11, No. 2, May 2010
Stuff White People Buy: Race, Consumption, and Group
by Ashley Josleyn French
Graduate Center, City University of New York
In January 2008 Los Angeles computer programmer Christian Lander
decided to start a blog after a humorous conversation with a
friend about things that they noticed that all of their white
friends liked. Within the first month, the website received more
than four million hits. The website Stuff White People Like (www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com)
became so popular that Lander was offered a book deal by Random
House to create his list into book format; it is reportedly the
highest book deal offer made to a blogger who has not previously
had any traditional publications. It was released in July 2008.
But not everyone appreciates Stuff White People Like (SWPL).
Lander has been accused of being racist, despite the fact that
he himself says he identifies with most of the characterizations
of white people on his website. The website is very cynical,
and for those that get it the website provides the feeling of
being a part of a great inside joke.
The first time I was introduced to the SWPL blog was by a friend
and fellow graduate student. He emailed a link to me for #81:
Graduate School. The cynical and snarky description of graduate
school for the white person details the lengths to which white
people will go to prove their intelligence and perceived expertise,
all the while hiding ineptitude and a fear of being found out
not to be smart. The entry ends:
It is important to understand that a graduate degree does
not make someone smart, so do not feel intimidated. They may
have read more, but in no way does that make them smarter,
more competent, or more likable than you. The best thing you
can do is to act impressed when a white person talks about
critical theorists. This helps them reaffirm that what they
learned in graduate school was important and that they are
smarter than you. This makes white people easier to deal with
when you get promoted ahead of them.
After reading this entry I was amused, fascinated, and totally
hooked. I went on to review the list of the other 80 plus entries,
including: Coffee, Barack Obama, Sushi, Oscar Parties, Netflix,
David Sedaris, Wine, Vespa Scooters, The Wire, Scarves, and Farmer’s
One notices quickly that the bulk of the items on Lander’s list
are things one can buy. Sure, some of the items on the list are
ideals, political causes, or references to lifestyle choices,
but often times the stuff that white people like is consumable
stuff. Whether he means to or not, Lander suggests that this
certain brand of whiteness he describes is something someone
can purchase. Being a part of the group is about having or appreciating
What is this specific brand of whiteness? In an interview on
NPR’s Talk of the Nation in late February 2008, Lander noted
that he is clearly targeting a specific demographic of white
people. He is not talking about the “Nascar and moonshine” set,
as that has been overdone, he says. They are also not part of
the generic “Middle America.” Instead, he says he has created
a satire of the “Park Slope parent.” The Park Slope parent drives
a Volkswagen or a Subaru, never a Mercedes or a Lexus, though
probably could afford one. The Park Slope parent does not let
their children eat processed food, play with toys made in China,
or wear clothes from Wal-Mart. The Park Slope parent dresses
casually, even dowdy, so as not to appear too flashy or uptown
like many of her/his Manhattan counterparts. This group is educated,
often with graduate degrees. The members are part of a privileged
class, often times despite their own perception that they are
not. They appropriate upper class cultural appreciations into
middle class budgets. They are socially and politically progressive.
They deem themselves to be post-racial. They simultaneously reject
yuppie values while embracing a nuanced consumption that appears
different from the yuppie to the casual observer, but is very
similar in execution. Most of all, this group is so easily marked
because one doesn’t have to match all of the criteria on the
list to feel like one is included on the list.
Critics accuse the website of conflating race with economic
status, and that is an important aspect of his point; part of
Lander’s criticism is that “white privilege is still there.” To
that end, Gregory Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times points out
that, “Lander is gently making fun of the many progressive, educated,
upper-middle-class whites who think they are beyond ethnicity
or collectively shared tastes, styles or outlook. He's essentially
reminding them that they too are part of a group.”
This claim is nothing new to academic critiques of status groups.
In classic social science literature on consumption and consumerism
Baudrillard discusses sign value and how groups communicate who
they are by consuming certain goods; Bourdieu shows us the significant
link between class position and tastes; and of course Veblen
suggests that achieving status is one of the most important components
of conspicuous consumption. So, Lander’s group of white people
is no different than any other group, except that they think
they are. They see themselves as unique and not mainstream, which
perhaps they are, despite the fact that there are millions of
them wandering around cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco, Portland,
and Austin. Juliet Schor discusses the importance of individuality
and differentiation in consumptive behavior. She states, “The
ostensible reason for these preferences: quality, craftsmanship,
individuality. The less obvious symbolic message: social distance.” I
would argue that this is exactly what Lander’s group of white
people is doing. They are distancing themselves from other whites:
Middle America, Wall Street Suits, the Nascar set, the Carrie
Bradshaws. Their consumption patterns portray who they are not
as much as they portray who they are.
Satirizing whites is nothing new to 21st century, American pop
culture. In recent years we have seen Billionaires for Bush satirize
the Elites; Jeff Foxworthy satirizes the “moonshine and Nascar” set
with his series “You know you’re a redneck if…”; and Stephen
Colbert has struck a cord with his show on Comedy Central about
the political and social inclinations of Middle America. It is
important to note that Lander’s target demographic has been touched
upon before in the academy and in popular culture, including
Richard Lloyd’s Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial
City, Robert Lanham’s The Hipster Handbook, David Brooks’ Bobos
in Paradise, and most recently in this Newsletter in Halnon’s
piece on Poor/Heroin Chic as well as in mainstream literature
with the publishing of Amy Sohn’s fictional novel Prospect Park
West. Considering that race is “never not a factor” (Dyer, 1),
it is surprising that this group’s whiteness has not been discussed
more explicitly previously. All of these texts discuss similar
descriptive and ideological aspects of this demographic, but
none so blatantly and forcefully places whiteness at the center
of the argument. Of course, when you talk about whiteness, you
also are talking about privilege: “Separating whiteness and white
privilege is a bit like trying to unscramble an egg” (Kendall,
In fact, this is what makes Lander’s satirization so unique
and powerful. He not only critiques a specific and recognizable
socio-economic demographic, but he also lays out clearly that
when these characteristics come together, they are primarily
a very specific sub-set of whites who not only share tastes and
interests, but an ideology. That ideology is one of being un-white,
or at least less (annoyingly) white than other whites, while
maintaining the privilege associated with whiteness. The irony,
of course, being that this website calls them out on their whiteness.
Though other humorous critiques are clearly about whites, the
whiteness of the characterization is rarely if ever mentioned.
Discussing the factor of whiteness is not only unique, but also
a characteristic that is cognizant of how the target demographic
secretly sees things: through a racial perspective, even if that
perspective is anti-racist.
There are three key points one takes away when analyzing Lander’s
blog for the relationship between white identity and consumption.
First, that there is a large and strong group of whites in the
United States who have independently made it a point to differentiate
themselves from other groups of whites, so much so that they
represent a new constituency. Second, this site is functioning
as a space for this group to reflect and refine itself so that
it truly can be a demographic that is different and makes a difference
within American society and its view of whiteness. Finally, the
specific identity this group is self-creating is highly defined
by it’s consumption patterns. Taylor tells us that, “the development
of the modern notion of identity has given rise to a politics
of difference” (Taylor, 38). Though this group of whites is different
than other whites, the fact that the modern notion of identity
creates issues of difference is likely the primary reason why
this group has not seen itself as a group. “Groupiness” causes
agitation between groups. Yet to view oneself as an individual
and in constant development to be something better and therefore
different than the traditional options presented is a rather
unique perspective, even if a few million people are literally
trying to buy their way in everyday.
Ahmed, Sara. “Declarations of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity
of Anti-Racism.” borderlands e-journal 3, no.
2 (2004), www.borderlands.net.au/vol3no2_2004/ahmed_declarations.htm
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National Public Radio, Talk of the Nation. “‘Stuff
White People Like’ Hits a Nerve.” Interview with
Christian Lander. February 26, 2008.
Newitz, Annalee and Matt Wray. “Introduction.” In White
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Rodriguez, Gregory. “White Like Us.” Los Angeles
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New York Times. March 30, 2008, Fashion and Style section.
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Stuff White People Like blog. www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com
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25-73. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
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Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2006.
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