This phrase, which has circled the realms of pop culture for decades, was first coined by Whitney Houston in a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer. When asked about an alleged $730,000 drug habit, Houston responded, “I wanna see the receipts.”
In her account of ‘How ‘Show Me the Receipts’ Became a Catchphrase for Holding the Powerful Accountable,” Katy Waldman writes, “In asking to see the receipts, Whitney Houston did something more profound than mock Sawyer’s inability to pin her down. She appealed to a higher authority than a white woman’s suspicions. Much of contemporary race relations is slippery, unspoken or unconscious, with bias often wrapped in plausible deniability. But no one can argue with a piece of paper.”
Much of our present-day discourse surrounding diversity allows us to engage in surface-level conversations about race while passing over its deeper structural roots of inequality. We “celebrate people’s differences” without acknowledging their unequal realities and experiences, leaving our efforts for racial justice without receipts of actual change.
One of many reasons for this gap is that we often talk about diversity in terms of “inclusion,” reinforcing the imbalanced power dynamic between those being included and the ones doing the including. The word inclusion implies an undefined – but not ambiguous – “we.” This “we” could be referred to as the “white normative perspective,” which treats whiteness as the neutral center and everyone else as outside contributors.
This perspective, which, in my opinion, is still prevalent at Northwestern, inhibits us from reaching a true understanding of how inequity, power and privilege need to be at the center of the diversity discourse if we want to see any receipts. We must move beyond the conversations of inclusion and into those of equity and action.
Conversations of equity and action ask us to take an honest assessment of how systems of power disproportionately act in the interests of white people. These systems not only benefit white people but in the very least, they do not infringe upon their humanity. I cannot say the same for BIPOC communities, and there are plenty of receipts for that, as we’ve seen with the exhaustive – but not exhausting – list of the names of people who have unjustly lost their lives to police brutality and other issues founded on the systemic beliefs of white supremacy, the most recent victim circulating the media being Daunte Wright.
As stated in our Vision for Diversity statement here at Northwestern, “We lament human brokenness recognizing our past and current participation in unjust social systems.” Alongside Daunte’s family as well as countless others, we grieve the deaths that should have never happened.
As our Vision for Diversity statement also says, “We reconcile with one another challenging unjust systems of power, privilege, and oppression,” I hope that our entire campus would take active steps in turning this vision into not just an aspiration but a reality.
Active steps look like doing your own research. People who have experienced systematic oppression are not responsible for educating everyone else, oftentimes having to relive their trauma in doing so. Active steps look like taking a stance on the side of the oppressed. Silence is compliance. We must speak out against hate, no excuses. Don’t wait until you are directly impacted to decide to fight for your fellow human beings.
If you are looking for active steps to take, and need some guidance, or want to be involved in creating a culture of equality on campus, I.D.E.A (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Action), is a great place to start. Anyone in this group, myself included, would love to talk with you.
As you finish reading this article and start to re-enter your daily routine, I leave you with this: Let us take the discourse surrounding diversity beyond inclusion and into equity and action. Let us, on Northwestern’s campus, show some receipts.