Empathy is my job. Literally. Clients pay my employer (and, indirectly, me) to help them get in tune with how their customers feel so they can develop better communications for them. I love what I do.
But after an uproar from Black Twitter over a Shea Moisture video I feel confused. When I watched the video, I couldn’t immediately tell what was wrong with it. Am I not as good at my job as I think I am?
In the video which Shea Moisture has since pulled, three white women (two red heads and a blonde) and a biracial woman talk about their problems with their hair, and how Shea Moisture helps them love their hair. People took to Twitter to criticize Shea Moisture for seemingly abandoning their core customer base by focusing on white hair instead of the customers who have supported them.
My immediate thought was, But doesn’t everyone hate their hair?
Seeing Shea Moisture make a campaign trying to expand their brand to white people by getting rid of their target audience is upsetting.
— 🌹 (@LuvJaylen) April 24, 2017
My reaction to the Shae Moisture commerical!! I wished they had used women with tighter curls a full representation of natural hair😕 pic.twitter.com/1MPGR04G0i
— Kadian Kay (@KadianKay2) April 25, 2017
Black women Youtubers put Shea Moisture on the map. They used Black women & then went "all hair matters" on our asses.
— Chihiro Ogino (@WickedBeaute) April 26, 2017
It doesn’t take a genius to tell that the video stung. Those feelings are valid.
To me, these tweets are a reminder that empathy takes a lot more effort than sourcing blanket insights that add up to “everyone hates their hair.” It is imperative to realize that you can’t know (or empathize easily) with everyone. And that is OK. Instead of assuming I have done the research and found the insight, I should assume that there are things I don’t know or didn’t discover. And I should vet my work to see what others pick up on that I wouldn’t have.
I joined a creative writing group this year. Aside from me there is one other white woman in the group. When we submit papers, they often cover deeply personal topics. A few of mine have touched upon my personal struggles with mental health. But what comes up again and again in the papers from the non-white members of the group is race. How they are treated differently. How they are constantly reminded of their color. How their race is both frustratingly stereotyped and yet an indelible part of their identity. How their skin tone and hair type permeate their everyday life in ways I could never foresee.
I would not get to read these points of view if I didn’t show up with an open mind to the fact that there are things I do not know. There are experiences I will never have. To me, the Shea Moisture campaign is fine. But to someone else, it hurts. In today’s culture of fake news and ‘alternate facts’, there is a hunger for truth. But truth isn’t always a single answer. We all also experience different things in different ways, including the current president.
There are multiple points of view, and they can each be valid. There is more to be gained from asking how two different POV’s can be valid, than by assuming one truth exists.