Writer Dan Kois offers up a short rebuke of multi-use bathroom workhorse the washcloth today on Slate's houseguest vertical, "Entertaining." Kois says it is time for hosts to stop offering guests washcloths. Besides complaints about the washcloth's efficiency, Kois also writes that he finds the small square of fabric used in some American homes just plain "gross" and archaic.
"Once upon a time, washcloths were the only way to wash your body," he writes, later adding, "These Dark Ages lasted from exactly 1200 to the 1990s, when someone finally invented the synthetic shower scrub, that poof of nylon mesh that hangs in civilized bathrooms."
Kois may have thought twice about his scorning of washcloths as implements of the unwashed masses if he were aware of the racial politics of the washcloth. That is, white people don't use them, but black people do, and thus writing them off as "uncivilized" carries with it a load of historical baggage I am sure Kois never meant to summon. It also turns out that not using a washcloth seems just as disgusting to some black people as using a washcloth seems to Kois. "When we look at your bathroom and see that there’s only one bar of soap for three people, we shudder. Do you like your mom’s poop on your face? I didn’t think so. Then why, white people, do you share the same bar of soap to wash your butt and your face?" wrote an anonymous black blogger in 2011.
Does Dan Kois like poop on his face? Probably not. But asking him is a good lesson in how what seems uncouth and filthy to a group of people varies drastically from culture to culture.
A quick survey of the Gawker staff showed a couple interesting things: 1. A few of the white Gawker staffers had never heard of the theory that blacks use washcloths more than whites—is this a divide to which most whites are ignorant?—and 2. A couple of the white staffers use washcloths themselves while I do not, despite having been raised in a home with a black father.
Now we're interested in what you do. Below this post we'd like Gawker readers to help us find some clarity on the age-old washcloth discussion.
1. Follow this format. To keep it easy and organized, put your responses in this format.
Do you washcloth?: Yes or no.
Your background: Are you black or white, or maybe you're a Chinese person raised by a Mexican lady who married an Irish cop in Dallas? This is the modern world.
Why: Explain what you have been taught—or what you've experienced—that leads you to believe using a washcloth is either better or worse than not using a washcloth.
2. Please don't leave direct comments on this article. If you have something you want to say that can't be said in the format above, attach it to a relevant anti-endorsement.
3. Keep it short and direct.