Racial stereotypes discussed in speech

Melissa Seelye

Despite the danger that comes with reducing people to their stereotypes, Christian Lander and Elon James White are using them to initiate a dialog about the complexities of race in North America.

For the duo’s northernmost performance thus far in what they are calling their “Post-Racial Comedy Tour,” Lander, who is creator of the blog “Stuff White People Like,” said that Northern rates pretty high on the white scale. Its close proximity to the lake, the PEIF’s rock climbing wall, Marquette’s charm and the premature breaking out of shorts are all factors.

“It’s up there (in whiteness). But I noticed that you offer degrees, you know, in science,” Lander said. “That kind of hurts it a little bit. If this was a liberal arts college, that would put it over the top.”

Lander’s blog began with musings on what white people were doing instead of watching “The Wire,” a favorite television show of Lander.  Yoga, therapy and divorcing all made the list, which had expanded to 150 white stereotypes six months later when Lander published the book.

“I don’t see race, I quantify it,” Lander explained to an audience of 300 in the Great Lakes Rooms.

For Lander, the funniest and most accurate of the stereotypes in his book (second to the white infatuation with farmer’s markets) is 62: Knowing What’s Best for Poor People. A by-product of “white guilt,” it relates to his argument that race is ultimately all about class.

“I think that white guilt is the most underexploited labor resource in America, and I think minorities need to take more advantage of it,” Lander said. “You don’t have to be white to be white, you just have to be rich.”

Hate mail is not a problem, Landers said, he just receives it.

“I get two types of hate mail: People who tell me I’m not funny and people who tell me I’m racist,” Lander said. “The racist one is easier for me to deal with, because I know I’m not racist, but I don’t know that I’m not funny.”

One of the reasons that “Stuff White People Like” became so popular so quickly, Lander said, is that there’s some risk to it because it comes from a place of truth.

“I think that the stuff that resonates and really connects with people has to have an element of honesty to it … and so I make fun of myself as much as possible and sometimes it hurts,” Lander added. “Like Knowing what’s Best for Poor People is me making fun of how ridiculously pretentious I am.”

Elon James White is the founder and voice of “This Week in Blackness,” a Web site that satirizes weekly stories on African-Americans. White represents the other side of the race issue, but agrees with Lander that humor is the best way to approach it.

“I told Christian that he owes black people a lot of money [for his book] because he didn’t say anything different than black people have been saying for the last forty years … he just wrote it down.”

Still, in spite of himself and his contempt for generalizations, White said he sees some truth to Lander’s book.

“The funny part is that for all of the stereotypes that he covers, on my side of the coin I go, ‘Stereotypes are crazy’ and then I go, ‘Oh, but that’s right.’ It’s an admitted hypocrisy at times.”

White admits that he may be perceived as the slightly angrier one of the two, though he said it’s unintentional.

“I don’t yell at people, per se. I am honest. I like to have an honest discussion about race,” White said. “The whole point of this is to tell you that we are not post-racial.”