In discussions of race, don’t pretend to be purple

A reader asked:
So, instead of “just pretend I’m purple”, I think it would be better to say “I’m trying to pretend I’m purple”. Maybe not good enough, though. Is there anything one can say that can help? Is the best one can do is to say nothing? Maybe it’s better to listen to what the other person is trying to say.

Realsocialskills answered:

I don’t think that helps, because pretending to be purple is not actually a good idea. Race matters in discussions about racism.

I think it’s better for white people to just admit that they’re white, and that being white has consequences. Pretending to be purple doesn’t help anything. It just obstructs the work people need to do in order to work against the longstanding tradition of racism and build a culture that treats everyone as fully human.

White people can’t just step out of being white; there’s no way to do that in our culture. There are too many centuries of racism and white supremacism. Regardless of how you identify, being white gives you things that no one should ever have.

It’s not your identity as a white person that hurts people. It’s a culture that values whiteness and devalues everyone else. Pretending not to be white won’t fix that.

Being white means you have a responsibility to do something about the pervasive racism and the way white people systemically hurt people of color. Pretending not to be white just means that you’re saying you can identify your way out of that responsibility.

You can’t. So don’t pretend you’re purple. You’re not purple.

“Just pretend I’m purple”

If you want to talk about racism, you have to acknowledge that racism exists.

And that people of different races are affected by it differently.

Everyone is equal, and that’s an important starting point. But not everyone is treated equally, and that affects everything.

Including what it’s like for people to listen to you talk about racism. When you talk about racism, it matters what race you are. If you want to say worthwhile things, it’s important to acknowledge that. Don’t try to pretend that you can just decide that it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the conversation you want to have.

In particular, if you say “just pretend I’m purple,” that will usually be understood to mean “I’m white and I’m not interested in thinking about how my white privilege affects other people.”