Monday, May 7, 2018

The Standard

One of those clickbaity stories from Facebook recently notified me of a controversy surrounding a tweet made by biracial pop singer Halsey.

I looked at the comments and they were generally one of three sentiments:

1. Why do YOU PEOPLE always think everyone should cater to YOU?

2. Halsey, you're rich, why are you complaining that they don't give you free shampoo to your liking?

3. No one likes hotel shampoo! It's not good shampoo for white people either!

I'm astonished (except not really) at how thoroughly these people are missing the point.

So, first of all, let's start at number 3--yes, it's white people shampoo. Very basic, suitable-for-cleaning-only shampoo, and probably doesn't do much in the way of moisturizing for white people who prefer that in their hair products either. If you have any kind of special hair needs besides "just clean it," you probably don't want to use that shampoo. But since, based on the white-person standard of what constitutes "special hair needs," just about every black person has special hair needs, this shampoo is still indicative of a white standard.

The white standard is what black people are complaining about. Not shampoo itself. The derail into nitpicking shampoo itself is pretty offensive.

I saw so many people in the comments using slippery slope arguments ("Oho! So you expect us to cater to alllll your specialized toiletry needs! I need this specific aftershave! I don't like that brand of toothpaste! My son is allergic to your mouthwash--you must bring him bubblegum flavor! Gasp! Next you people will demand complimentary makeup and expect a hairstylist to visit your room!"). I also saw tons of people doing the usual pearl clutching ("Ugh! So entitled! Must be millennials!" "Ugh! People will complain about ANYTHING these days!" "Get a grip girl IT'S JUST SHAMPOO!! You won't DIE if you don't get to clean your hair for free!"). All of this is. Missing. The. Point.

As for numbers 1 and 2, Halsey isn't saying this because she expects herself and other black people to be catered to, and she isn't saying this because she can't bring her own hair products. (I mean. Obviously, she and MOST PEOPLE WHO TRAVEL bring the specific products they want to bring if it's very important to them to use a specific product. Almost everyone does this.)

The issue. Is. That. The. Complimentary. Product. Uses. White. Hair. As. A. Standard.

And this is part of a larger problem. When white is the standard, black and other nonwhite standards are dubbed special and extraordinary. If you're a white person and you got to the hotel room and the only product available was something specifically labeled for "ethnic hair" you know white people would get upset, even if they'd brought their own hair stuff and even if they "don't go around expecting others to cater to them." There is an expected standard, and in the United States it is based on white. For everything.

Halsey's tweet is not really about shampoo. It's absurd to discuss it as if she really is demanding hotels offer a variety of "specialized" products. Her tweet said 50% of their customers can't use the shampoo and that it is "annoying." And I imagine it would be. As a person who actually never had any trouble with hotel shampoo, I must be one of the people it's made for. Guess what, I'm a white people. Hotels offer travel sizes of items for people who might have forgotten theirs or might just assume it will be available and therefore not bother with the mess of packing it. They also offer items like toothbrushes, mouthwash, and razors. Most of these things will work for anyone, and most people know that if they need something special that's not likely to be offered, they have to bring it.

So what's especially weird about white people whining about black people expecting to be catered to is that they already are catered to (though some insist that hotel shampoo isn't appropriate for them either). If there was "black" shampoo in the room, with no explanation and no alternative, these same people would likely feel alienated, and would probably come up with some of the same arguments: Well if you're going to give it to people for free, why am I being excluded? I didn't come in here expecting free stuff, but I don't think I'm out of line saying the free stuff offered should be usable for anyone (or several alternatives available).

One comment I also saw popping up in the response area was very specific to this situation: criticism of Halsey herself because she is, on many levels, white-passing. Some were insisting she "is white" and is therefore appropriating black women's struggle by claiming the shampoo isn't usable for her. And even though she specified that she does have this problem and her black heritage is an important and real aspect of who she is, people kept guffawing at her for having the gall to claim this as one of her own issues. Some were even other black people, exaggerating what she said to suggest she's claiming oppression equal to that of more visibly black people and not staying in her lane. I thought that was also pretty uncool because when you're biracial or multiracial, you also have a mixed experience, and from what I've seen, Halsey acknowledges her white-passing privilege but doesn't think it justifies asking her to forgo embracing her own heritage.

Halsey followed up on all this nonsense by specifying that yes, of course she is fortunate enough to bring her own hair products, but some of the folks who travel for work and aren't as lucky aren't afforded the same access that people who fit "the standard" do. She says this is a small manifestation of a larger problem, and I agree. But when people do this--when they show an example--detractors roar in to criticize the elements associated with the RESULT, even though the complaint is clearly about the SYSTEM.

Considering how many examples we have of this standard adding up to an overall disadvantaged experience for many members of our culture, I would like to suggest that people like me who are privileged to be catered to stop seeing that catering as natural and stop seeing themselves as the standard. You might notice more aspects of how the world actually works for people who aren't you that way, and you may be better positioned to offset some of it when you encounter it.

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