The Whitesplaining Epidemic

To all of the people who identify as women out there, have you ever had the experience where you are talking to a man and during the course of the conversation he feels the need to explain something to you, oftentimes in a patronizing or condescending way? This is called mansplaining and it is a phenomenon that women face even if they have extensive knowledge on the given topic. For issues of race, there is whitesplaining. Similar to mansplaining, whitesplaining happens when a white person tries to explain something to a person of color in either an oversimplified or even an inaccurate way. People who engage in whitesplaining are not bad people, but as we learned in class this week, the intention of a comment does not exempt it from being racist.

A prime example of whitesplaining occurred recently on the ever popular television show The View. The controversial topic of Colin Kaepernick sitting down during the national anthem was brought up in the conversation. The composition of the group of women consisted of four white women and one woman of color, Whoopi Goldberg. Immediately, one of the white women expressed her feelings of how she thinks that Kaepernick’s actions are “disrespectful” despite exercising his constitutional rights. The conversation quickly became dominated by the white women at the table. Three minutes into the video, Goldberg tries to interject and the other women continue to talk over her. When Goldberg brings up the issue of the third stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the other women barely bat an eyelid. Not until I listened to this week’s “Politically Reactive” podcast did I even know that the song rhymed the words “slave” and “grave” with “Home of the Brave.”

In this instance, it felt like the white women were whitesplaining issues of race to Whoopi Goldberg and any other person of color in the audience or watching the show. Their white privilege allowed them to speak their opinions without bringing up topics of oppression or power that exist in this country. While watching the video, I felt frustrated for Goldberg as I watched her be silenced by these women who refused to acknowledge the apparent racism and slavery residing in the national anthem.

The conversation in class this week lead to an interesting discussion about the town hall meeting held at Muhlenberg last fall. I was abroad at the time, but what I gathered from my classmates was that after a while, a majority of the time at the microphone was taken up by white students. It sounds like, similar to The View, the voices of people of color were not being heard because the white people felt the need to express how horrible they felt about racism.

Sometimes, the best way to be an ally in these situations is to listen and allow the people whose voices have been previously silenced or been invisible to come to the forefront. Finding out that the world is an unjust place for a person who believed that the world is fair and based on merit can be shocking and upsetting; however, this white guilt will not accomplish anything in the long run. Instead of explaining issues of race, find the people who feel comfortable and identify as leaders of minority groups to share their experiences and views on privilege and oppression in this country. I am not saying that white people need to give people of color permission to speak out against injustices, rather that the voices of the dominant group should be supportive and acknowledge the systems of oppression that exist. How can the voices of people of color be brought to the forefront in order to end the whitesplaining epidemic?

2 thoughts on “The Whitesplaining Epidemic

  1. To address the question: “How can the voices of people of color be brought to the forefront in order to end the whitesplaining epidemic?” While I’m not sure we can make this happen on an everyday small-scale, there are ways of doing this on a larger scale first. I think we need to bring it back to a conversation we had in class about ally-ship. There need to be allies that are willing to claim platforms using their white privilege and then using that access to a platform to invite people of color to talk about the things they want to talk about without interruption. For example, a white TV host who has concerns about racial injustice but instead of preaching their own beliefs on their own, they invite a guest onto their show to give their point of view as a person of color.

    Although this might sound like a white person is giving them permission to speak, I think if this is done correctly, the dialogue between the person with the white privilege to whitesplain who chooses not to and a person of color who deserves a chance to speak uninterrupted and be heard can be a good model for how actually sit and listen to someone who has more stake and authority in a topic than you do.

  2. Reading your blog post, I noticed that I’ve also encountered “whitesplaining” and I never even realized it. Of course, I also have experienced “mansplaining”, which I’m sure every woman has like you mentioned. During my “mansplaining” experiences, I’ve tried pointing out that it was condescending, but of course – the guy was just trying to help! So, of course I felt invalidated. I would say the same goes for “whitesplaining” incidents.

    I do wonder if Kaepernick was white, would he experience the same criticism for “disrespecting” the national anthem? And I definitely feel an aversive racist tone, because the white women on The View and the white students here at Muhlenberg during the Town Hall (I was also abroad for it) seem to be well-intentioned, trying to “understand” and speak about their perspective. However, you’re right that it completely discredits and takes away POC voices. I think the biggest thing that can happen is white people allowing marginalized groups to have a voice and recognizing that they actually can (and do) provide insight into these personal, controversial situations, because they have lived the history.

What do you think? Join the conversation!