Sunday, April 13, 2008

party in talking clusters

This image is a recent painting entitled "Party," by the German-Chinese artist and designer Yang Liu. In her fascinating series, "East Versus West," Liu illustrates various behavioral differences between German and Chinese culture. These include contrasting ways of eating, standing in line, expressing anger, dealing with problems, and many more. Each of the works consists of a blue "Western" side and a red "Eastern" side.

Throughout the series, which consists of thirty or so paintings, the blue sides also correspond very well with common white American behaviors. At parties, white folks do tend to talk together in small, separate clusters (especially, for some reason, in the kitchen). East Asian parties tend to consist of one large group, all partying together--eating; drinking; singing songs, both together and individually for the group; and leaving more or less together, all at the same time. African American parties tend to consist of loud music (and thus little talking), a lot of dancing, and a lot of food.

I can personally attest to the partying styles of these three different groups, and I should add that there's at least one more type of white party (a type more often indulged in by whites with money), the dinner party. At these less common gatherings, if the group is small enough, white folks interact together more as one group, like the partiers represented in Liu's red square. I should also add that "Asian" in this case often differs from "Asian American"; depending on the degree of assimilation to American culture by East Asian immigrants and their descendents, their parties can resemble the red square above instead of the blue one. And if they're young enough, thanks especially to the widespread popularity of hip hop culture, their parties can resemble African American parties, which probably deserve a differently colored square of their own.

In her book It's the Little Things, Lena Williams describes the contrast between white and black parties:
At white parties, people arrive on time prepared to wine, dine, and talk about office politics, child-care problems, summer rentals, and maybe--to liven things up--the local sports teams. They stick around for two hours at most, then they're off to the suburbs to relieve the baby-sitter. Eat beforehand, 'cause all you're going to be served, most likely, is finger food or hors d'oeuvres. When, and if, there is dancing, any black person present is expected to get out on the dance floor and perform for the whites gathered.

Blacks, however, don't consider a social gathering a "PAAR-TAY!" unless there's music and dancing. No respectable black person would arrive at a party on time. [Talk] is usually minimal. Besides, it's hard to carry on a conversation when the music is at an earsplitting volume and folks are shaking booty in your face. Three to four hours later, we might be ready to wind down, or maybe not. And one expects a spread--which means ham, chicken, cheese, crackers, chips and dip, not to mention a variety of desserts. Anything less would be uncivilized.
The common white party style seems to reflect the average white person's more individualistic sense of him or herself. As scholar Ross Chambers puts it, whites perceive themselves "as individual historical agents whose unclassifiable difference from one another is their most prominent trait. Whiteness itself is thus atomized into invisibility through the individualization of white people."

One of Liu's other paintings, "Way of Life," captures well this difference between white and non-white identities (again, blue is the Western side, red the Eastern):

Since white people don't usually think of themselves as members of a racial group, that is, since they usually lack a group-oriented identity, it makes sense that their social gatherings would be more fragmented. And because, throughout the developing history of race relations, bodily qualities have been relegated to "inferior," non-white groups, and mental, rational qualities to the "superior" white group, whites are trapped inside bodies that don't feel much freedom to move. So it also makes sense that the amount of eating, dancing, and booty-shaking at their parties is relatively limited.


  1. That's all interesting and maybe true.
    I do love to put on dinner parties. Nothing like manipulating and antagonizing people (my various friends) who will sit next to ANYONE to eat my food.
    My parties are all about eating and food.

    . . . and don't be postin nothin that says white people can't cook no pork.

  2. I know I hate to dance at parties which probably means I'm white, but I'd also like to observe that I've gone to all kinds of white parties and they don't all tend to be the same. I've gone to high class/middle class/low class white parties, and I've gone to Italian White parties and Polish White parties and German and Greek and English and Norweigian white parties, and there are distinct differences not only in types of food and drink but also in type of conversation/socializing etc.

    (My favorite white parties are low class Polish and high class Norweigian. Everything else is pretty boring. Lots of food and drink and people looking at their watches.)

    I've also gone to African and African American parties and they tend to be WAY different from each other. The African American parties tend to be hotter in terms of heat generated in a room, probably because of the dancing. The African parties seem to be a lot of talking and too much food. Sexes tend to be segregated. But this may have something to do with the education level and their attempt to impress the white guys at the party. Who knows?!?!

    (Hmmm, you might think I'm going to too many parties but that's not true at all.)

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  4. Don't worry, SH, I won't probably won't ever post anything about pork. Hot dogs, maybe.

    I think you're right that white folks' parties vary, John, and they're certainly not all the same. Still, there does seem to be a certain kind of party that happens consistently among members of each of the three groups mentioned in the post to say that each tends to have distinctly different common types of parties. It's just not true, nor does it seem interesting, to say that people are all different no matter you go (not that you're necessarily saying that).

    African parties, eh? Good food, I bet.

  5. lol @ party clusters, then you migrate from group to group


  6. I don't know if the food was good. I'm a vegetarian and seldom eat party food except for chips and carrots. Meat always somehow gets into everything.

    But it did look delicious!


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