Whitesplaining is performed with condescending confidence that stems from white folks’ subjective points of view, which can lead them to insensitively speak for the experiences of people of color.
RECENTLY, I had a conversation with a white man who cited Capitol Hill as a shining example of the racial progress America has made because of its open homosexuality and diversity.
I wanted to respond that the word diversity can be empty without any institutional action behind it, and to point out that the gentrification and rising rent prices in progressive Capitol Hill have made it impossible to find an affordable place for many people. I wanted to tell him the story of the recent incident of a young white man who hurled hateful, racist slurs and expletives at professor Bob Hughes of Seattle University and Yoshiko Harden of Seattle Central College at the Starbucks on Pine Street, which faces a rainbow-flag crosswalk. But I chose not to.
The term “whitesplaining” is when some white folks try to explain racism, and the supposed lack of it, to people of color. Whitesplaining is performed with condescending confidence that stems from white folks’ subjective points of view, which can lead them to insensitively speak for the experiences of people of color. You might not see nor experience racism. You might choose to ignore it. You might make excuses for the avoidable deaths of black people and the discrimination they face despite so much evidence. But the things you do not see or cannot relate to are often others’ truths.
“People of color experience covert racism all the time,” I finally told the man. “It makes it harder to pinpoint because we can’t prove it, but we feel it and we know when and why we are discriminated against.”
“Really?” the man replied, “I don’t see it.”
Under Our Skin
It is tiring to explain the experience of racism to a white person who “doesn’t see it” or to explain the Black Lives Matter movement and white privilege to people who just “don’t get it.”
Questions and statements like, “Why are you so sensitive?” and “Stop being politically correct” are a few reasons why we need movements like Black Lives Matter and why we need people across all spheres of influence to speak up for black and brown lives.
We need to make sure the conversation about racial justice and equality are ongoing and to make sure you get so tired of asking why you need to be sensitive — until you just are. Being sensitive and aware of someone else’s experience does not stop you from being honest and true to your position and self. Just know that it is insulting and demeaning to speak for marginalized groups of people from a privileged perspective. And it’s exhausting to hear.
To those who reduce Black Lives Matter to a hate group and reduce the motives behind Colin Kaepernick’s protest to being anti-veteran or anti-American: Black folks and people of color are not being divisive for the hell of it. We are fighting peacefully for the right to move through life as freely as those who do not see color and excessive authority and vigilante violence on blackness.
But even mere words and peaceful expressions trigger so much anger. Open your minds and educate yourselves fully to understand the experience of “the other.” Don’t dismiss the chance to be educated further. Embrace it.