Just like women don’t want to hear a man’s opinion on sexual harassment, people of color don’t want to hear white people’s opinions on racism. You can try to imagine what it’s like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, but when it’s all said and done, you get to leave that image behind you and live your life with white skin. Racism has been around before any of us and will continue to divide people long after we’re all gone. That doesn’t mean we can’t make an effort towards change though.
If you’re white, you’re racist. You might not mean to be, but certain stereotypes and ways of thinking have been enforced by the media, by our families, by advertisements, by our education, by our president. The line between what’s okay and what’s wrong isn’t always clear. This includes whitesplaining. From one white person to another, here are some signs that you’re whitesplaining and need to shut up.
1. You’re Telling People Facts About Their Own Culture
Whether you’re speaking to someone of Asian, African, or Mexican descent, it’s safe to say that they know more about their culture than you do. It doesn’t matter if your ex/best friend/neighbor share their culture. They’re right, and you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions about a person’s culture, assuming they aren’t offensive. Whitesplaining occurs when you dominate the conversation with information the other person’s culture, speaking as if everything you’re saying hasn’t been how they’ve lived their entire lives. You aren’t sharing anything new with them. Just keep your mouth shut an move on.
2. You Explain Racism As A Misunderstanding
If a person of color is sharing an experience they had with racism, don’t tell them what “they probably meant.” Even if you were there and saw the whole thing happen, understand that the person you are with has likely experienced discrimination throughout their entire life. They know what it means when a white person says, “You’re pretty for a black girl,” or “The restroom is only for paying customers.” When they react to the situation, they’re not reacting to just one incident but a lifetime of racial bias and oppression. If you try to explain what the negative commenter “really meant” or tell them they must have “misunderstood” the situation, you’re whitesplaining and need to just stop.
3. You Use The Words Of Some People Of Color Against Others
When it comes to racism, it’s great to listen to people of color share their experiences and their opinions. However, it’s important to remember that one person of color does not speak for all people of color. This means that if you know a black person who doesn’t support Black Lives Matter because of X, Y, and Z you shouldn’t throw that in the face of another black person when the subject comes up. Imagine talking to a white coworker about the Trump administration. They don’t support Trump or ICE separating immigrant children from their parents. To prove their points on the subject wrong, you point out some opposing data on why ICE is great for America that you heard a white anti-Trump YouTube celebrity say in a video. Would you do this? Probably not, because you understand that even two white Trump resistors can have different opinions on immigration. The same goes for black people and their views on Black Lives Matter.
4. You’re Defensive When Racism Comes Up
People of color will sometimes point out acts of racism. This could be in advertising, an article, or a simple tweet. While it’s about educating everyone on the subject in order to promote change, it’s not uncommon that people get defensive. White people, in particular. Even a general comment about a black stereotype portrayed in a shared meme will inspire outcries of “But I’m not racist!” making it all about white people and their feelings. This, my friends, is whitesplaining. Racism isn’t about us and who determines what is and what isn’t racist doesn’t have white skin. They’re not calling you a racist, and even if they are, hear them out. Maybe they have a point.
5. You Disregard Racism For The Sake Of Unity
Racism is a huge problem in our country, and disregarding its existence isn’t going to make it suddenly go away. So when a person of color is having a discussion with you on the subject, don’t shut down the conversation. Instead, just listen to them. Saying things like, “Why can’t we leave race out of it” and “Talking about racism is dividing people” in order to stop someone from talking about racism is whitesplaining. Talking over them and interrupting them to say these things is even worse. Think about it. A white person disregarding racism when talking to a person of color is like a man disregarding sexism when talking to a woman. It sucks. Just don’t do it.
6. You Talk About Being Colorblind
If you think you’re somehow immune to racial stereotypes and bias, well you’d be wrong. And saying things that imply that you’re “colorblind” is incredibly rude. Here’s why. Saying things like “I don’t see color” is just taking the easy way out when it comes to an important issue. It also implies that being black, Mexican, Asian, etc. is a bad thing and that their culture isn’t as important as yours. You’re proud to be Irish, or Italian, or whatever right? Well, people of color are proud of where their families have come from also. Imagine how you would feel if you were talking to someone about a Greek tradition in your family and they just dismissed it.
Now that you know the signs of whitesplaining, let’s go over a few things you can do the next time racism comes up in conversation with a person of color:
- Be humble and listen.
- Don’t take things personally.
- Avoid interrupting or talking over them.
- Don’t act like you’re their white knight here to save the day.
- Ask questions and be open to learning.
- Don’t be arrogant or condescending.
- Have self-control and think before you speak.