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Whitesplaining: Sit Down and Shut Up

January 31, 2018

Last night I was inspired to write a blog, a ranty, angry blog, about whitesplaining, by a thread on the facebook feed of a friend who I admire greatly.  “What is that?” I hear my loyal yet surprisingly unaware reader cry.  Then, logging on this morning I saw that the white supremacist POTUS Donald Trump had given his State of the Union address (in short, not the best state it’s been in, in my opinion) in which he stated that the rates of unemployment for Black people in the United States had dropped to an all-time low and that he was taking credit for this.

The faces of the Congressional Black Caucus, who attended according to CBC Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to “stare racism in the face”, say it all.  Watching as the least popular president in historical record takes credit for the hard work and achievements of the previous POTUS, Barack Obama; watching as Trump does not even acknowledge his 1 point drop is riding on the coattails of the 9 point drop in unemployment Obama’s government earned.  Not a clap, not a smile, not a nod of approval or acknowledgement of Trump’s words, as he whitesplains at, and erases history all over, the attendees.

CBC listening to Trump Jan 2018

My friend made a post specifically asking people of colour to respond to her query, which was about the Me Too movement and whether they felt included or excluded from what has been happening in recent months.

Simple query, specific in direction, and a fabulous opportunity to learn from people as they comment and provide teachable moments, I thought.  I’m white, I have no business commenting on anything in that thread as I don’t have the experience, knowledge, understanding or comprehension of the experiences of people of colour as I am white and have benefited from white privilege all my life, I thought.  The first step in learning is to sit down, shut up, open my ears and mind and listen, I thought.  Even if I have specific knowledge, it is still not my place to speak as I respect my friend and her request (as I would in any discussion in which I have the privilege which is being discussed) and want to learn, I thought.

I watched and read and marvelled in horror at some of the comments that were made.  White women giving their opinions and stating the comments, thoughts and experiences of people of colour in the thread were wrong because…. Well, it doesn’t matter what the reasoning was, it was whitesplaining.  Just because you may have friends, family, loved ones or children who are defined as and seen as ‘of colour’ does not mean you, or I, or anyone as a white person can speak on behalf of the lives, the testimonies, of people of colour.

The sheer arrogance and effrontery that my friend was confronted with, from people she had known, it seems, for a very long time, was boggling to my mind.  They didn’t listen; they took offence at being called out, they blocked the discussion, they spat their opinions and shut the conversation down.  They allowed for no rebuttal.  It is my white privilege that I don’t have this talking over of my racial experience, because mine is the dominant one.  My experience is the default racial experience.  It is the experience society assumes we all have and we most definitely don’t.

Whitesplaining is an empowering term which is used to minimise the very real damage that is done by white people seeking to insert themselves into a conversation, an experience and an understanding that we simply do not have.

Would a GP perform surgery?  Would a historian teach mathematics?  Would a musician be appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer? If polymaths, perhaps, but in general terms no.  Even if you have related expertise such as intersectional experiences of oppression (in my case, disability and gender) that does not mean you are in any way qualified to talk about the experiences you have no expertise in or knowledge of.

Worse than that, by talking over, around and through the voices you should be listening to, you are missing the opportunity to really learn.  You are stomping on the fertile ground of growth.  You are whitesplaining society into a position of continued oppression and white supremacy.

Don’t be that person.  Sit down, shut up and be thankful that anyone who has spent their lifetimes being oppressed by people who look just like you is willing to try and help you out of the bigotry you and society are in.

No-one owes us white people a lesson, we have no right to expect to be treated with calmness, care and respect when you consider that oppression kills our brothers and sisters who do not have the same white skin as us.  If you cannot understand the anger that exists in the hearts of the oppressed, you really haven’t been paying attention, and yet still we are provided with myriad opportunities to learn.

And yet still we whitesplain all over them.  Friends, family, people we care about, we whitesplain their lives.  If it makes me livid, me as a white woman whose privilege means I can ignore such rudeness if I choose, I can only imagine how angry it makes those who are being silenced.

Sit down.  Shut up.  If in doubt about your conduct in any way, sit down, shut up and learn.



From → Ideology, political

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