Whiter Shades of Pale

The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews



About the Book

If you thought you had white people pegged as Oscar-party-throwing, Prius-driving, Sunday New York Times–reading, self-satisfied latte lovers—you were right. But if you thought diversity was just for other races, then hang on to your eco-friendly tote bags. Veteran white person Christian Lander is back with fascinating new information and advice on dealing with the Caucasian population.

Sure, their indie-band T-shirts, trendy politics, vegan diets, and pop-culture references make them all seem the same. But a closer look reveals that from Austin to Australia, from L.A. to the U.K., indigenous white people are as different from one another as 1 percent rBGH-free milk is different from 2 percent. Where do skinny jeans and bulky sweaters rule? Where is down-market beer the nectar of the hip? If you want to know the places cute girls with bangs and cool guys with beards roam and emo musicians and unpaid interns call home, you’d better switch off the Adult Swim reruns, put down that copy of The Onion, pick up this book, and prepare to see the white.
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Praise for Whiter Shades of Pale

“Excellent....Few people alive are as deft at this satire as is Mr. Lander. His books are painfully observant, and they take you places that The Daily Show and The Onion, those reliable dispensers of elite wit, mostly don’t. They’re among the prickliest guides through the American status system since Paul Fussell’s ‘Class’ (1983). . . . You’ll find WHITER SHADES OF PALE in that dimly understood and flimsy bookstore subdivision, the humor section. It belongs upfront, where the best new nonfiction walks point.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
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Whiter Shades of Pale

Chapter 1

Boston, Massachusetts

* Overview: White people in Boston are very proud of their blue-collar roots. However, for many of them, two generations is as close as they will ever get to a job requiring manual labor. This also extends to the many Bostonians who will still send their white children to public school, provided that public school is Boston Latin. Boston is also home to three alternative newsweeklies that provide many young writers with jobs that don't pay enough to make rent. The Boston white person can also be found throughout rural New England, but this breed is special, having cast off the shackles of the workaday world to begin a small organic microbrewery, creamery, or farm.

* Strengths: Mayflower relatives give them low-numbered license plates; can hold liquor.

* Weaknesses: Baseball-induced depression; movies about Irish gangsters.

* Secret Shame: They don't really like the Dropkick Murphys.

Ivy League

The Ivy League is expensive, exclusive, and located in the Northeast and has campuses featuring beautiful, actual ivy-covered buildings. All these things are beloved by white people, so logically it would seem that they all love the Ivy League. But this is not true!

White people have a tortured relationship with the Ivy League, and if you broach the subject in the wrong way you can offend and even anger a white person.

But before getting into the more nuanced aspects of the subject, it's important to know that all white people believe they are intelligent enough and have the work ethic required to attend an Ivy League school. The only reason they did not actually attend one is that they chose not to participate in the "dog and pony show" required to gain acceptance. White people also like to believe that they were not born into a privileged (enough) family for the coveted legacy admission. This should always be at the back of your mind as you discuss the Ivy League with a white person.

Once you have determined that a white person did not attend an Ivy League school, you should try to give them the opportunity to explain why their school was actually a superior educational experience. Some easy ways to do this: mention grade inflation, professors who value research over teaching, or high tuition costs. Any one of these will set a white person off on a multiminute rant.

When they have reached the end of their defense about why they chose the "right" school, you should say, "I knew a whole bunch of people who went to Harvard and none of them work as hard or are as smart as you." This is a very effective technique for gaining acceptance among white people, since they need constant reassurance that they are smart and that they made the right choice with their life.

If you actually attended an Ivy League school, you will be seen as a threat, so prepare for a lot of questions from white people. They will constantly ask about how much work you had, the type of students at the school, the professors, your dorm room, and your reading lists, and they will try so hard to figure out your SAT score. They desperately need a source of comparison so that they can determine if you are actually smarter than them. In fact, the only way to stop this line of questioning is to imply that you only got in because of your minority status. Once you say that, white people will stop feeling threatened, since they can now believe they too would have been accepted to an Ivy League school if they were a minority. It also gives them a personal story about the effectiveness of affirmative action.

White people also like to call their school "the Harvard of the [insert region or athletic conference]." Do not challenge this; it will ruin their confidence.

Conan O'Brien

The news that Conan O'Brien would be replaced by Jay Leno caused white people to erupt with rage and hostility. You might have expected them to lash out and do something about it, like take to the streets or write letters to NBC to voice their dissatisfaction with the network. But no, white people solved this problem the way that they solved the election crisis in Iran: through Facebook and Twitter updates. In 2009, millions of white people took thirty-five seconds to turn their Twitter profiles green, and consequently sent a very powerful message to the leaders of Iran. Their message was that they wanted their friends to know that they would stop at nothing to ensure freedom and democracy for the Iranian people. Thanks in large part to that effort, Iran is now a functioning democratic paradise (as far as white people know). With that issue settled, white people launched a similar campaign for Conan that is sure to have similar results.

It is not hard to understand why white people love Conan O'Brien. He embodies so many of the things they already like: Ivy League schools, Red Hair, the Boston Red Sox, Self-Deprecating Humor, The Simpsons, and Bad Memories of High School (likely, but not confirmed). Seeing him on TV five nights a week gives white people who still have televisions a comforting sense of community.

If your plan is to try to use Conan O'Brien as a way to get white people to become more interested in you, then it is imperative that you understand a few key rules. First, all white people love "the Masturbating Bear." If you don't know what this is, do not worry. Just proclaim your love for the character, and the white person you are talking to will simply fill in the rest. Second, all white people believe that Andy Richter never should have left the show in the first place. And finally, you should do your best to develop a "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" impression. All white people already have one, so you might as well try to fit in. Complete these steps and watch your friendship with white people become considerably smoother.

Now, the biggest and most important thing to remember is to never, under any circumstance, bring up a Conan O'Brien sketch or joke that has taken place in the last five years. You will be met with only blank stares. For you see, while white people will fiercely support Conan O'Brien in any public forum, they always fail to support him in the only way that actually helps-by watching his show.

Note: Under no circumstance should you ever mention that you prefer Jay Leno. This might cause white people to think you have the same taste in humor as the wrong kind of white people, or worse, their parents.

Single-Malt Scotch

There is no getting around the subject: white people love alcohol. From their refined tastes in French wine to their fervent consumption of Maine's microbrews, booze makes up a very important part of white culture. But many white people soon realize there are only so many beers that one can drink, and that being an expert on wine is almost impossible. Currently the most realistic way for a white person to look like a wine expert is to look at a restaurant's wine list and then promptly order a bottle of a cheap-but not the cheapest-bottle on the menu. Advanced white people will pretend they recognize and enjoy this moderately priced bottle of wine.

With beer snobbery mastered and wine snobbery all but abandoned, white people were forced to try to find a new alcohol for snobbery. The process of elimination is a fairly simple procedure. First, any alcohol that's mentioned by a rapper is immediately cast aside. Not just brands, but the alcohol itself. This is not because white people have any prejudice against rappers. Quite the opposite, in fact: their prejudice is simply against other white people who do what rappers tell them.

Increased sales of Grey Goose, Patrón, Hennessy, and Cristal have effectively erased any real opportunity for white people to participate in snobbery about each respective beverage. To a white person there could be no greater shame than waiting in line at a liquor store and having a twenty-year-old frat boy say to them:

"Oh what? You're on that 'yak too?"

"This is a Hine Triomphe, perhaps the world's finest-"

"I'm on that Hennessy!"

Even the possibility of this exchange has sent white people, especially white men, scrambling for an alcoholic beverage to set them apart from these wrong kinds of white people. What they found was single-malt scotch.

It has everything a white person could want. It's got European heritage, it's expensive, college-age white people avoid it, and perhaps most important, crotchety old white men love it. The latter point is especially important, since you should understand that white people, for whatever reason, are generally inclined to like or force themselves to like anything that angry, intelligent, old white men enjoy: sweaters, jazz, things made from wood, books, records, and complaining about how everything is terrible now.

Complaining About the Death of Print Media

White people are expert complainers. Witness the events that transpire after they are served a dish they didn't order in a restaurant. But that type of complaining is done by all people. No, what white people are best at is complaining without being willing to actually do anything about the problem; see Conan O'Brien, Iran, Oil Spills, Air Pollution, Tuna Depletion, and any problem that would require them to make a sacrifice of time, money, or sushi dining experiences.

But in recent years, the biggest issue that has been bugging white people to the point of complaint but not action has been the death of print media. Bring up any newspaper and white people will begin saying how they fear for a world with no daily newspaper and that we will all suffer as professional journalists wither away and are replaced with silly blogs that have no importance.

This love of the print media comes from two places. The first is that all white people like to believe that they spend the majority of their news-consuming time reading the stories that matter and make a difference. Whether this is true is irrelevant, but it is a good way to appear smart to white people. Say something like "I can't believe no one is getting upset about what the city government is doing right now. It's like no one read that amazing piece in the paper." The white person will agree with you and respect your news acumen.

Second, white people fear the death of the print media because deep down all white people want to believe that it's possible to make a living as a freelance writer. Of course, this is perhaps the biggest lie in white culture, pushing out such favorites as "I'm going to write a novel" and "I'll be fine for retirement if I start saving when I'm forty."

Of course, when you ask the white person if they actually subscribe to a daily newspaper, they will say that they get the Sunday New York Times. Which is a bit like saying you sponsor a child in Africa but only give enough money for him to eat on Sunday.

New York, New York

* Overview: The New York City resident is one of the most envied white people in the entire world. Their access to art galleries, restaurants, public transit, and pools of hobo urine is second to none. Fiercely proud of their city, all New Yorkers consider themselves to be the last one in. That is to say, everyone who moved to New York after them made the city a considerably worse place to live and thus are not considered "real New Yorkers."

* Strengths: Can get you into places that don't exist; able to survive in small spaces.

* Weaknesses: Cannot go fifteen minutes without telling you they live in New York. Also driving.

* Secret Shame: Actually from Ohio.

Unpaid Internships

Throughout most of the world, when a person works long hours without pay, it is referred to as "slavery" or "forced labor." For white people this process is referred to as an internship and is considered to be an essential stage in white development.

The concept of working for little or no money under a mentor has been around for centuries in the form of apprenticeship programs. Young people eager to learn a trade would spend time working under a master craftsman to learn a skill that would eventually lead to an increase in the intern's own material wealth.

Using this logic you would assume that the most sought-after internships would be in areas that lead to the greatest financial reward. Young white people, however, prefer internships that put them on the path for careers that will generally result in a decrease of material wealth (at least when compared to the wealth accumulated by their parents).

For example, if you present a white nineteen-year-old with the choice of spending the summer earning $15 an hour as a plumber's apprentice or making $0 answering phones at Acme Production Company, they will always choose the latter. In fact, the only way to get the white person to choose the plumbing option would be to convince them that it was leading toward an end-of-summer pipe art installation.

White people view the unpaid internship as their foot in the door to such high-profile low-paying career fields as journalism, film, politics, art, nonprofits, and anything associated with a museum. Any white person who takes an internship outside these industries is either the wrong type of white person or a law student. There are no exceptions.

If all goes according to plan, an internship will end with an offer of a job that pays $24,000 per year and consists entirely of the same tasks they were recently doing for free. In fact, the transition to full-time status results in the addition of only one new responsibility: feeling superior to the new interns.

When all is said and done, the internship process serves the white community in many ways. First, it helps train the next generation of freelance writers, museum curators, and director's assistants. But second, and more important, internships teach white children how to complain about being poor.

So when a white person tells you about their unpaid internship at The New Yorker, it's not a good idea to point out how the cost of rent and food will essentially mean that they are paying for the right to make photocopies. Instead it's best to say, "You earned it." They will not get the joke.

About the Author

Christian Lander
Christian Lander is the creator of the website Stuff White People Like. He is a Ph.D. dropout who was the 2006 public speaking instructor of the year at Indiana University. He has lived in Toronto, Montreal, Copenhagen, Tucson, Indiana, and now Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Jess, a photographer who contributed many of the photos in the book. More by Christian Lander
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