The problem with snapping: How a sign of support devalues lived experiences

Ruth Kramer

We’ve all heard it. The quick snap snap snap coming from an audience during a speech or a dialogue. This is not an uncommon occurrence, especially at the College. Before coming to college, I had never seen people snap for ideas they believed in or statements they stood behind. But upon hearing it over and over again, especially when these statements had nothing to do with the people supporting them, I grew irritated. Snapping during dialogue was originally supposed to be a sign of support and solidarity, a way of saying “thank you for putting my experience into words.” However, “supportive snaps” have quickly become snaps of attention – they say, “Look at me. I’m aware that experiences other than my own exist.” Boots Riley’s visit earlier this month is a perfect example of this: His words specifically regarding the black experience in America were moving, but the snaps from many white people dying to show their “wokeness” often took attention from his wisdom. A minority’s vulnerability is not an opportunity for others to passively proclaim that they are thinkers free of prejudice. This practice is harmful not only to the speaker, but also to the rest of the audience. Making noise for an experience you haven’t lived and can’t ever completely comprehend isn’t supportive or understanding – it’s disrespectful. It takes attention and focus off of a speaker who is placing themselves in a vulnerable position by sharing their experience. And it disallows others in the audience from hearing the full meaning of the words being spoken to them. With the distractions of our peers, how can we, as a community, ever actually learn from experiences that don’t belong to us?  

Snapping, when used to show agreement, is arguably a very easy form of solidarity. Yet, there are so many alternatives to snapping to show support for a speaker you agree with. One way, if possible, is to seek the speaker out later and ask them questions, express your interest or even relate your own experiences to show the speaker that they are not alone. Rather than sitting and making meaningless noise during their dialogue, ask if there’s anything you can do to initiate change or do research to find out for yourself. If a particular sentence or idea truly moves you during the dialogue or presentation and you feel you must somehow show the speaker your solidarity, you can make a forward-facing fist and move it forwards and backwards. This small movement is “yes” in sign language, and this silent affirmation alerts the speaker of your support and understanding without taking any attention away from them through sound.  

Since coming to Williams, I have been truly struck at how much people want to learn from one another. And again, by how much we all benefit from sharing our stories and experiences. Yet, when we put our peers on a stage and ask them to share their lives with us, we steal away a piece of their voice by inserting ourselves into a personal narrative we often don’t understand. It’s important for us all to remember that the validity of another’s experiences does not rest on our fingertips. It doesn’t make us better people, and it doesn’t help the speaker we claim to stand with. So, next time you  go to snap, ask yourself: Am I snapping to serve the interests of the speaker or to appeal to the interests of myself?  

Ruth Kramer ’22 is from Maineville, Ohio.