#TheDress, Objective Reality, and the Optical Illusion of White Privilege

Trayvon and Dad

I don’t want to let it slide that yesterday was the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Yesterday also happened to be the Internet-breaking situation of #DressGate2015. And I’m sure you may think this is a stretch, but I can connect the two. #TheDress reveals a lot about how we argue, how we listen, and how we think.


“Is it white and gold?”


“No way! It’s blue and black! Anyone who says otherwise is lying!”

I will admit that when this first started to go down I thought it was a hoax – that everyone saying that this obviously white and gold (and let’s be real, ugly) dress was any other color was actually just playing games.

That is, until I saw the dress, in the same pictures I had looked at before, but this time it was black and blue.

I believed that this was probably some science-y shit – that the dress was probably REALLY blue (as the stock photo shows), and that my brain was doing what brains do – guessing at light and color and making it appear different to me and some others. I was frustrated for a bit, but then I was amused. Optical illusions are cool!


But then I thought that I may not have actually believed the dress was really blue had I not investigated further, and if I had not seen it as both white/gold and blue/black.

And then I realized that this is exactly how white privilege (and other status quo privileges) tend to work – we see what we want to or are trained to see, until our minds allow us to see it otherwise.

Just like it is no one’s fault that we see a blue and black dress as white and gold, it is also not any individual’s fault that our societal default is whiteness: whiteness as goodness and beauty, whiteness as normative. And of course, the opposite: our society implicitly sees blackness as worthy of degradation and not worthy of life. Blackness as something that can be killed for any reason, or no reason, and still deserved. The cognitive dissonance that many experience when they’re told about racism and white privilege is just as natural a brain trick as those who are very firmly on #TEAMWHITEANDGOLD. Cognitive dissonance is denial of the existence of any reality other than your own. Just like this optical illusion.

Are you wrong?


But what you see is what you see. So you argue what you see – until what you see changes.

This is why individual responses to the systemic problem of racism are so dangerous – because we see what we want to see – and believe we’re right regardless of any evidence.

Now that I’ve seen the dress to be black and blue, I can’t un-see it. It’s hilarious (and fascinating and worthy of thought) that I ever saw it as anything else. I know people who feel the very same about race and privilege.

I also know those who adamantly deny racism and privilege – despite any and all evidence or proof………because they can’t see it.
Keep this in mind, if you’re one who denies the struggles of blacks, LGBTQ people, and others.

Maybe we see what you can’t.

This is why it is so critical to seek evidence and listen when learning.

Maybe then you’ll see it, too.

Rest in Peace, Trayvon. ❤


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