talked about and you weren’t white, people would call you white. They’d say, “You’re acting white.” They’d call you banana, coconut, Oreo. It was something that was so ingrained in my head growing up in Toronto.

“I’ve always said: you don’t have to be white to be white. You just have to be rich.”

How does Toronto compare to the rest of North America in terms of whiteness?
Well, Toronto, right up until Rob Ford got elected, was our paradise. Now I don’t even know what to say about it. I’m so bummed about that.
You’re lucky to be outside of it, at least.
Yeah, because things are going so much better here. Everything’s perfect. The Republicans are back in power, the war’s still going on, there’s going to be tax cuts extended to the richest people in America. Again. But Toronto, I mean, I love it with all my heart, is still viewed as paradise for white people. It’s funny, I watched this thing about Lake Shore yesterday, you know that new show?
Oh yeah.
Well I had to explain to everyone here in L.A. that Toronto isn’t just full of nerdy white guys. We have suburbs too. After Scott Pilgrim, everyone here thought Toronto was all Michael Ceras.
No, no. We have Turkish people! And Italian people! All rendered as the broadest imaginable cultural stereotypes!
That’s the great thing about Lake Shore—it really proves that no matter where in the world you come from, if you move to Toronto, your kids will become assholes. Multiculturalism at its worst! But still, Toronto is this amazing place where public schools work and public transit is fantastic and it really is this great mix of people and difference cultures. Despite all the criticism we might get, it’s still as close as you’ll get to a legitimately multicultural city anywhere in the world.
So what can Torontonians expect at the reading?
Oh, Torontonians get the special treatment. They’ll get the story of how everything got started, I’ll do a little reading, and then I’ll get really drunk.
It’s a bit of a homecoming too, because the bar is right in the neighbourhood you grew up, is it not?
Yeah! It’s the bar I used to drink at when I was eighteen. Well, try to. But I’d usually have to go to the Black Swan across the street.
Was it your decision to host it there? It seems like you could fill a bigger room than a pub?
No, it was Random House’s decision to host it there. But I couldn’t be happier. It’s such a positive environment to do it in. I couldn’t be happier.
Photo courtesy Christian Lander.
White Shades of Pale hits shelves November 23. Lander will be reading from his new book at the Dora Keogh Pub (141 Danforth Avenue) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 24. The reading is absolutely free.

Comments

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    “I’ve always said: you don’t have to be white to be white. You just have to be rich.”

    No, really you have to be white. Hard to take seriously coming from a white person. Sorry.
    The “real” stuff white people like. It’s an interesting read, not sure if anyone posted this before.
    http://gizmodo.com/5632105/the-real-stuff-white-people-like

  • http://undefined jw03

    Oh my gawd, he’s delicious.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    You missed the point. He’s a lot funnier than you and in the right way.

  • http://undefined rek

    Everything just passed so far over your head, it’s technically sub-orbital.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Maybe I have to be white to understand? Cause after reading the 2nd para and the quote, I don’t understand what I’m missing. Is this some kind of white people inside joke?
    I just thought I was correcting a very common fallacy made by the (usually liberal) white folks I’ve encountered.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    If you thought I was trying to be funny you seriously missed the point.

  • mikeyteeth

    Sure, just like vanilla ice cream, AMIRITE!!??

  • http://undefined the_lies

    Yeah, all us white people got together and decided to exclude everyone else from this joke. It’s just you that doesn’t get it.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    If I missed the joke, it’s probably due to the fact that a) I’m an immigrant from Africa b) Not white c) It’s really not that funny?
    So why don’t you explain it, instead of being a snarky dipshit? Unless of course YOU don’t get it either? DUN DUN DUN!

  • http://undefined rek

    In the pull quote, he’s saying the ‘whiteness’ and ‘white people’ he writes about are a particular quality and subculture that seem to correlate to disposable income, not so much to race or ethnicity – thus the Asian ‘white’ girl for San Francisco – and interest/participation in things that are stereotypically Caucasian. It’s the reverse of ‘wigger’, more or less.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    It’s none of those things, especially since two of those things are the same thing. I don’t want to explain it to you, your inability to grasp this and your poor attitude is hilarious.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Okay I understand now, thanks Rek. I assume the_lies really didn’t get it either, based on their response to my last post, so I’m sure somewhere he’s silently thanking you too!

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    especially since two of those things are the same thing

    Are you referring to a) and b)? Cause if so, you really, really, really, really need to get out more and stop watching so much National Geographic and Discovery TV.
    Thanks for the laugh though! I really appreciate it!

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    It’s funny cause somebody called me an Oreo once and I really didn’t get it. All I could think was: Hard on the outside, soft in the middle? Obvs I was way off on that one too lol.

  • http://undefined the_lies

    torontothegreat – always begging for explanation, never understanding. Yer so needy!

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Coming from someone that thinks all Africans are black?
    Hilarious! Seriously, change your career right now! You’re a comedic idiot savant!

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    While you’re at it, look up: Rhetorical question. Hopefully it’ll help you understand a bit better.

  • Mr. Palmer

    torontothegreat – why do you bother, every time you make a comment it’s the worst comment in the thread. the_lies is right, you’re incompetent.

  • http://undefined thelemur

    I’m white and I recognize what this guy writes about. But I still don’t think it’s funny. In fact, I seriously dislike this snarky idea of being able to figure out entire groups of people (‘Ooh, he’s really got OUR number!’).

  • John Semley

    In defence of Christian Lander: he’s smart enough to be very self-conscious about the whole thing. Most of the pictures of “white people” in the new book are of him, and he’s quite obviously drawing from his own range of experience. Ascribing an anthropological imperative may acquiesce rolled eyes, but this is essentially a funnybook. And the new one has a few great insights, my favourite being why white people like digital photography so much (basically: they assume they’re supposed to like art, and believe they possess some god-given artistic talent, but don’t, so they fake it with b&w DSLR photos and Hipstamatic shots on their iPhone).

  • http://undefined Mad_Max

    I guess it must be true, classism has replaced racism as the number one scourge on society. The rich man treats us all like niggars now. If I may quote my favourite role model ” ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL ”