The invention of whiteness: the long history of a dangerous idea

The invention of whiteness: the long history of a dangerous idea

The Guardian

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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

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.”

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