June 19, 2008

Food court diversity and white people

By: Sonny Bunch

James raises the excellent point that

big proponents of diversity resort or revert to culinary metaphors. The liberal utopia often appears to be the food court in the Beverly Center, where buyers and sellers of high-end sushi coexist peacefully beside a Nathan’s Hot Dogs, a Panda Express, a Del Taco staffed by authentic Mexican-Americans, and a Haagen Dasz stand. Proudly bourgeois liberal philosophers like Richard Rorty explicitly analogize the ideal public sphere to a big Kuwaiti bazaar, where lots of diverse people collide, converse, and consume the goods they bring to exchange. And as everyone knows, consuming some (possibly) hand-crafted beads is nowhere as awesome as consuming a steaming hot wrap of alien but savory meats or vegetables. Food, in fact, does this kind of work in liberal theory because it’s the apotheosis of real but meaningless diversity.

I think he is 100% right, and I don’t have much to add to this debate.

The reason this passage stuck with me was that it reminded me of an entry at Stuff White People Like. Specifically, the entry on “Diversity.”

White people love ethnic diversity, but only as it relates to restaurants. Many white people from cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York will spend hours talking about how great it is that they can get Sushi and Tacos on the same street. But then they send their kids to private school with other rich white kids, and live in neighborhoods like Santa Monica or Pacific Palisades.

But the only reason I thought of this entry item at SWPL was because I recently received a ready-for-sale copy of the book version of Stuff White People Like. Not a galley, mind you: The book version of a website that became ridiculously popular two months ago will go on sale July 1. For some reason, finding this tome on the “giveaway” shelf at my office annoys me.

Part of it, I’m sure, is just jealousy. I wish I could come up with a clever conceit, execute it in a mediocre fashion, and parlay that into a six figure book deal. But I think the main reason I’m annoyed is because Christian Lander is totally ripping his readers off. Flipping through the book, I didn’t read anything I hadn’t seen on the website for what felt like almost 2/3 of the book (not counting the stupid little flow charts and Mad Libs (!!) that dot the chapters). The website touts “50% all new, never before seen material.” Hrm. If you count by page number, then that might be accurate. But then you’d have to include things like the seven page “How White Are You?” quiz at the book’s end, which consists of nothing more than a checklist of all the topics written about (all 150), a rudimentary formula (the number of boxes you checked divided by 150), and then a “guide,” that tells you your score.

And what are the scores? 15=10% white. 30=20% white. 45=30% white. Etc., etc.

This little quiz is the height of what’s wrong with this crappy little book: instead of coming up with something kind of funny, like labeling the different kinds of whiteness (is 10% white an Alabama redneck, whereas 80% white a San Francisco liberal?), he just lists the numbers. Put some GD thought into it. Make me laugh with the grading scale! It’s so lazy it hurts my brain.

The only thing that makes me feel better is SWPL’s 90% chance of failure in the marketplace. Because people should definitely not be rewarded for a product this magnificently awful.