Making comparisons is an effective method to gain a person’s empathy. We make comparisons or equate two separate things to help those who lack our experiences gain a better insight by finding an experience common to them and similar to our own. An example would be when a white woman gaslights a woman of color we ask them to reflect on what they did and how it is similar to when a man gaslights them.
However, there is a point where making an equivalency falls short and can be damaging. Whether that is the intent (as is often discussed) is irrelevant next to its effect. Frequently the issue is that the similarities drawn between two items surface level or simplistic similarities deny the broader scale of one item over the other.
Here’s some recent and/or typical false equivalencies.
Jordan Peele Won’t Cast White Male Lead
One of the most recent was the response to Jordan Peele’s statement that he doesn’t see himself cat a white male lead in his movies because he’s “seen that movie”. Now so many people are ranting, “Imagine if a white person said they wouldn’t cast Black people”. This is a false equivalency because what we are talking about here is generational or true equality rather than just cosmetic equality.
Cosmetic equality just means from this point on everything is equal for everyone. That erases the trauma BIPOC have experienced for generations that has impacted them societally, physically, economically and governmentally.
While white people still have and benefit from land stolen from indigenous people, homes they ran Black people out of, etc. That is cosmetic equality.
The same goes for cinema. White people have had decades being the leads in a variety of films depicting every type in every genre.
With directors like Jordan Peele, Ava Duvernay, Spike Lee, Justin Simien and Ryan Coogler, we have an opportunity to open the door to see more films depicting a variety of Black people in diverse roles. They are striving for equality by having more films with Black leads and cast beyond the token minority typically seen in white films.
Looking at what’s playing at this moment will show a handful of films with a either a BIPOC lead and/or cast and around 20 with a mostly or all white cast. We’ve all seen that movie.
Jussie Smollet and Whitewashed Justice
When all 16 charges were dropped against Jussie Smollet everyone had something to say about what Rahm Emmanuel called a “whitewash of justice”. The caucasity. Many will argue that the dictionary definition fits; however, ‘whitewashing’ refers to the washing down of ethnic roles in favor of white people (ex. whitewashing in films like Aloha).
What a lot of angry white people took as an affront, and now are quickly parading as proof that racism and white privilege don’t exist, is an outlier, a fluke.
It essentially weighs this one moment in one individuals life with all the other times white people have been acquitted of crimes for being white and all the instances a person of color was harshly sentenced for minor infractions or lengthier sentences than a white person would receive and says — they’re equal.
We could argue why a police department — well known for their brutality against people of color and lying to the authorities themselves — get to claim they’re hurting from what Jussie Smollet may or may not have done.
Never mind that trump supporters don’t put stock in the investigation which led the justice system to indict 34 people in the Mueller investigation, but they’ll put stock in a police department known for brutalizing people of color.
White Women Suffer More Than Black Men
This is often spoken by a white women who sees things in clear lines between female and male, particularly when it comes to injustices.
However it erases the Black women who, as both Black and female (both marginalized groups in the US), suffer on two fronts and it erases the role that white women continue to play in the marginalization of Black women.
White women were at times worse than their male counterparts because they also had their seeming fragility to protect them from judgement. Which they still weaponize today against women of color who call them out for their white feminism.
It erases an entire group that suffers under toxic men and white feminism by claiming white women are on the same level or suffer more when typically in this system in this country it’s white men, then white women.
You still have privilege that you won’t be pulled over by the police for being white or followed in stores for being white — the same could not be said for a Black man so this comparison is nonsense.
Things to Consider
When making a comparison to have a group or person understand and empathize your experience there are a few things to think about.
— Do you have more privilege than the individual or group you’re trying to persuade? If so, have someone else in the same or a similarly marginalized group approach them. (Similar to how white people should call out racist behaviors from white people).
— Is there a group that exists at the intersection of these two equivalencies that will be erased?
— Does their trauma as a group span generations and is therefore more severe than the counterpoint?
— What privilege do I have? And how does my privilege directly conflict with this equivalency? For example speaking to a disabled woman about female rights would be challenging if I’m abled because I’m not seeing their problems as a disabled woman but as a female.
You can’t look at one aspect of a person’s living experience and expect them to do the same when their existence and experience is as a person in more than one disadvantaged category.
Any comparison is likely to miss it’s mark when intersectionality is not taken into account. Compare categories that are not just cosmetically equal and you’ll have an opportunity for effective discussions.