I’ve been in a couple of situations lately I’ve witnessed the racial equivalent of Mansplaining. That is, Whitesplaining. In short, it’s when a white person explains to a non-white person how they should react to the use of a particular racially loaded term or epithet. It also happens when a white person explains how non-white people should react to said to said terminology in an all white group. In short, “this should offend you/them more or less than that” or, “that shouldn’t offend you/them at all.”
The first time this happened recently was at dinner last weekend when I was told with authority by a white man that calling Asian people “oriental” isn’t nearly as offensive as “some other terms.” Seeing as how the average white person isn’t an authority on being an Asian, none of us have the right to say one way or the other what is more or less offensive for an Asian person.
Also recently I was in a position where the phrase “nappy headed” was used repeatedly in a public space I frequent. (I’m sorry I can’t be more specific than that. There are privacy reasons involved.) I was horrified. When I spoke with a POC friend who was also there she said she’d registered a complaint and was told that it was a “minor” thing and that “we can’t do anything about it.”
Naturally, the hierarchy at this particular institution is almost exclusively white. Nobody there was in a position to understand how truly offensive that particular phrase was. And, truthfully, as horrified as I was, I can’t truly appreciate it either as I’m also white. I was heartened to later find out that enough people had complained that they’re “working on it” but I have to imagine that if a term like “cracker” had been used they’d be working faster.
All of this is to say, we as white people have a responsibility to be allies and to fight against racism. We can be horrified by it, we can be shocked by it, but we don’t get to define it any more than men get to define sexism for women or decide what constitutes “real” rape. I’m looking at you Todd Akin, Mike Huckabee, Paul Ryan, etc. ad infinitum.
Be an ally, call it out when you see it, and stop telling people subject to this treatment in our society that their experience isn’t valid. Whitesplaining doesn’t help anything and it is wrong.