Sunday, July 6, 2008

Whiteness


When in doubt, slap a new coat of paint on an old idea and hawk it as something brand spanking fresh, as in the case of the folks who started up the site Stuff White People Like .Well, yeah, I laughed at this, recognized the material things we as a light skinned privledged gather about us, and then wearied of the whole notion of this satire. It's a riff that's been played into submission, like hearing the umpteenth posthumous live version of Hendrix playing "Red House" or the final "must-see" episode of the current season of Law and Order; try(and lie) as you might, there's nothing especially surprising at this point in Hendrix's drugged guitar fumblings, and the unexpected twist or turn of the legal scenario of that L/O storyline, the one that would simply stun you even though this show has been on the air for 18 years, is simply a hyped -up run through of old plot lines, old outrages, with the twists arriving on time, on schedule.Making fun of white people has been a dependable staple of comedians for years, a safe haven for those times when you have a need to deride, insult or stereotype an entire population with the most reductionist jibes. 

The sweet part of the deal is that one can indulge this stale diversion with impunity, as no one will muster the nerve or umbrage to yell foul; Richard Pryor through Dave Chapelle can mock the doings of the lighter hued race sans a protest, and white comedians will do it to their own kind because the current tone is zero toleration for a discouraging word said about anyone, on any terms, for any reason. Except white people. It's lopsided, yo. Gore Vidal remarked in the Sixties that homosexuals were the last minority group that one could make fun of and get away with, but times, attitudes and the strength of group pride changed all that. There remains the need to mock someone. White people are it. It may well be our turn in the barrel to many people's thinking, but that sort sort defeats the purpose of judging people by character, not skin color. This is progress?


"Post-racial" is a preferable state for the world to fall into, but meanwhile racial and ethnic matters are as touch as they've ever been. Ethnic cleansings are a very recent memory, and the GOP's hard right flank isn't shy about unloading racist stereotypes in their opposition to Obama's policies. Still, there remains , codified in our ethics, our laws, and our basic sense of decency, the notion that invective aimed at blacks, hispanics, gays, women, Asians and others is "wrong" , and evidence of a disturbed mind. I wouldn't argue against that; racists have to be censured, the message that it's not okay to denigrate anyone for matters of race, gender, sexual preference is unacceptable. My point though, is, that making fun of those of paler skin and European heritage is okay. No one in an official capacity, or any level of cultural influence, will arise and advise the rest of us , indeed remind us, that reducing a population to the sum of their stereotypes is not the way a more just and tolerant culture is created.