Off white: A preliminary taxonomy
The Hilaria (the H is silent) Baldwin saga reminds me that I’ve been meaning to develop the concept of “off white” as an ethnic/social identity, but just haven’t gotten around to it what with all the fascism and pandemics and so forth.
Brief recap: Hilaria Baldwin is the wife of the well-known actor Alec Baldwin. They’ve been married for eight years, during which time she has been “leveraging” as they say at MBB this connection into her very own minor celebrity status.
Part of said leveraging has turned out to be escaping the burdens of Extreme Whiteness: Born in Boston as Hilary Thomas Hayward, Hilary (the H was not silent) has what might fairly be called Extremely White parents: Mom comes from an old New England family and was on the Harvard Medical School faculty, while Dad was a corporate real estate lawyer for Ropes & Gray, which is the whitest thing somebody can do short of literally being Anderson Cooper.
Boring! So “Hilaria” decided she was actually born and raised on Mallorca, thus accounting for her mysterious and sexy Balearic accent, and her inability to remember the English word for “cucumber,” while describing for white people the secrets of exotic simple yet elegant Spanish cuisine.
She got caught out after Amy Schumer made an Internet joke about Hilaria’s Instagram post flaunting her postpartum body while holding adorable little three-month old Eduardo “Edu” Pao Lucas. Hilaria got mad about being “body shamed” for the crime of being so incredibly hot three months after having a baby, and fired back at Schumer, which triggered various people going down various Internet rabbit holes, and here we are today.
Anyway, “off white.” Old joke: When does a Mexican become a Spaniard? When he marries your daughter. New joke: When does a white woman become a Spaniard? When she needs to be off white.
“Off white” means you’re sort of white but not TOO white. I mean you’re white enough not to be randomly murdered by the police or trailed by store personnel when shopping at Best Buy, but you’re also more interesting and exotic than your Basic Boring White Person. You’re not exactly a Person of Color, but you’re not NOT a Person of Color either.
Key potential off white identities that you might consider adopting for fun and profit:
Southern European: Spain is obviously great, but Italian south of Rome works well, as do the Greek islands.
Israeli Jew (preferably Sephardic): In America Jewish is already kinda white but kinda not, so this one is really good.
Brazilian or Argentinian: Just don’t have a German last name if you know what I mean and I think you do. (Italian is OK, barely).
Armenian: The Indians said I was white by law. Marrying a major Black celebrity with a super exotic name is the chef’s kiss here.
Speaking of which, Native American is the Beatles 1964 of this genre.
Cuban: Say hello to my little friends Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio!
Mexican: Boy this one can be really tricky. In the United States, if you’re mestizo you’re at some difficult to define point definitely NOT white any more. (The confusion so many white people evince when puzzling over the the concept of “white Hispanics” is going to be an important factor in 21st century American identity politics going forward).
The key to staying in the off white sweet spot is to have a mysteriously non-Hispanic sounding name, while actually BEING from Mexico. Salma Hayek is perfect.
Puerto Rican: Another tricky one. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is pretty much the ideal amount of off white though. (Being a conventionally attractive woman really helps so you should probably start there).
Then we have categories of white people who have become sufficiently exoticized to be at least off white adjacent
Hillbillies: Poor country folk can end up in a kind of liminal off white zone. See the brilliant career of J.D. Vance for tips on how to monetize having a great aunt who was missing some teeth and could sing like Ma Carter.
Mormons: Scientists are beginning to explore the concept of a White Singularity, where whiteness becomes so intense that it paradoxically becomes More Than White, and therefore not white at all.