To each their own should never apply when talking about racism. Let’s be clear, racism isn’t subjective. My life experiences and oppression -- my truth as a 19-year-old Black woman -- cannot be invalidated because of the inability of someone with privilege to see it. Do you remember the photo of the dress that became a viral sensation in 2015 when viewers disagreed over whether the dress was black and blue or white and gold? According to psychology professor and neuroscientist, Pascall Wallisch, “It has been proposed that individual differences in the subjective interpretation of this stimulus are due to the different assumptions that individuals make about how the dress was illuminated.” In other words, subjective color interpretation.
Racism, on the other hand, is not subject to interpretation. Racism is not subjective. To use one example: Recently a patron walked into the restroom at a restaurant in Flossmoor, Illinois, a diverse suburb of Chicago. A family member of the patron shared on a community Facebook page that the patron was upset because “…the art posted in the lady's room [was of] a person wearing black face.” Thus ensued a 12+ hour Facebook debate about whether or not the picture was racist, the state of racism and, yes, white privilege. The following are excerpts from the comment section of the Facebook post: (Link to the picture)
- “Is this offensive too? Should everyone go after the company that makes this mud mask?”
- “I can understand that this is distasteful and racist, and see no issue with having it taken down, however, to each their own.”
- “I saw the picture by the way the lady is applying a product .It does not look like she is attempting to "black face" but groom”
- “I can see how it can be interpreted as the woman putting on black face but I really don’t … believe it's black face but a peel. Plus the picture is in a lavatory where most of us women go to refresh and re groom. I just don't think it's black face . Plus it makes no sense to me of why a decorator would put a black face picture in an establishment with alcohol”
- “ No idea what blackface even is”
- “Can you see it both ways ??? It's all about interpretation no one set is completely clear”
Oh, it’s clear. If you don’t try to whitesplain it away. Think about it -- have you ever had an experience where someone is explaining to you, in a patronizing way, something you actually already know quite a lot about? Possibly about your own life experiences as an African American or Latino? That is whitesplaining -- to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with, thereby clearly exhibiting their own bias. As well-intentioned as it may be, whitesplaining is a subjective point of view. It is not only condescending, it is particularly harmful in this current sociopolitical climate where we see terrorism acts by white people whitesplained away, e.g., Rep. Sean Duffy said on CNN that "there is a difference" between terror acts by white people and those committed by Muslims) and television hosts whitesplaining protests (Whoopi Goldberg Shuts Down 'View' Co-Hosts for Whitesplaining Kaepernick Protest) or self-professed political pundits whitesplaining why Blacks should have voted for Trump. Whitesplaining is in the way Brock Turner evaded justice for his act of rape because it would "harm his future," but young Black men from Michigan State University were just sentenced life for the same awful crime. It's in the way White women justify crossing the street when they see a Black man up ahead, but not a White man
Whitesplaining perpetuates white privilege, which fuels racism and only serves to erode the progress we have made in the fight for racial equality in America. As President Obama said in his farewell address, “for every two steps forward, it often feels like we take one step back.”
More like two steps back.