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How White Are You?

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It’s hard not to be bouncing off the ceiling for the chance to make fun of Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. I really need a comedy fix right now and this could be the funniest book of the year. The only problem with Murray is that he’s really hard to parody since he’s routinely kicking parody’s decaying corpse. Example one is this excerpt from Murray’s book, where he provides what is essentially a whiteness quiz. This is great stuff:

12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products?
13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?
14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge?
15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?
16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s,IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Fri-day’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse.

Of course, Murray is conflating whiteness with heteronormativity and political conservatism. The writers of this blog certainly aren’t real whites, except maybe for Farley since he probably does eat at Chili’s. A non-fishing professor who thinks NASCAR is dumb and drives a small car is the wrong kind of white and therefore doesn’t count. After all, I’d probably let my daughter have sex with a black man and we know Murray’s uncomfortable with that. This is almost on a play on the Stuff White People Like blog that was big a couple of years ago. In both, there are lots of white people but only certainly kinds of whites count. Whereas for that blog, the writer was making gentle fun of a certain kind of white person, Murray actually takes this seriously.

This book is going to be a rich text.

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  • calling all toasters

    Is anyone else curious to find out if Andrew Sullivan rates as white?

  • Roger Ailes

    12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products?

    I choose “Who is Jimmie Johnson?” Answer: Which one?

    13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?

    No.

    14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge?

    No.

    15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?

    No.

    16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s,IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Fri-day’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse.

    None, none, once (birthday), none, none, none, none, no-ne, none.

    • John Sully

      I want to know if fly fishing counts as “fishing” or if it is only bass fishing?

    • Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?

      The correct answer is “How the fuck would I know?”

      • Western Dave

        Dude, how would you not know? Or are you a recluse who doesn’t talk to the neighbors.

        • Fred Fnord

          I talk to neighbors all the time. But… Fifty? Really? I know at most 25 or so well enough to even guess whether they’ve attended college, and since it’s a relatively even split, I haven’t a hope of knowing which side I fall on. Of course, I’m sure I’m not white enough for him, since I’m a liberal, so it doesn’t matter.

          • Sam Jackson

            The Majority of my fifty nearest neighbours are not college graduates….though I am sure they hope to be in the next decade or two

    • Western Dave

      The stock car one, the crappy football coach is Jimmy Johnson.

      • Duke

        Crappy football coach who won a college national championship and two Super Bowls. We should all be so crappy.

  • Tybalt

    Ha

  • Tybalt

    Oops.

    Has anyone pointed out yet that the quiz has nothing to do with whiteness and isn’t intended to have anything to do with whiteness?

    Reading is fundamental, kids.

    (As is not accidentally hitting the “reply” button).

    I got 66, by the way.

    • Oh yeah, except Murray’s entire book is about whiteness. Other than that very tiny fact, you’re totally right!

      • Tybalt

        Oh yeah, except that if you actually read the damn excerpt that you linked to, you’ll see that he’s NOT talking about race and he is specifically talking about class. But you didn’t read it, did you? Hence the title of the chapter, “How Thick Is Your Bubble?”

        Murray actually *says* that – and I quote – “The white fifth-grade teacher from South Boston doesn’t understand many things about the life of the black insurance agent in Los Angeles, who in turn doesn’t understand many things about the life of the Latino truck driver in Oklahoma City. But there are a variety of things that all three do
        understand about the commonalities in their lives — simple things that you have no choice but to understand if you have to send your kids to the local public school, you livein a part of town where people make their living in a hundred different ways instead of a dozen, and you always eat out at places where you and your companion won’t spend more than $50 tops, including tip. Those specifications embrace an extremely large part of the Amer-ican population. Tack on a few other specifications—that you watchat least twenty-four hours of commercial television a week (still wellbelow the national average of thirty-five hours) and that you see most of the most popular new movies, either in theaters or on DVDs—andyou have guaranteed a substantial degree of common familiarity about the culture as well. So while there is no such thing as an ordinary American, it is not the case that most Americans are balkanized into enclaves where they know little of what life is like for most other Americans”

        This isn’t a “whiteness test”, you just made a mistake, because you didn’t read the damn thing. And now that you’ve been called on it, you thought you’d double down, instead of reading. Will you read the excerpt now, Erik?

        • Tybalt

          I hate that I have to do this. I can’t stand Murray, I think he’s an odious twerp and I have a visceral hatred for his racism and racial obsession. But we’ve got a sniggeringly ignorant post and 250 comments of pure misguided idiocy up here, and I’d like to think that you could at least acknowledge that you made an entirely understandable, although still risible, mistake.

          • “Some of the questions are ones that whites will get right more often than minorities, and that people who do not live in metropolises will get right more often than people who do. That’s because I am writing about the problems of the new upper class, the new upper class is overwhelmingly white and urban, and the readers of this book are overwhelmingly white and urban. Note, however, that had I included questions that would be more easily answered by minorities in working-class urban neighborhoods, your score would probably be even worse.”

            • stry

              I love you Subby

            • Pseudonym

              He’s awfully squirrelly about distinguishing between upper class, upper-middle class, professional class, etc.

              As the new upper class increasingly consists of people who were born into upper-middle-class families and have never lived outside the upper-middle-class bubble…

              To my knowledge, sociologists haven’t gotten around to asking upper-middle-class Americans how much they know about their fellow citizens…

              In other words, Murray doesn’t have any scientific evidence to support him, and rather than actually being a sociologist and conducting any empirical research himself in the process of writing his book on the evolution of society, he goes for Stuff Young Urban Professionals Don’t Like.

          • MattW

            Wow. Agreed, after reading the excerpt. Interestingly, I also scored 66, and I am “A first-generation upper-middle- class person with middle-class parents.” My kids will certainly score substantially lower. The test seems to be more about divisions in class among whites than between whites and minorities.

            • Hogan

              But with a strong implication that being “in the bubble” (i.e., living your life) denatures you, separates you from your roots and your heritage, unless you make a conscious effort to keep in touch with it. At least that’s what I suspect he’s getting at with the Coming Apart thing–remember when we all watched the same TV shows and enjoyed NASCAR together? Why can’t we get back to that?

              • Tybalt

                I’m not sure if the point is somehow about Heritage (I hope not, but knowing Murray, who knows) but I think it’s actually just a bog-standard criticism that elites don’t understand how the other half lives.

                • Hogan

                  As I said, it’s possible that the title has no relation to the contents of the book.

      • Hogan

        In Murray’s defense, we’re assuming based on the title that the book is minimally coherent, presenting a connected series of interlocking and mutually reinforcing, um, let’s say “thoughts.” We can’t rule out the possibility that it isn’t, that his working title was “Random Shit I Thought About Since The Bell Curve: Because You Mooseheads Will Buy and Review Anything,” and the publisher made him change it to something more respectable and upmarket.

        I mean, let’s be fair here.

  • Soprano

    In one sense, there is no such thing as an “ordinary American.” The United States comprises a patchwork of many subcultures, and the members of any one of them is ignorant about and isolated from the others to some degree.

    From page 101 of the book, as it appears at the link.

    Obviously, Mr. Murray was not paying attention in his elementary school English classes — and the book was spell-checked, not edited.

    • R Johnston

      Rarely is the question asked: Is our racists learning?

    • You know, I take it back–maybe Adam Bellow was his editor.

    • gluon1

      Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? Two points maximum. Score 1 for “yes,” a bonus point if you did so as part of your job, and a third point if it was while you served in the armed forces.

      His simple mathematics skills are also somewhat lacking.

  • hells littlest angel

    Evidently I’m not white. If I take the rest of the quiz, will it tell me what color I actually am? I can’t stand not knowing!

  • black people don’t go fishing?

    • Karin

      It’s quite a bizarre premise, because to my knowledge, many black people love fishing, both freshwater and salt water. Maybe chartering a tuna boat, or fly fishing in the Scottish highlands not so much, but everything else, hell yeah.

  • MikeN

    Well, I spent some time with smokers, but I couldn’t justify giving myself points because they were French.

  • I got 26, but I also cheated a bit because I’m Canadian.

    I feel fairly certain that the majority of my closest neighbours didn’t go to college, because I live within spitting distance of three group homes for people with serious mental illnesses/disabilities, and one halfway house.

    The Greyhound thing is just baffling. Who *hasn’t* taken a Greyhound somewhere? Are Americans given cars at birth or something?

    • “Are Americans given cars at birth or something?”

      For all intents and purposes, yes.

  • “Comments (259)”

    Apparently the comment-o-meter is broken for this post. Which is a shame, I was hoping for a giant, entertaining thread with this kind of material.

    • RhZ

      Click on the ‘older comments’ link below your comment (or mine depending how the system handles it).

      Ask, and ye shall receive.

  • so let Eli c

    Murray first writes a book about how smart whites are, and now he gives us a list about how dumb they are. C’mon, Denny’s, they serve food like meals.

    • Lolly

      Last time I tried to eat at Denny’s with my family, they wouldn’t seat us. Really.

      And we’re white.

  • dr

    Just as a data point, in the urbanized Midwest the vast majority of folks you see fishing at municipal rivers and lakes are African American. It ain’t that way in my bass fishing ancestral homeland in the South, but it’s a big country.

  • a

    No, it isn’t a “whiteness test”. It is designed to separate “upper middle class” from others.

    You simply made up the whiteness part. You told lies so you could smear your political enemies as racists. Leftists do this a lot.

    • Malaclypse

      You simply made up the whiteness part.

      Clearly. There is no subtitle to Murray’s book. All leftist lies…

      • Tybalt

        Read the excerpt. The test has nothing to do with whiteness at all, or how white you are, or anything of the sort. It’s trying (clumsily) to measure class identification and understanding.

    • Henry

      Bullshit. It’s sort of whiteness test. Black, Hispanics and Asians don’t usually like going to Applebee’s or Outbacks, there aren’t any in they neighborhoods to begin with.

      Minorities are usually concentrated in large metropolitan areas, and expcept for latinos don’t care for much for pick-up trucks, and you won’t catch a black man dead at a Nascar race, because the high probability of dying for going to one. Same for Branson.

      • Tybalt

        “you won’t catch a black man dead at a Nascar race, because the high probability of dying for going to one. Same for Branson”

        I take it your score was kind of low. :)

        There are plenty of black NASCAR fans and plenty of black people who go to Branson. Get real.

        • There are plenty of black NASCAR fans and plenty of black people who go to Branson. Get real.

          NASCAR broadcasts always find a black person in the crowd, so it must be 50-50! I saw a black person in Branson, so it must not be a White thing! They were performing, even: we love black folk performing!

  • Eric Jaffa

    This blog post:

    – takes a poll which is supposed to measure whether one is in an “upper-middle-class bubble”

    – declares it a poll to measure whiteness

    – Then criticizes the author for “conflating whiteness with heteronormativity and political conservatism”

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    This sounds exactly like the schtick from the movie Undercover Brother, where the black secret agent had to prove he was ready to infiltrate the white world by answering a quiz featuring Friends trivia and uses of mayonnaise.

  • Fraser

    I notice that shortly after writing a WSJ editorial saying that upper-class whites need to be more judgmental toward the working class, Murray now has a book that says the upper-class is wrong to look down on them.

    • No, he’s saying they don’t know enough about the working class to look down on them properly.

      • Pseudonym

        The problem is that we upper-class liberal elitists look down on the working class for being rubes, when we should really look down on them for being sluts.

        • Delurking

          Now you see the light!

          • Delurking

            The White, White light!

  • Pseudonym

    I didn’t at all read this as an evaluation of the quiz-taker’s whiteness. I think the whiteness was assumed, this being a book about “White America,” and so the quiz was determining how culturally urban and upper-[middle-]class its white readership is by contrasting it to the culture of rural and lower-middle-class whites. It actually has a fair point to the extent that it talks about experiences that affect one’s worldview. I’d like to see some analogous exercise from a less racially fraught and politically twisted perspective; any recommendations?

    1. 4 pts. Spent a few years in a neighborhood with a high proportion of Latinos, so I don’t know if that counts or if only whites qualify.
    3. 5
    5. 2
    7. 2
    8. 2
    10. 3 pts. They were all foreigners however.
    11. 1
    12. 3
    16. 1
    17. 2
    18. 2
    19. 2
    22. 2
    24. 1, at the gym though

    32 pts, if my upper-middle-class arithmetic skills hold up correctly. For a second-generation upper-middle-class person with a non-functioning TV that’s not bad.

  • jjcomet

    Shit, I’ve been black all this time and never knew it. Thank God Murray was around to let me know that my lack of interest in fishing, NASCAR, crappy beer, and shitty chain restaurants was the real tell about my race, not the fact that I’m as white as a fish belly…

  • CJColucci

    What is it we’re supposed to be misunderstanding if we score low on this test? (I got a 42.) What would we understand that we now don’t if more of us took up bass fishing, as opposed to elitist fly fishing? We’ve probably all been to sit-down chain restaurants plenty of times, no matter how we answered the question. What more would we understand if we went more often? People with less money than upper-middle class whites eat there because that’s what they can afford, either financially or in search time for good, cheap, authentic, local diners, etc. (Maybe they should watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.)If they had more money or time or information, they’d probably eat there less often, just like us. We can bond over football and baseball, so why does it matter that they watch NASCAR while we watch whatever other sport appeals to us? What, exactly, would we understand that we don’t now understand, if we knew more about non-urban white working class culture?

  • marmot

    I scored 49 and I’m such an upper-class effete Portland Oregon snob that I don’t get the jokes on Portlandia. That test, while quite amusing, is all kinds of wrong. Just as I would expect from Mr. Murray.

    • pajaro

      The thing that’s nauseating about the quiz is that it’s not about “things that lower-class whites like,” with the goal to find out whether upper class (there is no middle class any more, so I don’t know what he means by upper-middle class) whites like them as well. That would have involved finding out whether the readers liked McDonalds for food and pro football for sports. But that would not have given Murray the answer he wanted, because it would have shown similarity in tastes.
      So instead, there’s an effort to try as hard as he can to figure out “things that upper class whites don’t like,” (Denny’s?) or “things that upper class whites aren’t” (rural), without ever needing to show whether most lower class whites like Denny’s or have rural or semi-rural lives.
      Also, in the end, Murray’s politics show through. The liberal 1%ers who use their spare days to see opera obviously are not real Murkins, while.0001% ers who get into their gulfstreams and jet to their trophy ranches, complete with pickup trucks, fishing, and poor neighbors, do well.
      PS– I’d drink a lot more cheap beer if I wasn’t worried that the Miller High Life guy was going to rip it away from me and not allow me to drink it.

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