I’ve heard over and over the idea that “if you are not a person of color, then there is just no way you can challenge their experience if they feel oppressed.”

This is untrue–but with a tiny grain of truth.

We can’t challenge anyone’s subjective experience, but neither can they challenge ours. Each of us is the expert in our own subjective experience. So if one person says they feel oppressed, then we can take their word for it, that’s how they feel. However, if the other person says they don’t feel like an oppressor, we can take their word for that, too. Their experience is just as valid. Someone’s experience does not become more or less valid because they have more pigment in their skin, or because of historical events that happened to other people, or even because of the person’s own personal history.

And in general, it’s better to take people’s word for how they feel, because even if we think they may be fabricating something, there is usually no evidence to dispute their feelings. (An exception is if they said one thing at one time, and another thing at another time.)

However, so what? When there is something to be gained by having a grievance, then it isn’t hard to come up with one.

Just look at all the frivolous lawsuits that are filed or threatened. A student sued a university because she flunked a course twice. A Cowboys fan sued the NFL when his team lost to the Green Bay Packers. Two animal rights lovers were on their way home from a protest for the rights of deer to live, when they hit a deer on the highway. They threatened to sue the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife because there were too many deer.

Now, it is possible that the people who are suing honestly believe that they have been wronged. No one else can conclusively dispute how they think and feel. However, just because they felt like victims does not mean they really were. And in these cases, they stood to gain something by claiming victim status.

Some people who advance lawsuits have genuinely been wronged. But we don’t assume they have been just because they have a grievance. The courts sort it out as best they can.

It is the same with racial grievances (and grievances from other protected groups). If there is a benefit to claiming a grievance, then this increases the likelihood that some of the grievances will be frivolous. And some grievances are frivolous even if the person with the grievance is sincere.

People who make racial grievances are likely to get attention and sympathy ,and if they have the right audience, they can get people to bend over backwards to make sure never to say or do anything that would offend the alleged victim. The alleged victim can feel validated if everyone agrees that they must have really been oppressed. They can make major demands and sometimes get people to comply.

When the system rewards racial grievance, it is human nature that some people will come up with more racial grievance.

This does not mean that there are no valid racial grievances. It just means that if we want a system to be “just”, we need to filter these grievances for how valid they actually are.