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Poking Fun At The 'Stuff White People Like'

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

The title Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions is obviously designed to provoke. The book began life as a conversation over instant messenger between Christian Lander (who's white) and a friend (who's Filipino) about the genius HBO television series The Wire. His friend said that he didn't trust any white people who didn't watch the show. The two then began to wonder what white people were doing instead of watching the show.

"Yoga," the friend suggested.

"Seeing plays," Lander countered.

"Getting divorced."


Lander thought this conversation would be a funny idea for a blog. It turned out to be a very popular one. The Web site "Stuff White People Like" soon attracted about 300,000 hits a day. The list ballooned to include organic food, fair-trade coffee, indie music, Apple products and vintage T-shirts, presumably worn with irony. It must be noted that when NPR was added, some of the folks who work here were a little miffed.

"Clearly, the guy who wrote [the blog] has never gotten into a cab in Washington, D.C.," a co-worker griped. "None of the cab drivers here are white, and all of them listen to NPR, all day long!"

But Lander, who dropped out of a Ph.D. program at Indiana University, says the idea is intended to make fun of stereotypes and start conversations about them. And he succeeded. Lander managed to get thousands of people to talk about racial stereotypes, to question their own assumptions, and to factor class and education into discussions of racial identity. (For example, it's safe to say that my working-class white grandparents really dislike everything on Lander's list. Except maybe for vintage T-shirts, which they would just call "old." And which they would wear, sans irony, while watching TV — something that Lander naturally claims that white people never watch.)

But there's another valuable lesson to be learned from Lander and his Web site: He sold the concept to a book publisher for a reputed $350,000.

This reading of Stuff White People Like took place in July 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.