Since 1981, more women have earned a college degree. This is likely contributed to the gender gap, a disparity that exist between genders in multiple institutions in the United States. Women as a solo identity comes with tough decisions, such as facing the “second shift” at home, which refers to clocking out of a full-time job to come home to another, motherhood. Women often have to choose between their career and parenting because of the unrealistic expectations American society has for what it means to be a “good mother.” Motherhood is often intersectional with capitalism. Women are expected to compete with the mainstream soccer mom.
However, if women are so educated and overworked, why are they often mansplained too? Mansplaining is a pejorative term used to describe the action of a man commenting on or explaining something to a woman in an often condescending or oversimplified way. The assumption is that the woman does not know what she is talking about. The man reinforces his male superiority, a standard set by patriarchy in America, to overly exert himself. Women often face microaggressions. Psychologist Derald W. Sue defines microaggressions as, “The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people."
While there are obstacles for all women and stereotypes related to competence, Black women specifically face concrete ceilings that supersede gender as they are doubly oppressed. Black women are ranked the most educated group by race.
Here is context. I am a Black woman. I have made the Dean’s list every semester in my undergrad and in my graduate program. I graduated with my Bachelor’s in english with a double concentration in multicultural literature, creative writing, and a minor in social justice with a 3.8 grade point average. In my Master’s of Public Policy program with a leadership concentration, I graduated with a 3.7 grade point average. In no manner am I illiterate, so why is illiteracy or incompetence assumed in daily conversations? Why do other educated Black women face the same?
It goes back to slavery. Slave codes made it illegal for a Black woman to gain access to education. Therefore, the white slaveowners either conformed to the law or broke the law in an attempt to ease the white guilt they felt for enslaving the slave in the first place. They would refer to themselves as “good, slaveowners,” even though the two do not go hand in hand. However, slavery required attitudes of superiority and inferiority and dominance and dependence. These attitudes still exist today, whether implicit or explicit.
While many have heard of the terminology mansplaining, most may not be familiar with the concept whitesplaining. Whitesplaining is when white people condescendingly explain something — typically about race as well as other topics— to Black, indigenous or people of color.
Whitesplaining shows up in a variety of common ways, so much so, the categories keep growing.
- There is the whitesplainer who enters a meeting with a person of color and immediately “dumbs” down the conversation in an attempt to “get on their level.” This is with the assumption that the person of color is not educated and lacks competence.
- There is the whitesplainer, the one you are co-presenting with, who feels the need to give a whitesplanation after everything you say in the presentation or takes over altogether. They feel they have a superior ability to present the materials.
- There is the whitesplainer, who overly explains a simple word or topic with the assumption that you lack knowledge on the issue, even though perhaps you too work in the same field and/or have the same exact degree.
- There is the whitesplainer who defensively, in an attempt to prove that they are an ally and/or not racist, describes their friendship with other people of color. They continue to whitesplain that they do not see color while simultaneously denying a completely valid experience that was just brought to their attention, and therefore, proving their implicit racism.
- There is the whitesplainer and white superhero, who assumes you are in need of their white saviorship and enters into a conversation they were not invited to in order to speak on your behalf in the defense of racism. Yet, while well intentioned, they completely do not know what they are talking about and unintentionally silenced your voice.
- Lastly, there is the whitesplainer who disagrees with you on a topic that you are trying to bring to their attention. They proceed to say, “but another person of color said X,” or, “My other Black friends told me X.” Yet, you are not the same.
The list could go on. Other examples include, “Calm down a bit,” “You are so intense,” “You sound so angry,” “You speak with such a harsh tone,” and “You are so hostile.”
So how can you avoid whitesplaining and be the solution? Awareness is key.
- Firstly, understand that your experiences or lack thereof often shape the perspectives you bring to your work, daily interactions, and conversations. Acknowledge the identities you do not have, and do not assume your experiences are more valid than the person who actually carries the identity.
- Do your own research. Do not expect a person of color to educate you on a topic. Google valid resources and develop enough curiosity to learn on your own. Do not assume that you are more educated them them either.
- Listen to hear instead of speaking to respond. If someone is trying to bring something to your attention, do not shut them down.
- Check the stereotypes and stigmas you may carry about a culture. Ask yourself, “If the roles were reversed, would I want someone to assume this about me?”
- Do not assume someone does not have a voice. Give them an opportunity to speak. If they invite you to be an ally, that is something earned and not given.
- Is it a two-way conversation? Are you taking up too much space? Does the person seem disengaged? This means you are likely doing something wrong. Step up. Step Down. Share the air.
Simply put, be a good ally. Do not reinvent the wheel. Lean onto those who are already experienced. Respect their expertise. Respect them as an individual. Invest in a continuous journey of learning, and acknowledge that you are not the expert when it comes to someone else’s experiences.