On Monday, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield used one of the most annoying phrases in the world when discussing the Rachel Dolezal debacle:
“Beyond that though, is it offensive? I mean, that’s the question for me. I can’t answer it because I’m white. I don’t know if it’s offensive if someone were pretending to be white and I want to know if it’s offensive if a white woman is pretending to be a black woman.”
I can’t answer because I’m white. That phrase is such a limiting one. In other words, “I can’t judge because I don’t have any personal experience with this issue that would inform my opinion.” If that’s the case, if Banfield cannot answer the question because of a lack of personal experience in that area, what is she good for as a correspondent? Moreover, what else can’t she answer?
If we are limited by the scope of our own personal experiences, then can any of us make judgments on anything? Can we be on a jury, or be a judge, or an attorney? Can we be police officers, or political pundits, or philosophers? The list goes on.
Every single day, people are required to operate outside the realm of their own personal experiences, and they do this because they have intellect and empathy. These things, these abilities, give us the power to grapple with what we cannot, or may not, ever truly experience; they allow us to enter the mind of another person whose life experiences we may not share and make judgments based on what we observe and interpret.
To say “I’m white, so I can’t know” is like saying “I’m not a woman, so I can’t know,” or “I’m not a man, so I can’t know,” or “I’m not handicapped, so I can’t know.” There are so many things we aren’t; if we limit ourselves to what we are, there’s really not much we can speak about. And that’s the purpose of intellect and empathy: it fills in the gaps of our lack of personal experience.
If Ashleigh Banfield cannot say whether Rachel Dolezal’s actions are offensive, a jury cannot say if a killer’s actions were justified if those jurors have never been put in the exact same position in which the defendant found themselves when they committed the crime. No experience, no opinion.
It’s the same line men get from pro-abortionist women when they dare to have an opinion on abortion. No uterus, no opinion! You can never in a million years comprehend what it’s like, so you have no right to make judgments! Well, we do it every single day. It’s called having a brain; it’s called being a human being.
Obviously, experience adds to understanding, but it’s not the singular factor by which our lives are governed. I can say that what Rachel Dolezal did is offensive. It may not offend everyone. I don’t speak for everyone. That’s not the issue. However, I can observe her actions, evaluate them, and make a judgement call—not because I’m black, but because I have a functioning brain.
So can we stop with the “I can’t make a judgment call because I’m not (insert race, gender, or other here)? It’s ludicrous. We make judgment calls every day; if we didn’t, we’d be doing a lot of nothing.
Life isn’t lived through personal experience alone, it’s lived through the observed experiences of others around us.