This. Is. Validity Prism.

[Content Note: Auditing, homophobia, heteronormativity.]

The Validity Prism is a phrase I coined in order to simply describe the pervasive habit among people of privilege to filter marginalized people's lived experiences through their own perspectives shaped by their own lived experiences in order to establish authenticity.

In simpler language, it's the habit of measuring someone else's life against one's own while ignoring meaningful differences in those lives.

At its root, the Validity Prism is the practice of auditing, in place of the practice of empathy, done by privileged people who imagine their privilege makes them objective, as opposed to merely giving them a different perspective.

Privileged people who invoke the Validity Prism position themselves in the role of arbiter, who demand to see "proof" that marginalized people's lived experiences are really what they say they are. Marginalized people are not allowed to be experts on their own lives; instead, privileged self-appointed auditors demand evidence of all claims of oppression, which they will measure against their own lived experiences, which necessarily lack that very oppression, and then inevitably find that evidence wanting.

It is a deeply dysfunctional and abusive dynamic, explicitly designed to deny oppression and to deny marginalized people their agency and the right of authority on their own lived experiences.

This morning, at Right Wing Watch, I saw this incredible example of the Validity Prism: Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa says that "being gay is 'self-professed behavior' that can't be 'independently verified.'"
The congressman [implied] that LGBT people are making their identities known in order to entrap business owners into discriminating against them.

"The one thing that I reference when I say 'self-professed,'" he said, "is how do you know who to discriminate against? They have to tell you. And are they then setting up a case? Is this about bringing a grievance or is it actually about a service that they'd like to have?"

He then implied that homosexuality cannot be "independently verified" and can be "willfully changed."

"If it's not specifically protected in the Constitution," he said of civil rights protections, "then it's got to be an immutable characteristic, that being a characteristic that can be independently verified and cannot be willfully changed."
Rep. Steve King wants "independent verification" of other people's sexual orientations. (Is he volunteering? Fnar fnar!) But not everyone's, of course—just people whose sexual orientations Rep. King considers transgressive by virtue of a heterocentric culture that treats different-sex attraction as the default and the norm.

People who have the "normal" sexual orientation don't need to provide "independent verification" of their sexuality.

Rinse and repeat for every privileged class, whose members are not obliged to submit their identities to auditors and who are empowered by their privilege to appoint themselves as auditors for people who don't share that privilege.

"I don't see it," they say, having filtered a report of oppression through their Validity Prism and found nothing similar in their own experiences. "I just don't see it."

So certain of their unassailable objectivity that they don't even realize they aren't meant to be looking, but listening.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus