What ‘The Dress’ Taught Me About Racism

As I look back on 2015, I was thinking of one of my favorite subjects: The Dress. Which team were you? I was white and gold and I remember the one day that I magically able to see black and blue. It only happened once, but it made me realized the importance and the power of perception. Much of what we understand about people is based on our perception which is informed by a variety of things (experience, other’s opinions, genetics, etc). How you saw the dress was strictly based on how your brain processed the light in the picture. Perception is as close to involuntary thinking as someone can get. Why someone thinks something is pretty and another finds it repellent or smells something and thinks it refreshing and another thinks it foul is all more of an internal process than an external one. Our very understanding of the world around us is based on how our neurons click.

I remember how confused I was when people said they saw black and blue or blue and gold. I wondered, are we looking at the same picture? Are they serious? But more than that, I was fascinated. This opened my mind up to how people understand race and public discourse on race. Imagine if you only saw black and blue and people called you ignorant or racist every time you said this. You probably wouldn’t say it much publicly and you might also seek others who see black/blue like you. What if only people who saw white/gold were able to talk about the dress as freely as desired? How much would you really invest in the conversation?

This is simplistic, I know. It also might come across as a defense of racists, but it’s not. This is really an indictment of how we deal with discussions of race. We have to accept that everyone’s perception is very real to them and what they see and feel cannot be ‘logicized’ away; just like we can’t suddenly see white/gold, if all this time we’ve been seeing black /blue.

Everyone’s voice has a place in the conversation. The definition of racism which only allows for white people to be called racist creates an unpleasant dichotomy; same behavior, different treatment because prejudiced just isn’t as serious a condemnation as racist. When people feel like their behavior is held up to greater scrutiny than others, they disconnect and you can’t expect them to participate in productive dialogue.

The goal isn’t to get rid of people’s perceptions or change them, that’s not the world’s responsibility. The objective is to get people to expand their horizons and realize that there’s more to understanding than what we see.