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April 25, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

The AV Club: "Why it’s time to stop using “white” as a pejorative"
posted by Chrysostom (181 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I don't see race. People tell me I'm whaite, and I beleive them, because police officers call me 'sir'."
-- Stephen Colbert
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2012 [25 favorites]


the author sort of misses the point of calling something 'white' i think. in my experience it's typically shorthand for "obliviously couched in privilege" or associated with people who are, rather than necessarily a lack of diversity in a cast.
posted by p3on at 5:59 AM on April 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


/missingthepoint
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:02 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eh, any article that recommends that people look at the comics of Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim is OK with me, at least to some degree.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


First you get criticised when you use "white" as a positive adjective, now you get criticised when you use it as a negative one. It's like people don't want us to use racially charged terms at all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:04 AM on April 25, 2012 [59 favorites]


Speaking as a white dude, fuck this guy.
posted by SansPoint at 6:04 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Feigning disdain for whatever group/class/profession/race you belong to is just one of many time-honoured ways to say "look at me, I'm special".
posted by pipeski at 6:04 AM on April 25, 2012 [29 favorites]


I'm OK with this as long as I'm still allowed to use "NPR" as a perjorative.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:06 AM on April 25, 2012 [18 favorites]


Does this mean we can't use the expression "like white on rice" anymore"?
posted by fairmettle at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2012


Totally yankocentric.
posted by pompomtom at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Race baiting sells pageviews.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the author's bio:

Born in Georgia, raised in Tennessee, settled in Arkansas.

Now Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas are perfectly fine states to be born and raised in, especially if you're...Well, I'm just sayin'.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


So, uh, everyone is ignoring the part that says:

"The 'white people are square and bland' gag is an old one, and for the most part, it’s both harmless and healthy."

...and the part that says:

"It turns real complaints that deserve a fair hearing into part of the nagging buzz of self-satisfied snark that pervades our culture today."

...and the part that says:

"There are too many people who disingenuously gripe about how 'white' something is when they’re really trying to say that it’s not brassy or badass enough for their taste"

Right?

Because otherwise a bunch of knee-jerk complaints about how someone is god forbid defending the word "white" in a specific context about how using it as a general "lame" pejorative is diluting the discussion of actual issues in race relations in media just make it seem like no one bothered to read the actual article.
posted by griphus at 6:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [78 favorites]


Seriously, I don't get the "stop using white as a synonym for bad" being posited here. That's hardly how I've seen the "this is too white for me" phrase used, unless there are actual white people ironically throwing that around or the author of the article is being incredibly reductive.

Like I've never seen a horrible B movie, and exclaimed "OMG, how white was that??" Usually when it is used, it's shorthand for, "Yea, this movie is yet another mainstream, white as right, ridiculous plotline and characters, being forced upon me, who is obviously too brown to live this life or be featured in any way shape or form in this movie, or find any interest in the ridiculous story devices."

It's like the author has been stewing over this for a while and just needed a way to frame it without sounding like they're crying reverse racism and decided to latch on current criticisms over monochromatic casting.

In fact, positioning it around the furor of "Girls" really weakens the point since most of the people I've seen complain about this show come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities and isn't just white people trying to feel better about themselves. Has the author thought that maybe people are being more self-aware and vocal about things that bother them about race not being OK anymore? There was so much hemming and hawing and backpedaling towards the end of the article too to try and hedge the claims and statements that it was ridiculous.
posted by kkokkodalk at 6:10 AM on April 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


He's also against 'dad rock'.
posted by Beardman at 6:10 AM on April 25, 2012


Couldn't be happier to see it fall out of favor, it basically screams "I am lazy, intellectually dishonest and desirous of a pat on the head."
posted by Artw at 6:12 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sounds more like he just dosen't like lazy descriptive writing. That I agree with.
posted by jonmc at 6:13 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hrm, I don't think "defending the word 'white'" is exactly what I meant to say.
posted by griphus at 6:13 AM on April 25, 2012


It's okay for me to use "white" because I am white.
posted by Legomancer at 6:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen any of the shows he mentions, so I can't really comment on whether I think they're 'white' or not, but here's my perspective on this issue:

I'm white, male, English-speaking, and from a Christian culture. As far as I can tell, pretty much everything in my society has been set up to flatter me, pander to me, and tell me how awesome I am. And I've discovered that all the wheels are greased in my favor too.

I should be happy with that, but to tell the truth I'm just embarrassed. I'm not all that great, and so when another TV show comes along with the implicit message "You're fine the way you are! Never change!", I tend to think of it as a "white-people" TV show. Oh great, I'm being validated again. Ho hum.

It's good to be challenged, to feel like the idiot outsider, to get a slap in the face from time to time.
posted by Ritchie at 6:16 AM on April 25, 2012 [39 favorites]


I thought that was one of the author's points, p3on - better to make that criticism of privilege explicit rather than employ a shorthand that, by operating in the same territory, risks being mistaken for/reinforcing the same essentialist view of "race" as the racists.
posted by Abiezer at 6:18 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can I still complain that white people all look the same? 'Cause we really do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:19 AM on April 25, 2012


the author sort of misses the point of calling something 'white' i think. in my experience it's typically shorthand for "obliviously couched in privilege" or associated with people who are
Um. That's the point.
posted by caek at 6:20 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


White bread is couched in privilege? White socks? White heads?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, I don't get the "stop using white as a synonym for bad" being posited here. That's hardly how I've seen the "this is too white for me" phrase used, unless there are actual white people ironically throwing that around

If you hung out with a lot of white people I expect you would hear this usage a lot, and yes, it's annoying and people should cut it out.

But I don't think this article was about "white as synonym for uncool, clueless, square, or bad," I think it was about white meaning, y'know, white, like the cast of Girls. Strangely, I don't really object to the usage he's objecting to, but I do kind of chafe at the one he calls "harmless and healthy."
posted by escabeche at 6:25 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think people are quick to drop a complaint in here, or make a wisecrack, without really having read the article. Or, for that matter, griphus's post.

Because though I think the author didn't do a particularly good job of framing or articulating his point, he's not saying that people shouldn't discuss race and privilege in art, but rather, that cheap white-sniping has a tendency to be a stand-in for more thoughtful, intelligent, and nuanced conversation.

I mean, this thread is turning in to a perfect example. There's a lot of noise and no signal and people are glossing over some real worthwhile points, like, the use of “white” as a tag of shame has the inadvertent but real effect of reducing “non-white” elements to mere ornamentation.
And,
It turns real complaints that deserve a fair hearing into part of the nagging buzz of self-satisfied snark that pervades our culture today.

So I can't help but find it entertaining that the author bringing this up has started - on MetaFilter, of all places, for which I still hold higher hopes for thoughtfulness - a nagging buzz of self-satisfied snark.
posted by entropone at 6:25 AM on April 25, 2012 [29 favorites]


What’s most troubling to me about the use of “white people problems” as a jokey rejoinder is that it seems to imply that non-white people don’t use computers, or go to restaurants, or get cable TV, or exist in a world where our common, petty annoyances with such things apply.

I've called Mad Men "too white," because its gazing a bit too long and lovingly at some of the best examples of terrible white male behavior (at least for the first season, which was all I could stand to watch). There's plenty of historical examples of that, so fiction that has these aspects should be more interesting.

Is the phrase "too white" shorthand for being dismissive of particular piece of media? Of course it is and there's nothing wrong with that. There's too many goddamn examples of it in white privilege, at least in American media, one doesn't time to methodically repeat the same points over and over.

The problem isn't the use of the phrase, but the fact that it's use has merit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't like the "for white people" phrase because it reminds me to much of things like:

"Drinking fountains: for white people."

"Mad Men is Roots for white people [only?]."
posted by straight at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with this article.

As a corrolary, if you want to complain about racial representation and the lack thereof, you should probably talk about the lack of POC in Girls (or whatever), rather then the excess of paleness. Pale people aren't really the problem.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:31 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pale people aren't really the problem.

Agreed. It's those beyond the pale people that are really the problem.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:34 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


If we can get rid of "first world problem" as the ultimate stupid white saying that would be even better.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Used to have saying down South:
If you're white, you're alright
If you're Brown, hang around
If you're Black, stand back

things have changed and now some of my best friends are White.
posted by Postroad at 6:35 AM on April 25, 2012


Don't even get me started on transparent people:
posted by jonmc at 6:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


How old is this author? "Engage with each piece of 'art' on its own terms instead of essentializing it." No way. Chick lit is chick lit is chick lit, and it's human nature to categorize things; it's even useful! The whole crap about how people assume that if they don't like something, that means it's bad? Did he just think of that for the first time? This is like someone's sophomore-year-at-Brown term midterm paper for a Media 101 class.
posted by pineappleheart at 6:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the phrase "too white" shorthand for being dismissive of particular piece of media? Of course it is and there's nothing wrong with that.

There's nothing wrong with it if you mean everyone else is being marginalized. There's everything wrong with it if you mean "white" equals "bad."
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:39 AM on April 25, 2012


KokuRyu: "If we can get rid of "first world problem" as the ultimate stupid white saying that would be even better."

Yeah, it fetishizes/exoctifies coloniasm and its ilk and is p. gross.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen a single one of the TV shows the author mentions, so I'm not even sure if I know exactly what he's talking about. But as someone who on occasion uses terms like "very white" or "too white" in a somewhat pejorative sense, I'd like to indicate here what that sort of terminology means to me, personally.

Calling something "very white" or "too white" doesn't mean being down on all white people or that all white people are lame or are all the same or some shit like that. But using the terms as shorthand in certain contexts seems to me to be perfectly valid and perfectly appropriate. Example: two white drummers: Neil Peart and John Bonham. Neil Peart is "too white" and John Bonham is not "too white". Simple as that. And they're both white guys. But you listen to their groove and you know what I'm talking about.

Unless you're too white to feel the difference, of course.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:42 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine says things like 6 Feet Under are 'Too White' for him often. He is black. Seems like a perfectly rational critique to me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Agreed. It's those beyond the pale people that are really the problem.

If you're insinuating that I think racial diversity in TV is problematic, I kind of explicitly stated the opposite.

If you're not, please be more specific. Who's this shadowy entity Beyond The Pale?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2012


(In a Frank Zappa voice...)

You're white
There's nothing you can do about it
You're white
Just go up on the roof and shout it
You can slam, but you can't dunk
You're just a pale-assed punk
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2012


If you're insinuating that I think racial diversity in TV is problematic, I kind of explicitly stated the opposite.

It was a simple pun. You know: pale/beyond the pale. No deeper meaning than that.

Who's this shadowy entity Beyond The Pale?

This part of your comment is a kind of joke, no? Now I think you're pulling my leg. But in case you're not, read this.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:48 AM on April 25, 2012


Stuff White People (dis)Like
posted by Fizz at 6:50 AM on April 25, 2012


If for nothing else, the article is valuable for saying 'Light the way instead of huffily trying to snuff others’ enthusiasm.'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jesus christ whities. White being used as a pejorative is not a serious problem, and I think white people will be ale to get over it while they are not being stopped and frisked and arrested or shot. This seems like someones "racially insensitive pet peeve that makes an excellent edgy article for a slow news day". I'll stop using 'white' as a pejorative (along with straight) when the rest of society stops treating those things as the default good and any alternatives as something to be 'tolerated'.

Anyways, seems like the white author just needed something to complain about and doesn't know that "gay" is used as a serious pejorative and people are even bullied and commit suicide over that. I remember when that poor white boy killed himself over the psychological damage of having to hear how terrible it is to be white. The everyday microaggressions against white people can cause psychological harm. Oh wait, I don't remember that, it doesn't happen. "White" has always been used throughout history to denote goodness is many many cultures, white knights and all vs a black soul. It's only recently after the civil rights movement that people are beginning to realize that white people aren't all that great. It's only natural to think white people would chafe at the realization that white people aren't that great, and if fact, white culture can be harmful and stupid.

I think the argument against white being used as a pejorative misses so much perspective it's just... sooo white. This is what the pejorative means and as soon as white people stop behaving this ways I'll stop saying that it's painfully white. Or, if you are more comfortable, work to make sure whiteness stays invisable and you don't have to think about your privilege.
posted by fuq at 6:53 AM on April 25, 2012 [37 favorites]


Macy's annual White Sale? Love it. Always a good place to pick up caucasians.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the criticism of Girls is unfair and a little sexist, honestly, because I think many of the people calling it too white actually think the problem would be fixed by adding someone with a different skintone. But I use the word "white" as a criticism, and I'm not gong to stop.

When I call something too white, I do mean it's "not brassy and badass enough," but I'm not being disingenuous when I do it. I know exactly what I mean, and it's not about the color of skin. I'd never say this guy is too white. It's about artists who don't step out of their whiffle ball lives and tell stories with true stakes, stories about people whose lives aren't padded from real consequences. (This doesn't mean the characters must not have white skin ... skin's not what we're talking about here.) I don't watch Mad Men and I'm not really into Girls and you can't get me to watch another Wes Anderson movie. There are a lot of reasons why, and I could enumerate them all if we have some time. If we don't have time, I'm going to say "it's too white" and get on with my day.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jesus christ whities.

That's commonly spelled "whitey".

And it reminds me of a fabulous song!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:57 AM on April 25, 2012


Oops. This song.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:57 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll stop using 'white' as a pejorative (along with straight) when the rest of society stops treating those things as the default good and any alternatives as something to be 'tolerated'.

This. a zillion times. I'd favorite it so hard it'd come out the other end of the internet.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


This part of your comment is a kind of joke, no?

I recognized the pun, but assumed that you were trying to communicate. My mistake.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2012


I'm black on the inside
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2012


If for nothing else, the article is valuable for saying 'Light the way instead of huffily trying to snuff others’ enthusiasm.'

Yeah, that's not really going to fly on MeFi, which is all about the later.
posted by Artw at 7:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Engage with each piece of 'art' on its own terms instead of essentializing it." No way. Chick lit is chick lit is chick lit, and it's human nature to categorize things; it's even useful! The whole crap about how people assume that if they don't like something, that means it's bad? Did he just think of that for the first time?
is there any way i can just like fastforward through this whole decade or something and check back in 2022
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:06 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the criticism of Girls is unfair and a little sexist, honestly, because I think many of the people calling it too white actually think the problem would be fixed by adding someone with a different skintone.

The thing with Girls is that all the characters are well-written and believable within their own little world of privilege and faux-bohemian navelgazing. If a character of a different skin tone was in the show, maintaining that level of verisimilitude would require raising some uncomfortable questions and/or broadening the show's worldview in ways that wouldn't undermine the rest of the show's premises.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fat Mike and the gang covered this idea quite a few years ago now. Don't Call Me White
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


huffily trying to snuff

huffily snuffin'
huffily snuffin'
think you're fresh?
you're a stale bran muffin!
huffin' and puffin'
plot's all MacGuffin
talkin' loud and sayin' nuffin'
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:09 AM on April 25, 2012


That's commonly spelled "whitey." And it reminds me of a fabulous song!

A Whiter Shade of Pale?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:12 AM on April 25, 2012


I remember when that poor white boy killed himself over the psychological damage of having to hear how terrible it is to be white. The everyday microaggressions against white people can cause psychological harm. Oh wait, I don't remember that, it doesn't happen.
Can't something be a bad pejorative even if there is some other thing that is an even worse pejorative? The author at no point says "dismissing things as 'white' is a terrible problem, to the exclusion of all other problems".
posted by deathpanels at 7:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's funny, I was just watching a movie last night with a (white) friend who dismissed the entire thing because he was so sick of movies about "white people problems." As we talked, it seemed that idea really was central to why he disliked this entire kind of movie. And yeah, I thought it was a lazy, easy generalization that spared him from having to even try to take the characters seriously or engage with the movie even slightly.

I think you have to look and see if the thing you're criticizing as "too white" is making an effort in good faith to be creative, to tell a story, to communicate something genuine. If it is, then its "whiteness" is just one aspect of it. If not, then its "whiteness" surely may be one of its faults, a reflection of the carelessness or lack of thought that went into the overall project.

Haven't seen "Girls," but Mad Men definitely holds up to this standard.
posted by hermitosis at 7:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


"If you hung out with a lot of white people I expect you would hear this usage a lot, and yes, it's annoying and people should cut it out.

Hey, escabeche, nice try, but don't go around assuming who I hang out with or not. I don't see how that negates any of the points I tried to make following that statement though.
posted by kkokkodalk at 7:18 AM on April 25, 2012


It's 2012 . Time to drop the double standard of criticizing all things "white" while being afraid the criticize anything "black". It's bullshit and helps neither race. Black people can be just as square and soulless.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:18 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Some of the Girls nitpickers seem to be funneling their issues with other aspects of the show—the depiction of privilege, the emphasis on women, the youth of its creator—into the race question, where their objections will seem less reactionary and more righteous.

This is actually very astute. As someone who is critical of virtually everything virtually all the time, it's helpful for me to reflect on whether I'm ever concealing less-legitimate criticisms by pushing them into a more socially respectable area.

I've actually heard white people be like "blah blah that's too white" pretty regularly. It's something that gets said by white people to white people, at least around here. (Whereas even in radical circles I've been astonished by how rarely white folks will name race around POC.) It's a turn of phrase I dislike, because it serves to distance the speaker from their own whiteness - by saying that something is "too white for me as a white person", I position myself as a "good" or "perceptive" white person. It seems like cookie-seeking behavior to me.

There's nothing wrong with pointing out that something is white - to point out that a show or a book has a racial perspective, that it's not just neutral and universal. And some things are really white, in a variety of ways. White nerd subcultures - for example - are white in a different way than white business subcultures, and for different reasons. They have different positions within whiteness and different investments in white privilege. Talking about that is useful and interesting.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


What's interesting to me about the term "white" as an adjective is the swiftly forgotten 1950's colloquial sense of it. Back then, to say that someone was "white" was to say that they were being decent or kind or otherwise a good person, as in "gee Bill, it's really white of you to loan me your car on Saturday night." I think it rapidly became obvious to pretty much everybody how racist and awful that was, which is why it was swiftly dropped from the vernacular. But it's worth keeping in mind, since it really wasn't that long ago.
posted by koeselitz at 7:22 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing with Girls is that all the characters are well-written and believable within their own little world of privilege and faux-bohemian navelgazing. If a character of a different skin tone was in the show, maintaining that level of verisimilitude would require raising some uncomfortable questions and/or broadening the show's worldview in ways that wouldn't undermine the rest of the show's premises.

I disagree, in that I don't think the shone would be greatly affected by adding a rich faux-bohemian Asian girl or the like. And adding, I don't know, an East Harlem Puerto Rican girl would be tokenism of the worst kind. To me, saying a show is "too white" is not an order that they hire one black actor. It means the show isn't for me.

I think you have to look and see if the thing you're criticizing as "too white" is making an effort in good faith to be creative, to tell a story, to communicate something genuine. If it is, then its "whiteness" is just one aspect of it. If not, then its "whiteness" surely may be one of its faults, a reflection of the carelessness or lack of thought that went into the overall project.

But there are thousands of shows, movies, books and music to be consumed. I do not care if someone is trying to communicate something genuine if they've failed to include real stakes in the story (I don't use this standard for comedies). To me, it's another way of echoing Cormac McCarthy's statement that he doesn't understand authors who "don't deal with matters of life or death." I will plead guilty to using shorthand, but only because I'm willing to talk about this stuff for hours but don't always have hours to talk.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:22 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's 2012 . Time to drop the double standard of criticizing all things "white" while being afraid the criticize anything "black". It's bullshit and helps neither race. Black people can be just as square and soulless.

Zero people are afraid to call Tyler Perry out.
posted by inturnaround at 7:23 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


fuq, your comment is totally right on and i'd favorite it a whole bunch, but it's also doesn't address the type of white-as-pejorative that the author of the piece was writing about.

the author's not on a "stop reverse racism" kick, but rather, is writing about how white-as-pejoritive is an offhand dismissal that takes the place of actual good and thoughtful conversations about race - and leads to the ornamentalism of people of color.

this is an important difference that i feel is going by and large unnoticed by many commenters in this thread.
posted by entropone at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm white, which makes me bad. But I think white people are bad, which makes me good.
posted by digsrus at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Could it just be that depictions of privilege are just boring? I know I am bored by it.
posted by dglynn at 7:26 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hey, escabeche, nice try, but don't go around assuming who I hang out with or not.

This seems unnecessarily jerky.
posted by josher71 at 7:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, there is a reason why "stuff white people like" and "white people movie" get thrown around in criticism. It's because hollywood churns out an infinitude of lazy films that appeal to the lowest common denominator of self-important, navel-gazing, apolitical middle-class consumers. I tend to agree that calling this type of film a "white people movie" is reductionist, but we all know what "white people movie" means.
posted by deathpanels at 7:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Descriptions of privilege" is such a turtles-all-the-way-down phrase that it's near meaningless. If your experience is bad enough, every piece of popular media is a description of privilege.
posted by griphus at 7:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


When Hollywood stops making movies about white people saving the black race, I will stop making fun of whites.
When a bunch of white people (Fox) stop pretending like they are the real victims, I will stop making fun of whites.
When Sarah Palin grows a brain, I will stop making fun of whites.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:32 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


For a substitute of "white" would you prefer, cracker or honky?
posted by kalessin at 7:33 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


@griphus what if i just like watching "the Road" on loop
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:33 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought it was a lazy, easy generalization that spared him from having to even try to take the characters seriously or engage with the movie even slightly.

My dislike of some things included in today's "white" category, including Mad Men, is not that I don't want to engage or don't recognize that a show is genuine and artful. Mad Men, for example, is a show about people I don't care about (I recognize that they have well developed characters) doing something I don't care about (it's filed under "office drama" in the same way The Wire was a "police procedural"), in a time period I don't care about. They don't even have shootouts and it's obvious by now that there's not going to be a story arch set on Mars.

Anyways, For a substitute of "white" would you prefer,

I've decided I prefer "marshmallow" because YOU AIN'T JUST WHITE YOU SOFT.
posted by fuq at 7:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


kalessin: I don't think that works. "Cracker" to me signifies that it's about white people but not unbearably "white." See Crowder, Boyd.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


What are "white people" problems? Aren't they universal? Unemployment, health care expenses, kids getting in trouble, work sucks (or lack of work sucks), car broke down, mother is losing her memory, hot water heater blew, etc? Or am I supposed to add "afraid of crack addict living next door" so you know I'm not white?

I don't know if I like white music. What is white music? I know what white noise is...helps me sleep when the neighbors are loud. I know I don't like whiney white guys like John Mayer...
posted by Kokopuff at 7:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a substitute of "white" would you prefer, cracker or honky?

They're not really the same. "White" connotes upper middle class, suburbanites to me. Crackers are clearly poor, redneck whites. No one has ever called me a cracker, because my family wasn't poor and I look like a nerd. I got called honky plenty of times, though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:39 AM on April 25, 2012


I liked this article better when it was a NOFX song and I was 15.

Well, not really, but the thought made me giggle.

Could it just be that depictions of privilege are just boring?

Given that these shows are being made and garnering attention, I'd say the answer is no.
posted by mullacc at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You guys seriously need to have glance at the link I have in my comment. It makes clear why I said "cracker or honky". The link is an SNL transcript featuring Richard Pryor. It underlines how few choices there are in pejoratives for describing white folks.
posted by kalessin at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Zero people are afraid to call Tyler Perry out.

Really? I've only heard people call him out for being a hack, but never for being "too black" in his casting, and really, anyone who complains about Girls being too narrow in the casting and not being realistic should also call him out for similar, which i've not once seen someone do.
posted by usagizero at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


White being used as a pejorative is not a serious problem, and I think white people will be ale to get over it while they are not being stopped and frisked and arrested or shot.

Well, something's causing me to get stopped and frisked for no apparently good reason, glad so far whatever it is also means that I'm not getting shot.

It's probably not that I'm white (I'd guess it's the beard plus some general out-of-syncness with society, personally), so that's probably irrelevant to the discussion. But there it'd seem to me we're on equal ground: I'm not sure how relevant racially motivated police abuse is relevant. Will continuing to use the term "white" as a pejorative help stop such abuse?

It looks to me so far like the people who would answer that with a "yes" are likely confused about the boundaries between using the term nominally and as a pejorative, and may even think that it's impossible to unpack privilege without using contempt, but maybe that approach to the topic is too white.
posted by weston at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2012


it's filed under "office drama" in the same way The Wire was a "police procedural"

You could describe them in those ways, but you'd be missing out on oh so very much - particularly in the case of The Wire, which is basically an epic treatise on Why Shit Is Fucked Up lightly skinned as a police procedural.
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It underlines how few choices there are in pejoratives for describing white folks.

I saw the link, know the sketch, but it's not a complete list of slurs against white people. I'd list more if I thought that wasn't a ruinous thing to do to the thread.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2012


is "hipster" a slur against white people
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:44 AM on April 25, 2012


The author's objection isn't to "using white as pejorative" per se but because doing so discourages thinking deeply about race-related issues and about the art being experienced. From the article:

"What’s even more aggravating, though, is that the use of “white” as a tag of shame has the inadvertent but real effect of reducing “non-white” elements to mere ornamentation."

and

"What’s most troubling to me about the use of “white people problems” as a jokey rejoinder is that it seems to imply that non-white people don’t use computers, or go to restaurants, or get cable TV, or exist in a world where our common, petty annoyances with such things apply."

LIke his point isn't that we shouldn't be discussing whiteness or race, or thinking about the ways in which white privilege influences culture, but rather that merely dismissing something as being "white" or using a phrase like "white people problems" actually is a way of reinforcing white privilege -- because it assumes that whiteness is a set of tastes or that it is a class status, and it allows the people who rely on such simplistic constructs to feel better about the problems of white privilege without actually doing anything to change the way things work. "White = uncool" or "white = bland" or "white = upper middle class" carries with it the unstated racist corollaries that non-white = cool, exotic and poor, i.e. the "noble savage." Which is pretty racist indeed.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [28 favorites]


I don't Ive ever heard somebody called a honky outside of on The Jeffersons. Other slurs, sure, but not that.

Anyway, whenever I see a white person doing the whole white-people-are-lame shtick, it comes across as rather sad attempt at cool. Just saying.
posted by jonmc at 7:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there's a certain segment of the population (say, about, oh... one percent) that is glad people are talking about race instead of class.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Haha wow I got maybe ten comments into this thread before I had to stop reading! I can't remember the last time my own reaction to a linked article and the immediate tone of the thread were so thoroughly at odds with each other! I'm honestly left here wondering how some commenters could have read the same piece that I did, or if people were just hankering for an excuse to be sarcastic jerks on the internet this morning.

This was a fantastic article. The points the author makes are excellent ones, the tone stayed away from the kind of bombastic self-satisfied oversimplification I've seen flying around w/r/t to Girls in recent weeks, and the piece is wrapped up with proactive and positive suggestions for how to push back against the problems it describes. I now want to go dig up other pieces this author has written, and I'll be making it a point to pay more attention to what the AV club is up to.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


whenever I see a white person doing the whole white-people-are-lame shtick, it comes across as rather sad attempt at cool.

Yeah, that shit is as white as pleated khakis and a white tee under a golf shirt.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:58 AM on April 25, 2012


And seriously, this is a case where it seems like many folks didn't actually get through the entire article to find out what it was actually saying.

The thesis of the article isn't, "Don't use 'white' as a pejorative 'cause it's mean and hurts my feelings!" The thesis of the article is, "Don't use 'white' as a pejorative because it ends up making the whole conversation about white people again, and is ultimately just as othering to POC!"

From the article:
What’s even more aggravating, though, is that the use of “white” as a tag of shame has the inadvertent but real effect of reducing “non-white” elements to mere ornamentation. I wrote a little about this a few years ago, in a Popless column about the insidious habit of critics judging other critics based on the diversity of their year-end lists:
Unless you’re speaking as an enthusiast, wanting to share something you love with fellow music fans, then you can easily come off as an ideological bully, and thereby inadvertently imply that rappers and R&B artists don’t have any intrinsic value beyond the credibility they bestow. Before long, it all turns into an insidious game of fine distinctions, where critics pick through each other’s Top 10 lists and bicker over whether the black artists on them are black enough.
In that same piece, I wrote that noting an under-representation of minorities in the public sphere is necessary, because otherwise complacency sets in and institutions continue to conduct business without considering the benefits of real diversity. But just totting up persons of color doesn’t tell the entire story. The real question is whether a perspective is represented: Not the perspective of an entire group of people, but the perspective of a person, with his or her own experiences to convey. What’s most troubling to me about the use of “white people problems” as a jokey rejoinder is that it seems to imply that non-white people don’t use computers, or go to restaurants, or get cable TV, or exist in a world where our common, petty annoyances with such things apply.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't know if I like white music. What is white music?

The Carpenters, John Tesh, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Phish, REM, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Cheryl Crow, Bon Iver, Evanescence, Creed, Limp Bizkit, John Taylor, The Allman Brothers, They Might Be Giants, Tori Amos, Mumford and Sons, and many others. They dominate the wussy singer-songwriter and bland-harmony fields.
posted by Diablevert at 8:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is long past time to stop using "white" and "black" to describe people. We've given up other words after they acquired bad connotations by association with racists who frequently used them (e.g. "squaw" and "jap"). These ones can be pitched in the same bin, they're far too malodorous by now for me to have any use for them. If someone is of substantially darker- or lighter-than-average skin colour for your baseline culture and you want to describe their appearance... well it's not so hard to find some other word.

Not that I take any actual offence at the use of "white" or "black", I'm just saying they don't work for me. An unpopular opinion I'd normally keep to myself, but I think its under-represented in this sort of discussion relative to the number of people who feel that way, so there you are. On the other hand, maybe increased talk about 'white' people as if it meant something will make more of those fair-skinned folks realise how ridiculous racism is.
posted by sfenders at 8:05 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's a certain segment of the population (say, about, oh... one percent) that is glad people are talking about race instead of class.

Because of course people can only talking about one thing for 100% of their time.
posted by kmz at 8:06 AM on April 25, 2012


Apparently I can grammar 0% of the time.
posted by kmz at 8:07 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't believe how many people think they know what this conversation is about even though they clearly haven't read the article.
posted by hermitosis at 8:08 AM on April 25, 2012 [18 favorites]


I've only heard people call him out for being a hack, but never for being "too black" in his casting, and really, anyone who complains about Girls being too narrow in the casting and not being realistic should also call him out for similar, which i've not once seen someone do.

That's because the viewpoint/cast that Perry has in his movies is rarely shown in film.

The author's objection isn't to "using white as pejorative" per se but because doing so discourages thinking deeply about race-related issues and about the art being experienced.

I've thought deeply about it and decided that overwhelming viewpoint from middle or upper white class male perspective is boring, cliched and overdone. Doesn't mean one can't enjoy media with that view, hell, I liked The Tudors. But when that view is pretty much the only view, it gets cliched, annoying and boring.

For instance, in The Tudors, what if the story had been told from view point of each of his wives? How would Henry appear to each of them? It would change over time of course, from the intense love at first, to confusion, to fear and perhaps hatred. But instead we got the usual display of powerful white male, fucking everything in sight, while bitching about no one loves him, as treats people like shit, as T&A parades across the screen.

Again, I liked The Tudors, found it enjoyable enough to watch the complete series. But yeah, it was too white on several levels.

Contrast that with The Wire, where no only black and whites are examined, but various other ethnicities and classes as they live, work and clash with each other on multiple levels. It's a shame the show didn't do that possible sixth season that focused on Hispanics, that would have interesting. But Simon admitted he didn't know a lot about that aspect of Baltimore, so he didn't try to write about it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm curious to know if anyone thinks that this is hopelessly naive. My thought is that it's a bad idea to use racial categories as pejoratives, period. The fact that some uses are a lot less harmful than others is besides the point, because by doing so, we are tacitly accepting the idea that it's OK to use any racial category as an insult. Trying to establish the idea that it's OK in some cases and not in others -- not only is this distinction likely to be lost on the majority of people who hear it, but it's also just incorrect.
posted by Edgewise at 8:10 AM on April 25, 2012


I don't know how the Allman Brothers winded up on that list.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:12 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Black people can be just as square and soulless.

Do you know that in this country every seven minutes a Black person is born without soul?
posted by MartinWisse at 8:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Some lazy aggro snark removed. Please consider reading the article before commenting, or complaining over at the MeTa thread already in progress.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:16 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know if I like white music. What is white music?

The Carpenters, John Tesh, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Phish, REM, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Cheryl Crow, Bon Iver, Evanescence, Creed, Limp Bizkit, John Taylor, The Allman Brothers, They Might Be Giants, Tori Amos, Mumford and Sons, and many others.

posted by Diablevert

Diablevert, you are wrong wrong wrongity wrong-wrong in including the Allman Brothers in this list. You'd be wrong even if they hadn't actually had a black guy in the band, but since they did, that's just the icing on your wrong cake.

I mean, really. Go listen to some Allman Brothers, man.

And hell, Duane played on sessions with Aretha. Ahem. Aretha.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:18 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


the author sort of misses the point of calling something 'white' i think. in my experience it's typically shorthand for "obliviously couched in privilege"

I really doubt the author didn't anticipate that people would respond with reflexive charge of "privilege!" If he spends much time reading about race (or gender, sexual orientation, etc.) on the internet, we can assume he did anticipate this response. It has become the automatic response in an online discussion of these topics. The author is criticizing how people use "white" to be dismissive, and you're actually illustrating his point. Calling out "privilege" is a way to sound trenchantly insightful when you're actually just being dismissive.
posted by John Cohen at 8:20 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I like to use the term White-Irish and White-Other.

England taught me those.
posted by srboisvert at 8:22 AM on April 25, 2012


The Carpenters, John Tesh, Celine Dion, Shania Twain ...

Note, however, that some of the acts on that list are so white, they're great, e.g., The Carpenters, Shania Twain, the Allman Brothers; some are crushed by the burden of whiteness they must carry, e.g., Counting Crows, Cheryl Crow, Bon Iver; and some would be just plain bad whatever color they were, e.g., Evanescence, Creed, Limp Bizkit.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:26 AM on April 25, 2012


Note, however, that some of the acts on that list are so white, they're great, e.g., The Carpenters, Shania Twain, the Allman Brothers

Um... is there some alternate-universe Allman Brothers that you people are listening to?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


...anyone who complains about Girls being too narrow in the casting and not being realistic should also call [Tyler Perry] out for similar, which i've not once seen someone do.

Yeah, the primarily black people who go see black filmmaker Tyler Perry's movies about the black experience are really given short shrift by the lack of white people to watch. It's so inconsiderate of him that his audience aren't shown the perspective of white people. If not his movies, then where?
posted by griphus at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


I get what the guy is saying, but it seems it could have been wrapped up in far less than the 1500 words. All those entertainment examples and slushy accusations only work if you watch a lot of TV and engage in the buzz word du jour. Otherwise, the article is just rambling fluff of references that have no anchor.

Also, that little challenge point at the end with the pre-answer-insult-snark-as-pithy-comment doesn't work for me. Was that supposed to be insightful or something? Oh woo hoo.

I guess its a style thing, but i found it a rather dull read. Maybe I should watch more tv.
posted by lampshade at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2012


Diablevert, you are wrong wrong wrongity wrong-wrong in including the Allman Brothers in this list. You'd be wrong even if they hadn't actually had a black guy in the band, but since they did, that's just the icing on your wrong cake.

Oh, do they? Oh well. I just had them in my head as "soft rock of the 70s that my Dad really likes and I had to suffer through on long car trips as a child." My apologies.
posted by Diablevert at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2012


You know, just because white privilege exists doesn't mean that stereotyping whites isn't racist.
posted by inturnaround at 8:39 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, Diablevert, check out the Allman Brothers, brother! Especially the first release "the Allman Brothers Band" and "Idlewild South". Also "Live at the Fillmore."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:39 AM on April 25, 2012


@Diablevert if your memory of Allman Brothers is "soft rock of the 70s that my Dad really likes" I humbly suggest that your memory is shortchanging you. They are a seriously great band, one of the best. Also what flapjax said.

The article may have a point buried beneath the layers of personal griping, but I'm afraid the author hasn't shown enough examples to convince me of what that point is. I mean, I get that saying "it's too white" could be lazy shorthand, but in actual reality I haven't seen that happening enough to be a cause for worry. Maybe I just don't read enough TV criticism?
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:44 AM on April 25, 2012


" I remember when that poor white boy killed himself over the psychological damage of having to hear how terrible it is to be white."

My white (and special needs) daughter who goes to a predominately black school was bullied (and physically assaulted) with racial slurs.

I know it's nowhere nearly as common as orientation bullying (which, BTW… I suffered from greatly in high school), but racial bullying does occur and has lead to suicides. Of all races. And granted, it is far more common for white people to bully minorities, but to pretend it doesn't happen in all directions is doing society a huge disservice.

"I'll stop using 'white' as a pejorative (along with straight) when the rest of society stops treating those things as the default good and any alternatives as something to be 'tolerated'."

Out of curiosity, what's your benchmark for this? is it when 100% of "society" stops? Or just all Americans? Or maybe 90% or… 51%?

Because, I'll tell ya, I think racial pejoratives are bad no matter who uses them and who they're using them against or their reasons for using them.

These kinds of pejoratives, describing things or actions as "white," "black," "mexican," "jewish," whatever… are just reinforcement of negative racial stereotypes. I'm sorry, but I can never think that's an allowable thing.

By your reasoning, we could all use "Mexican" as shorthand for large families or laziness so long as any Mexican actually falls into that stereotype. Or use the all-to-common "acting black" as long as any black folks listen to rap or speak in a certain way.

I guess my point, here, is that societal rules need to apply to ALL of society.
posted by vertigo25 at 8:48 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Argh. As a white person guilty of regularly ridiculing things as "too white", I thought this was a decent article and his point worth talking about. That is, talking about it, not declaiming how you've never seen the shows he's talking about which is like THE WHITEST GODDAMN THING OF ALL-TIME, implying you can't be bothered with the mainstream. Just come out and tell us you don't own a TV while the point whizzes by you.

I've only heard people call him out for being a hack, but never for being "too black" in his casting

Not to encourage a derail, but seriously? Whose problem with TP is the casts are too black? My problem is the movies are fucking awful. And I realize I'm doing the same thing I'm complaining about, but I'm not saying I've never seen them because I'm too good for them. I'm saying as happy as I am to consume trash, there's plenty of better shit in the sea.
posted by yerfatma at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Girls isn't racist, TV is
posted by Artw at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2012


What eustacescrubb said, and it the same problem I had with Stuff White People Like. Rating whites on their whiteness is extremely problematic. I don't know who I'd say has the right to do it. Is Maya Rudolph black or white? Mixed-race? If so, how much whiteness does she have? Isn't this an offensive question? Yet she starred in a movie that someone upthread said was a "white people movie," so she must display some degree of whiteness some of the time. Is she less white when she impersonated Whitney Houston? Or is bland, boring Whitney Houston "white people music?"

In the US, the whitest you can be is Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. When we had the first waves of Polish, Italian and Irish immigrants, they might have been Caucasian, but they weren't considered white, in the sense that they weren't real Americans. They funny names and accents and stinky food and were Catholic and criminals and weren't welcome in your neighborhoods. As they assimilated they were welcomed into whitehood and one was even elected president, when people were still saying at the time that it would never happen. (Although "ethnic" names at the ballot box still cause problems.) Imagine telling someone of Irish descent that you don't feel comfortable around her kind. Seems weird, right? Yet at the height of Irish immigration, they had incarceration rates equivalent to what we see in Mexican immigrants today. We still call our police wagons after them.

Now we've got waves of immigration from Latin America, where people have there own racial identities in categories that don't always line up with ours. We invented the term "Hispanic" for them and add them to the People of Color category, even when many of them have always considered themselves to be white. Maybe in about 20 years Mexicans will be as white to us as Italians, or maybe we'll start splitting them up by skin tone too.

Here is a picture of the Allman Brothers Band, by the way.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really glad this article exists, and I've long had complicated issues with the Stuff White People Like and White People Problems memes. I wish the author had gone more in-depth on the many complications that arise from dismissively labeling something 'white'. A friend has a really insightful comment that I think is worth sharing:

"Article misses the real point in my opinion: classist, racist, and privilege-based issues should not be lumped under one lazy moniker. And by memeticizing that criticism, it allows people to wield it without ever having to study their own privilege/complicity."
posted by naju at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2012


Used to have saying down South:
If you're white, you're alright
If you're Brown, hang around
If you're Black, stand get back


Postroad, did you know that was written by Big Bill Broonzy, and was so controversial in its day that he had problems even getting it cut onto a record?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


metafilter: There's a lot of noise and no signal and people are glossing over some real worthwhile points.
posted by lalochezia at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2012


It's a turn of phrase I dislike, because it serves to distance the speaker from their own whiteness - by saying that something is "too white for me as a white person", I position myself as a "good" or "perceptive" white person. It seems like cookie-seeking behavior to me.

It probably is in a lot of cases, not necessarily excluding myself sometimes, but stopping this use of white is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is more to be gained from being able to point out the well, whiteness (and maleness and straightness and middle classness) of our dominant cultures in a pithy phrase than there is from stopping people using this as just a p.c. version of "lame" or "gay". It's not as if this is a solved problem after all, or that white middle class straight blokes like myself are hurt by the use of this epiteth in the same way that the use of "lame" or "gay" can and does hurt people that can be described that way.

I feel that the original article is either too avant garde, as in the author moving in the still small circles in which a backlash against lazy uses of "white" might be justified, or it is itself (unwittingly) part of a more nefarious backlash against one of the few relatively effective and easy ways in which the essentially still racist character of our cultures is shown up.

Furthermore, cookie seeking is not necesserily a bad thing: it means that your side is at least winning the argument, when it becomes easier to win approval and praise pointing out the racism than to enable it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:12 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


White as a pejorative means something that's safe, predictable, comfortable, bland and boring. Funny, right? Until you realize it means that something that's not culturally "white" is dangerous, unpredictable, unsettling and exotic.

The problem isn't that "white" as a pejorative is insulting to caucasians. It's that it's insulting to everyone else, reinforcing unpleasant stereotypes of the "other."
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


unless there are actual white people ironically throwing that around

That is a very common usage of "white people problems" and similar terms that the article is discussing. In my experience, it is more commonly used by white people in a slightly ironic way, or as a way of saying that they're "edgy" because they prefer "ethnic" things, than by people who aren't white.
posted by asnider at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2012


I found the reaction a few years back of a southern African soccer player whose team had been subjected to a lot of racist epithets in Spain very charming: 'Who do they think they are, calling themselves white? Back home, we have real white people.'

I won't live to see the day when an American might say the same thing, but I think many of you could, and Mad Men may be a harbinger.
posted by jamjam at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the problem with “comfortable white folks picking on other comfortable white folks” isn't that it's bad for white people. The problem is that coding comfortable middleclassness as "white" (especially if the person doing the coding is white) is that it's implicitly saying that being white is a prerequisite for comfortable middleclassness.
posted by aspo at 9:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [20 favorites]


I greatly enjoy mocking Bon Iver for being bland, vanilla, and the latest example in a trend towards safe, adult-contemporary indie. But I've never thought of the band as "white people music", and to hear them criticized that way makes me feel weird as a person of color. I know plenty of POCs who feel they have a deep, genuine connection to his music, and it speaks to them in ways I can't or don't want to understand. By dismissively calling Bon Iver "music for white people", I'm in some not-insignificant way disenfranchising my non-white friends who have that deep connection to it. And my dismissive snark has unfairly set up some heavy questions for them: are my tastes, desires, thoughts, emotions too white? Am I privileged and clueless in the same way some white people are, even though I'm not white? Should I be listening to more music that appeals to minorities, and what would that be, and would listening to something for just that reason of wanting to appear to have racially diverse tastes be, in itself, a "white" thing?

Maybe the person who unthinkingly said "Bon Iver is for white people" or "my Mad Men torrent just timed out, white people problems" means to deprecate his own race, but by virtue of 'white' becoming this stand-in for people who have internet access, like the kinds of things that educated middle-to-upper-class people on places like MetaFilter, like, etc., it ends up othering every minority who likes Bon Iver, Mad Men, torrents... and it makes them feel like they're being a traitor to their race just for not, like, having enough adversity in their lives, I guess? Or being into whisper-acoustic rhythmless music about feelings?
posted by naju at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2012 [13 favorites]



Yeah, the problem with “comfortable white folks picking on other comfortable white folks” isn't that it's bad for white people. The problem is that coding comfortable middleclassness as "white" (especially if the person doing the coding is white) is that it's implicitly saying that being white is a prerequisite for comfortable middleclassness.


This is a nicely succinct way of putting it, and I want more people to read it. Thanks.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are still a lot of valuable conversations to be had about race and privilege in North America. The usage of "old," "white," and "male" frequently bother me, especially as often used together. Among other things they're like code for conservative and privileged, and I don't think that's always fair; but I understand the context of that, and it's important to remember it.

Meanwhile, people in the First World still have Problems. That particular phrase is one I find much more problematic than the usage of "white," but maybe that speaks to my environment, I find this one much more common.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:40 AM on April 25, 2012


And to further clarify, I think that my issue with "First World Problems" is much like the criticism of "White" as a pejorative word. The usage is conservative, and really white washes economic disparity, especially where it falls along the lines of class, race or gender.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's time to stop looking at the AV Club as anything other than entertainment reporting that thinks a little too highly of itself.
posted by item at 9:50 AM on April 25, 2012


That is a very common usage of "white people problems" and similar terms that the article is discussing. In my experience, it is more commonly used by white people in a slightly ironic way, or as a way of saying that they're "edgy" because they prefer "ethnic" things, than by people who aren't white.

Precisely - when white folks are "edgy" because they prefer "ethnic" things, they're just one step away from being hipster-white-girl-in-a-headdress. It's a very slightly different cultural pattern, but the basic idea is that whiteness is a neutral ground on which white people display their "taste" and "cultural perceptions". Under this logic, as a white person, I am both totally self-created and an individual, so I use things [sacred symbols; native traditions; creepy reminders of colonialism] to display my unique specialness. In India, a bindi is just a bindi; on me, it's fashion, etc etc.

I think that white folks talking about how things are "too white" is a way of displacing the political onto the aesthetic. Like, I just don't like things that are "too white" because being "too white" is an aesthetic choice and not a political one; rather than "I feel like whites are uncritically centered too often and we need more Michael Haneke and less Mad Men [or whatever]".
posted by Frowner at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


My take on "white people problems" isn't that it's saying that only white people have Internet access, cable TV, nice homes, etc.

It's saying that some -- by no means all -- white people are so privileged and comfortable that they don't realize where their problems are in the grand scale of things.

For example, I'm friends with my 19 year old white sister-in-law on FB and also with my nieces who are in their late teens and early 20s. And my wife (white) is also friends with them. She agrees with a conclusion I very quickly came to after just a couple of weeks of reading their posts: my nieces living in my old (rough) neighborhood in Florida and my sister-in-law living in her upper middle class home in the DFW area may as well be living on entirely different planets given the subjects they post about.

Yet my sister-in-law is guaranteed to see people who look like her, talk like her, and act like her in just about every genre of popular media: fantasy, drama, sitcom, comedy, comic books, music videos etc. My nieces, nope, not much at all outside of shows that have to fight to stay on the air.

And I would love to run an experiment comparing the chain of events that would occur were my blonde, blue-eyed sister-in-law, wearing cut off shorts and a t-shirt for some country act, stopped on the side of the road with car trouble to the chain of events that would occur were my brown eyed, braided-extensions wearing nieces, dressed the way they so often are in their FB photos (I think it's harmless but I know much of America does not), stopped on the side of the road with car trouble.

That said, it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that the people not fortunate enough to have "white people problems" are also frequently inaccurate in their calculus of other folks' issues. As Cherry told Pony Boy, in what was a revelation to him, things are tough all over.

So I have to remind myself that I'm often -- though not always -- being unfair when I dismiss someone's complaint as a "white" thing. I don't know what baggage they're bringing to the situation, and it's ludicrous to think that people need to ignore their own issues so that they can turn their attention to "the world's" problems just because they were born somewhat luckier than the rest. Luck, to put it mildly, don't give a fuck, and today's privileged person is easily tomorrow's welfare recipient. I just wish we were better about keeping that in mind when we thought about our problems on the comparative scale.

tl;dr: things are tough all over, but we all need to stay golden.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think one of the problems that people seem to be having with the article is that the author assumes that the reader understands that he is specifically referring to white people using "white" as a perjorative, particularly when it comes to mocking another (presumably) white person's cultural choices.

What’s most troubling to me about the use of “white people problems” as a jokey rejoinder is that it seems to imply that non-white people don’t use computers, or go to restaurants, or get cable TV, or exist in a world where our common, petty annoyances with such things apply.

Oh my. I hate the phrase "white people problems" so, so much. I have never, ever heard it uttered IRL by anyone other than a white person. There are a few in particular who LOVE to snottily dismiss things as "white people problems."
And this gets to the heart of why I find it so obnoxious. Not because it's about making fun of white people, but because of what the speaker hopes it reflects upon himself - a reflection that is in reality not all that positive, because it betrays a kind of paternalistic othering of people who aren't ... well, white.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The author is probably right that it's a bit of an overused phrase, and it's being used as a stand-in for actual thought or criticism. As with "dad rock." As with "chick lit."

Would the world be better if we communicated in carefully articulated, deeply considered criticisms? I don't know. It makes for better writing and somewhat boorish cocktail party conversation.

Say, Mumpsy, would you mind pouring me another of those delightful martoonis? Now what was I saying? Oh yes, while I appreciate Mad Men's exploration of male privilege, I think it consistently fails to do the same in regards to race, because, while it has effective female characters who bear the brunt of privilege, it has consistently failed in creating black characters who are anything other than cyphers -- oh, hey Bongo! Yes, I'll meet you poolside in 10! I just have to finish this thought about mass culture repeatedly failing to explode the dominant paradigm when it comes to race!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Some of my best friends are wh...," Wait, what?
posted by Lynsey at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2012


I'm going to try to avoid making any judgements based on race. You can do whatever it is you feel like doing.
posted by Splunge at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2012


@bunny ultramod

im not as smart as you so can you please rephrase that in a more straightforward way
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2012


Uh, other than the fact that Shania Twain's biological father is part Cree, she also had a super rough upbringing that involved domestic violence, a stint in a homeless shelter, and singing in bars as a preteen. And she spent time as a young woman working on her father's reforestation business with primarily First Nations people (she is Canadian).

I mention this not to continue this stupid derail, but to illustrate that people who talk about white people stuff are not always even talking about actual white people.
posted by purpleclover at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


My interpretation of "white people" X has always been the sort of bland boring sameness that comes from not really having much of a preference for anything and a lot of preferences against things. The product of that sort of thinking is a "white person's" product.

Last weekend I was in a restaurant called the California Chicken Cafe. Outside of the Mexicans working at the place the only people there were whites and asians. My girlfriend had a salad, I had some kind of wrap thing with rice and avocado. The food was perfectly adequate. It was certainly edible, but it was bland and boring, the sort of food that comes from trying to avoid offending anyone. Salsa was available but it was uniformly bland and without character. It was the very definition of white people food. Chili's, Applebee's, Red Robin and their ilk are also white people food.

White person music is not referring to music made by white people. It's the kind of music that stereotypical WASPs tend to gravitate towards. Urban youth are not blasting Shania Twain out of their low-riders. They're not at parties listening to Bon Iver. White person music is the sort of music that gets played on overpriced BOSE systems in middle class McMansions in neighborhoods adjoining golf courses.

We can overthink this all we want, but everyone knows what you mean when you say White People X. It refers to a particular style of bland and boring. Particular kinds of art (Thomas Kinkade), particular kinds of music. Boring things aren't always white, but "white" things are almost assuredly boring. Oftentimes "offensive" ways of thinking about things is the best way we have of describing those things.

White, used in this way, doesn't mean White, the color or the all the people. It means a particular kind of person according to the context. WASPy is probably a better way to put it but "white" rolls off the tongue better and is better understood. Eventually language will catch up and have better descriptions for these things, but until then White is good enough.
posted by mikesch at 12:24 PM on April 25, 2012


So you don't think there's anything wrong with associating whiteness with expensive stereo equipment and the middle class?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Urban youth are not blasting Shania Twain out of their low-riders. They're not at parties listening to Bon Iver.

And as we all know, urban youth are the most authentic representations of POC.
posted by Snyder at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The term "urban youth" is gag worth itself when it's being used to politely dodge race.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:36 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


White, used in this way, doesn't mean White, the color or the all the people. It means a particular kind of person according to the context.

If your rationalization for using the word "white" sounds exactly like some people's rationalization for using the n-word, you might consider not using "white" like that anymore (or at least finding a better explanation for using it).
posted by 23skidoo at 12:41 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know what, I agree that it is lazy. I love the first world problems meme, and I haven't seen it limited (in practice) to things only white people might experience. I certainly like it because the idea seems rooted in technology or other issues that are really, really weak in the grand scheme. So I think "white people problems" and "first world problems" are different things. The funniest first world problems are like "Go to use both laptops and ipod .... IP Address conflicts" with that picture of the woman crying. Or "Went to download two apps. Waited too long and had to enter password again". It is a problem, yes, and maddening at times. But it's also just absurd how genuine the feelings of frustration can be until you think about people who are on the run from tyrants, eating beans and paste, or in dire straits under the weight of insurmountable debt.

I see what the author is getting at. It is lazy. But shit, sometimes I feel lazy. And I think sometimes the common chord is not that yet another film just presumes I have 25 or 30 minutes of people walking around and generally doing nothing noteworthy whatsoever. The common chord is the people look the same for the most part, and in my estimation because it is indeed a pejorative, It's not the other side of that equation where nonwhite people are looked down upon for not being that way. Because those films are aggravating to me. It chaps my hide, rankles my hackles and other get off my lawny terms when films or shows just throw some people in front of me that aren't doing a damn thing at all, but I am supposed to just give them my time and attention like I am their butler, waiting to refill their drink or sweep up their muffin crumbs. I still don't exclaim 'white people'! at the television, but I know over the years I've been with company who has. Usually proceeded by a WTF. And I'm usually the one that chose the move. Like Melancholy for Melonballs or whatever that highly rated self-important mess of a film Wyatt Cenac was in. One of the few films without a notable white person in sight, that just annoyed me. I'm glad for you if you liked it.

Maybe films like that and essays like this are in fact a sign of progress. Don't these things have to happen if we're going to get to where we're trying to go? I kind of would have liked it better if the "well there is something in it for you too, nonwhites" thing was left out, and the point was just to not be lazy in the critique. Because that's true - it is a lazy critique. Now where was I. Oh right, can't get wireless where I'm at right now, so I have to tether, and so my phone is slightly warmer than normal. *tear* First World Problems.
posted by cashman at 12:42 PM on April 25, 2012


And as we all know, urban youth are the most authentic representations of POC.

Hey really? Because I live in a big city and I'm young. Look out, world!
posted by shakespeherian at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2012


Hey really? Because I live in a big city and I'm young. Look out, world!

OH SHI
posted by Snyder at 12:50 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, when I hear the word "white" thrown around as a snarky perjorative (rather than to make an actual point), it's usually from white people. And when I hear "first world problems," it's usually coming from a first world citizen, who has no idea that people in the third world use cell phones, for instance. It's really obnoxious in that it 'white'washes the truth and homogenizes reality into convenient categories of righteous dismissal for the people with privilege. It usually indicates a fundamental ignorance of what non-white people do and enjoy, as if people of color haven't been living with mainstream culture their entire lives.

The truth is that most of the vociferous race criticism I've heard about Girls has come from white men, and that a lot of the 'girls' that I know (white girls and girls of color) have loved it. We all go to the same university so we're part of a certain culture that is meant to appreciate it, and I think we all agree that it has race and class issues (as does the vast majority of TV), but I find that a lot of white men have been eager to dismiss it, and it's hard to see their intentions as genuine when there's such a problem in our culture with labeling female-oriented entertainment with epithets like "chick lit" and seeing it as implicitly less rigorous or self-aware. Even the class critique boggles me a little bit, because I was raised working class and I still identified with the characters on Girls, because as poor as I was I still had dreams and disillusionments and boy problems and BFF problems and the lot of it. It's very important not to ignore the lack of representation of people of color, but slapping down a show by women before you tune in to Mad Men is suspicious.

Chick lit is chick lit is chick lit, and it's human nature to categorize things

I think the point is that the term "chick lit" is dismissive and derogatory, and not all "chick lit" is bad, and things are sometimes called/not called chick lit for very stupid reasons (like the gender of the author). i.e., this classification does the same thing.

And, yeah, it also erases class in discussions of white people, and erases people of color in discussions of popular entertainment. Useless self-congratulatory term most of the time.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh right, can't get wireless where I'm at right now, so I have to tether, and so my phone is slightly warmer than normal. *tear* First World Problems.

What's Wrong with #First World Problems
posted by stoneandstar at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


White, used in this way, doesn't mean White, the color or the all the people.

It may not include all white people, but it excludes all non white people. You've just said that living a slightly unexamined comfortable middle class life is inherently white. Don't you see the problem there?
posted by aspo at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


(Also, with reference to Mad Men, I should have perhaps said "centered on" women instead of "by women," since my understanding is that a lot of the writers for Mad Men are women, and of course it does have interesting female characters.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


White person music is not referring to music made by white people. It's the kind of music that stereotypical WASPs tend to gravitate towards. Urban youth are not blasting Shania Twain out of their low-riders.

Shania Twain hasn't put out any new music in 10 years. I don't think she's exactly blasting out of anyone's rides, low, urban, youth, or otherwise, unless they've got an oldies block jamming on their radios.

White person music is the sort of music that gets played on overpriced BOSE systems in middle class McMansions in neighborhoods adjoining golf courses.

Seems to me that these days the "sort of music" that you're referring to is (if my cursory listens to the stereo speakers propped in the windows of the mostly-WASP frat houses I pass by every now and then are any measure) mostly Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, Kanye, David Guetta, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Gym Class Heroes, etc., etc. In my day back in the Pleistocene era, the frat boys loved to blast Rush and Yes, but they also loved to blast the Gap Band and Prince. Is that white person music too?
posted by blucevalo at 1:14 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's Wrong with #First World Problems

Yeah I read that back then, and it's wrong. The meme is basically where you acknowledge a silly problem is just that. For all you know, I am in Lagos. Someone there could post the same thing. I referenced problems of other people, but really it's just a general reality check. I was watching the story of a potential NFL draftee whose father got shot and came this close to dying. His chest was blown open and the force from the bullet liquefied his liver. And him (the father) and his wife were at a game, and the father says of the food, or some random situation "this is just awful, it doesn't get much worse than this", and his wife says "yes, it could be much worse, you could not be here to see this". It's the same thing - just a reality check.

I think the difference between a reality check and first world problems is that when you get in your own little filter bubble sometimes you can have emotional reactions to something that is truly, truly trivial. I had some little bar that popped up on my screen, an artifact of some pdf download error or something, but it wouldn't go away. I was enraged, and just got generally huffy (yeah, that is a great word) for a good few hours, which was then compounded when adobe decided PDFs just wouldn't work in my browser, as I was trying to finish up something I really wanted to finish. It's not the problem that is the issue, it is the emotional, over the top anger/frustration/panic that you truly feel until you get shocked back into real life, where real problems exist. And for those of us who constantly self-analyze, you don't look at your life and say "You know I'm thankful for what I have because I could have it like I could have it". The first thing you do is think of, as they say, those less fortunate than you.

That's all it is. It's not some horrible thing. It's realizing that having some over-the-top reaction to some problem that often consists of ones and zeroes on a screen, is indeed over-the-top.
posted by cashman at 1:21 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


If it's just a reality check, and you live in a first-world country, there is a pretty good chance that saying "first-world problems!" is just reinforcing first-world ignorance.

(And now the words "first" and "world" no longer make sense to me, akgdgglgkdjf)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2012


Also, the idea that different people saying the same thing can produce different meanings is hopefully not too controversial, since someone in Lagos saying "ughh #firstworldproblems" would be a very different joke to me than someone in the first world, who is foggy on where Nigeria is and whether or not they have internet access, saying it. (So not knowing your background, I'm not really going to judge you or anything, but it does relate to the article on white people being like "omggg how WHITE" about CNN or something.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:40 PM on April 25, 2012


White person music is not referring to music made by white people. It's the kind of music that stereotypical WASPs tend to gravitate towards. Urban youth are not blasting Shania Twain out of their low-riders. They're not at parties listening to Bon Iver. White person music is the sort of music that gets played on overpriced BOSE systems in middle class McMansions in neighborhoods adjoining golf courses.

Among other things, this assumes that:
  1. "Urban youth" are never white;
  2. Only white people live in middle class McMansions.
This is problematic.
posted by asnider at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]



(And now the words "first" and "world" no longer make sense to me, akgdgglgkdjf)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:31 PM on April 25 [+] [!]


I'm not terribly happy that the term survived the death of the cold war, to be honest. It's kind of a scary, nationalistic, militaristic, ethno-centric kind of way to look at the world, and it doesn't mean much outside of its original context.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:52 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked this article better when it was a NOFX song and I was 15.
posted by mullacc


I think you mean Minor Threat, don't you?
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would the world be better if we communicated in carefully articulated, deeply considered criticisms?

Yes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lol at everyone talking about Girls in this thread and everywhere online. There have only been TWO fUCKING EPISODES YOURE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY WHAT THE SHOW DOES OR DOES NOT DO IT MIGHT BE VIRULENTLY RACIST OR INTRODUCE 20 NON-WHITE CHARACTERS TOMORROW IT IS BARELY EVEN STARTED YET WHO KNOWS? YOU DONT KNOW ok sorry too much coffee today.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2012


Lol at everyone talking about Girls in this thread and everywhere online. There have only been TWO fUCKING EPISODES YOURE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY WHAT THE SHOW DOES OR DOES NOT DO IT MIGHT BE VIRULENTLY RACIST OR INTRODUCE 20 NON-WHITE CHARACTERS TOMORROW IT IS BARELY EVEN STARTED YET WHO KNOWS? YOU DONT KNOW ok sorry too much coffee today.

But the people who write it and act in it have said the race issue is something they hope to address next season and have also said the criticism is valid:
How do you react to the criticism that the show doesn’t have people of color?

[Nods in agreement.] I know.

And that it’s this rarefied white hipster chronicle?

I mean, I kind of get it. I get it. I totally get it. It’s true, this isn’t every girl. This isn’t … the title is misleading because it’s not all girls. This is a very specific demographic. You know, we’re not talking about girls living in projects, which there are millions. We’re not talking about, you know, girls who live on the Upper East Side with, like, loaded parents who have no idea how to leave home. You know? There are all kinds, and we’re just a very specific … We’re not the average. So I get it. I don’t think there’s any sense in getting mad at it; it’s just a show. It’s just a show about this type of girl. And I think when it claims to be something else, it’s a mistake, but that’s what it is.
Anyway, I [write and] review YA novels, another genre of stuff that has a whiteness problem. And it's a genuine whiteness problem. An absurd number of book covers, for example, are either completely whitewashed (such as was the case for Justine Larbalestier's Liar) or feature covers with girls who are as light-skinned as they could plausibly be given the descriptions provided in the text, like this cover of a book which features a protagonist described as having "red-brown skin." A good number of these don't make any sort of waves as was the case for Larbalestier's book. They, instead, quietly slip under the radar.

And so I totally get it if someone goes into Barnes and Noble and looks in the teen section at the book covers and proclaims it a white genre for white girls. Because there's almost no reason to believe otherwise. The genre is too white, and representations of teenagers of color are almost completely absent, and the white narratives crowd out all the rest of them, and even when they don't, it sure seems that way and I wouldn't argue with anyone who thought so.

Name a movie, a TV show, a book, a piece of music, or anything that meets your standards for non-“whiteness.” I’m not baiting you here; I’m asking sincerely. If you’re really interested in encouraging diversity, do so in a positive way, by calling attention to some valuable work that’s flying below the radar.

Tankborn by Karen Sandler, a YA novel about a sci-fi planet populated almost entirely by people of various colors which deals sensitively about race and caste issues in an inventive science fiction society and even contains an accurate representation of the main character on the cover. It was published by Tu Books, a new publisher that publishes works that encourage diversity (and are generally great).

Really, this article is kind of . . . stupid. Because blinding whiteness in media is a problem. Tokenism is also a problem. Tokenism is not caused by calling out blinding whiteness.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:56 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I want to say that art is bland, and the word "bland" is insufficiently evocative of the suburban despondency I have in mind, I use "whitebread". The superlative form of "whitebread" is "Wonder Bread".
posted by LogicalDash at 5:05 PM on April 25, 2012


If we can get rid of "first world problem" as the ultimate stupid white saying that would be even better.

Actually, I vastly prefer it as a gesture towards the relative comfort of residents of wealthy countries and a nod towards the idea that (for example) getting angry at a recalcitrant smartphone isn't nearly as weighty a problem as (for example) worrying about access to fresh water over the version that I hear much more often and really makes me cringe: 'white people's problem'.

Although given the degree to which 'race' is a big deal in America and the degree to which many Americans are less than wholly engaged with the rest of the world, I guess it makes sense.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2012


Neil Peart is "too white" and John Bonham is not "too white". Simple as that.

You could call Peart's drumming "precise," or "clean," or, less charitably, "antiseptic" or "clinical," or, more charitably, "cerebral". Calling him "too white" is exactly the kind of thing a lot of people in this thread are talking about. Plus, it's the opposite of lame.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:13 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Calling him "too white" is exactly the kind of thing a lot of people in this thread are talking about.

Fine. But those people don't know what *I'm* talking about. I'm talking about groove. As in the kind of groove that Neil Peart ain't got.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:36 PM on April 25, 2012


Fine. But those people don't know what *I'm* talking about.

If people can't tell what you're talking about, then maybe you should express the idea "he lacks groove," by saying "he lacks groove," instead of indicating this by means of a racial classification. Saying "he's too white, by which I mean he lacks groove" makes it sound like there's something inherently black about having groove, or something inherently groovy about being black. I mean, I'm sure you don't think this. But the terminology you're using makes you sound like someone who does.
posted by escabeche at 8:15 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying "he's too white, by which I mean he lacks groove" makes it sound like there's something inherently black about having groove, or something inherently groovy about being black.

All spades are groovy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:57 PM on April 25, 2012


Ooops. I think that went to the wrong part of the video. Let's try that again...

All spades are groovy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:02 PM on April 25, 2012


Ah, hell.. it ain't working, dammit. Sigh... go to 16:54 for the quote.

(or maybe it's just the version of Safari I'm running...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:04 PM on April 25, 2012


Rush clearly had other priorities than groove, though. I can't think of any songs of theirs offhand that have a swinging beat except maybe...Lakeside Park?
posted by adamdschneider at 5:28 AM on April 26, 2012


Making Memories isn't bad on that front, either, come to think of it.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:30 AM on April 26, 2012


Don't tell me that Neil Peart ain't got groove.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:21 AM on April 26, 2012


Don't tell me that Neil Peart ain't got groove .

Nah, sorry daily Alice, but... no. That clip did nothing, I mean nothing to dissuade me from my opinion. I found that to be some of the most utterly unremarkable, pedestrian and (I'll call it like I see it) plodding and clunky jazz drumming imaginable. Embarrassingly so. And the fills were awkward, too. The guy has absolutely no business playing big band trad jazz like that in a world where Max Roach, Papa Joe Jones, Sonny Greer, Danny Richmond, Art Blakey and countless other rhythm masters have sat behind the kit and made it sing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


flapjax, I don't have a strong opinion about him either way, but it's worth noting that Neil Peart gets a shout out by name in at least one hip-hop song, "Chops" by LA-based undeground group Giant Panda.

Can't find a link to the song right now, but I think the line goes something like "Ain't into Rush, but drums are so pert (Peart)/keep it all bouncy without a white shirt."

So he's got that going for him, which is nice. ;-)
posted by lord_wolf at 11:03 AM on April 26, 2012


Word on the streets is that flapjax knows a thing or two about drumming. That's all I'm gonna say.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:17 PM on April 26, 2012


I am quite sure he does. It just doesn't seem fair to judge a band by criteria that they have never seemed interested in meeting, is all I'm saying.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:10 PM on April 26, 2012


flapjax at midnite: “Calling something ‘very white’ or ‘too white’ doesn't mean being down on all white people or that all white people are lame or are all the same or some shit like that. But using the terms as shorthand in certain contexts seems to me to be perfectly valid and perfectly appropriate. Example: two white drummers: Neil Peart and John Bonham. Neil Peart is ‘too white’ and John Bonham is not ‘too white’. Simple as that. And they're both white guys. But you listen to their groove and you know what I'm talking about. Unless you're too white to feel the difference, of course.”

I have mostly stayed out of this thread, but I wanted to sort of speak up and say – I really kind of disagree with this, and I think there are very good reasons to abandon this way of talking about 'rhythm' or 'swing' or 'groove' – which I have to say I respect a lot, and spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to talk about.

I mean, to be honest, my uneasiness with all this "he sounds too white" business has to do with its legacy as something that belongs to people like Mezz Mezzrow. I'll bet flapjaz is familiar with him &nash; if not through his (relatively mediocre though not terrible) early jazz music then through his colorful 1946 jazz memoir, Really The Blues. Mezz Mezzrow was a white guy who got to play with some really fabulous musicians, for instance Sidney Bechet, whose music I admire deeply. But he was kind of a funny character. For instance, he tended to say things like this:
"Everything the Negro did, we agreed, had a swing to it; he talked in rhythm, his tonal expression had a pleasing lilt to the ear, his movements were graceful. Was it this quality in him that made the white Southerners resent him so much, and was this why they kept him oppressed? Were they afraid that if the Negro was really set free he would make us all look sick with his genius for relaxed, high-spirited, unburdened living? We wondered about that. We could see that every move he made was as easy and neatly timed as anything Mother Nature had put down on this earth. His laughter was real and from way down inside. His whole manner and bearing was simple and natural. He could out-dance and out-sing anybody, in sports he could out-fight and out-run most all the competition, and when it comes to basketball don't say a word, just listen."
It's hard for me to even type that without wincing hard. It makes me extremely uncomfortable – and I can only imagine how it must have felt to be a black person hanging out with Mezz. He used to call himself a "voluntary Negro." He was also a bit marijuana dealer – because apparently that is what black people do: they play jazz and they smoke marijuana. Mezz expressed great admiration for Sidney Bechet, and set up some really important recording dates for him; but in time, Sidney got extremely uncomfortable with all this stuff, and ended up Mezz's enemy. Mezz would say that "only Negroes can play the blues!" – but how does it feel to have somebody implicitly tell you that you're only good at the wondrous, insanely beautiful art you create because of the skin you were born in?

A lot of us white people who view ourselves as culturally broad have sometimes made this mistake, which can be just as awful as outright racist rejection, I think. Lester Bangs wrote about how he had, when he was younger, drunkenly championed "n***** music," talking about how it was categorically the best music – and how he came to regret that forcefully. And I'm always reminded of the white TV exec in Bamboozled who tells his black writer who is unwilling to write "urban" scripts, "man – I'm blacker than you are, and I'm not even black!"

I don't know. "He's too white" probably seems fine in context – and I know it doesn't necessarily seem connected with all this stuff. But I really think it is. And I think it's a mistake. Pigeonholing an entire race as naturally gifted with rhythm is a kind of racism – even though natural rhythm is a positive quality. It leads to all kinds of really bad implications – the worst of which, I think, is that implies that Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and all the rest of the greatest black musicians were only great because they were born with black skin. It removes the fact and the meaning of their achievements and makes their art an auxiliary quality of their race. And, yeah, I know that's just an implication of the whole "he's too white" thing, but it's an implication that I'd like to stay far, far away from, thanks very much.
posted by koeselitz at 4:48 PM on April 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Take Neil Peart out of the context of Rush (where everything he does makes sense, if you are into that sort of thing) and he becomes slightly pretentious, like an undergrad who has read his first Ayn Rand book.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2012


Which is funny because Peart was a Serious Objectivist (cf. Anthem), although I am told he has since softened considerably.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:14 PM on April 30, 2012


"Spirit Of Radio" runs pretty much directly counter to a lot of Objectivist ideals, so I'm not so sure he was ever that serious about it. What I've heard is that he claims to like Ayn Rand but also hesitates to label himself that way.
posted by koeselitz at 3:18 PM on April 30, 2012


(Wikipedia seems to bear this out)
posted by koeselitz at 3:23 PM on April 30, 2012


Sometimes I wonder why I rely on anything I "learned" before Wikipedia.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:28 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in that respect Wikipedia has a definite Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius vibe to it.
posted by Ritchie at 4:19 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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