According to the urban dictionary, a catfish is someone who gives the impression of being attractive or sympathetic to attract attention online only to turn out to be the opposite of what is portrayed.
Typically, catfishing is used in romantic relationships and trolling. A person creates a fabricated online profile to trick an unsuspecting suitor into believing they are someone that they are not. When the suitor wants to meet IRL, the catfish evades or disappears. When trolling, the person creates a fabricated online to comment and interact with people online negatively.
White catfish give the impression that they are victims of discrimination or harassment or crime. Their stories go viral and they are given support and sympathy from the public almost immediately.
Nationally syndicated interviews, GoFundMe accounts and celebrity shoutouts, visits and gifts/experiences of a lifetime.
Then after a few days or weeks or even months, the story takes a turn. We find out the discrimination, harassment or crime never happened. The person made it all up. Everyone jumps on the “I knew that story sounded suspicious” bandwagon. But it’s too late. The money and experiences that were so freely given have all been spent and cannot be taken back.
Meanwhile, in Black world, the umpteenth person is discriminated against, harassed or the victim of a crime — many times at the hands of law enforcement — and the outpouring is much different.
It is full of “we don’t have all the facts yet” and “we don’t know what happened before the camera started recording” and “if the person had just done _____, the police wouldn’t have ____” and “a bad decision by one manager at one location doesn’t mean we have to boycott the whole brand” … Interviews, GoFundMe and celebrity support is slow, lacking or altogether absent.
Why are we so quick to believe White “victims” without any evidence yet so slow to believe Black victims with evidence? Why do we want all the details with Black victims and not White? Why do we assume there was wrongdoing with Black victims that led to the unfortunate outcome and not White?
Why do we fall for the White Catfish? In a word: Supremacy.
White Supremacy is so pervasive that it causes us to routinely give Whiteness the benefit of the doubt in all things because White is good so it can’t be bad. When proven to be at fault, we find excuses and mitigating factors almost immediately. Like troubled childhood, mental health issues, etc. It doesn’t matter how old the White person was or how heinous the issue, we keep digging until we find hope of redemption or a mitigating explanation.
In the Supremacy narrative, Black is always bad so when bad things happen to Black people, it happened because the person somehow deserved it. Their lifestyle and past are pawed thru to further the notion that the person is deserving. The same childhood traumas and mental health issues are used to emphasize why the person was deserving of the bad thing.
We need to do better.
Either everyone is getting the benefit of the doubt or everyone is getting scrutinized. Either everyone is innocent until guilty or everyone is guilty until innocent. Either everyone is troubled or everyone is a predator.
Throughout the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge, I’ve spoken firmly and harshly against Supremacy in a way that I know makes people uncomfortable. I’m sure there are people who’ve labeled me as angry and presume I dislike White people. This post probably isn’t helping that.
I don’t care.
Supremacy is real, on a systemic and individual level. The bias resulting from it is real, on a systemic and individual level.
Until we recognize it and call it what it is and create sincere strategy to change this, it isn’t going to change. As a HR professional, I’m tired of creating policies and trainings that sound and portray themselves as caring and inclusive. I want what I create to have caring and inclusive outcomes. This requires tough talk and difficult conversations and really hard work.
The next time you see a viral story, I encourage you to think critically about the narrative being pushed and who is benefiting from it. I encourage you to ask yourself if the narrative would be pushed the same way if the person’s race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, age or physicality was different.
If the answer to this is “yes”, you’re being White Catfished. Release the bait and swim away.