The long read: Before the 17th century, people did not think of themselves as belonging to something called the white race. But once the idea was invented, it quickly began to reshape the modern world
this new focus on whiteness has prompted much confusion and consternation, especially among white people not used to thinking of themselves in racial terms
What these recent debates have demonstrated more than anything, perhaps, is how little agreement still exists about what whiteness is and what it ought to be.
In 2008, a satirical blog called Stuff White People Like became a brief but boisterous sensation. The conceit was straightforward, coupling a list, eventually 136 items long, of stuff that white people liked to do or own, with faux-ethnographic descriptions that explained each item’s purported racial appeal. While some of the items were a little too obvious – indie music appeared at #41, Wes Anderson movies at #10 – others, including “awareness” (#18) and “children’s games as adults” (#102), were inspired. It was an instant hit. In its first two months alone, Stuff White People Like drew 4 million visitors, and it wasn’t long before a book based on the blog became a New York Times bestseller. The founder of the blog was an aspiring comedian and PhD dropout named Christian Lander, who’d been working as an advertising copywriter in Los Angeles when he launched the site on a whim. In interviews, Lander always acknowledged that his satire had at least as much to do with class as it did with race. His targets, he said, were affluent overeducated urbanites like himself. Yet there’s little doubt that the popularity of the blog, which depended for its humour on the assumption that whiteness was a contentless default identity, had much to do with its frank invocation of race. “As a white person, you’re just desperate to find something else to grab on to,” Lander said in 2009. “Pretty much every white person I grew up with wished they’d grown up in, you know, an ethnic home that gave them a second language.” Looking back at Stuff White People Like today, what marks the site’s age is neither the particularities of its irony nor the broad generalities of its targets. There are still plenty of white people with too much time and too much disposable income on their hands, and plenty of them still like yoga (#15), Vespa scooters (#126), and “black music that black people don’t listen to any more” (#116). What has changed, however – changed in ways that date Stuff White People L