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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Stuff we can all like: skewering stereotypes

    I think I might be on the brink of an existential crisis.

    It’s not because of the 24/7 study marathon in the race to finals or my impending graduation. No, my recent feelings of deep psychological distress have been roused by questions that resonate with the very core of my identity – am I too white?

    I blame the panic on “”Stuff White People Like,”” a comedy blog-cum-sociological analysis that has spiraled into an Internet phenomenon mocking popular habits of white America. Some examples: coffee (No. 1), expensive sandwiches (No. 63), Apple products (No. 40 – they “”tell the world you are creative and unique. They are an exclusive product line only used by every white college student, designer, writer and hipster on the planet””), having gay friends, T-shirts, threatening to move to Canada, Mos Def, art degrees, David Sedaris and organic food – just to name a few.

    Should such a catalog of ethnic foibles strike us as crude and racist? In an age of political propriety, especially in conversations about race, sweeping generalizations about minority groups are met with criticism and ire.

    Yet, the Web site has spawned a host of copycat sites which stereotype every ethnic group. There’s Stuff Asian People Like (karaoke, academics, pimped out cars), Stuff Latino People Like (Goya, baseball, religion), Stuff Desis Like (Shah Rukh Khan, arranged marriages) and Stuff Ethnic People Like (being the best friend, being studied by white people).

    Weren’t we trying to move away from codifying our preconceived notions into concrete stereotypes though? Such oversimplifications of ethnic identities strip individuals of their diversity and shove them into distinct and recognizable abstractions.

    But that’s what makes these blogs so brilliant.

    Christian Landor, the 29-year-old Internet copywriter who founded “”Stuff White People Like,”” saw the list as a way to poke fun at himself which has morphed into a new standard for thinking about race: through humor. The comical lists are conscious of their own oversimplifications; they skewer the guarded stereotyping we all take part in. And in the process, they celebrate a new candor in talking about our own race and other racial groups.

    As Kansas State psychology professor Leon Rappoport puts it, “”Instead of seeing these traits as something to be ashamed of, they’re something to be laughed at.”” In his book, “”Punchlines: The Case for Racial,

    Ethnic and Gender Humor,”” Rappoport argues such self-conscious jibes at racial stereotypes can be a means to transcend negative critiques.

    Stereotypes may not be an issue we have to resolve, so much as an element of American society that we can recognize and move beyond.

    The blog turned the table on the group that has traditionally been the source of ethnic stereotyping. With our current shifts in demography, perhaps the blog underlines the point Mike Hill makes in his book “”After Whiteness: Unmaking an American Majority”” – that the “”white identity is becoming particularized and minoritized. No longer the normative category, it’s becoming one of many identities.””

    “”Stuff White People Like”” shows us no ethnicity can escape the generalizations we use to categorize groups we may not understand. We all play into certain stereotypes because we unavoidably share collective tastes, styles and outlooks with differing groups of people. We don’t have to let them define us and we don’t have to be uncomfortable talking about them. Making light of stereotypes can be a means to understand others or ourselves.

    I may be part white, but I am not defined by white stereotypes – just as none of us are strictly defined by the stereotypes of our race.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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