WHY LABELING AN OPINION AS “MANSPLAINING/WHITESPLAINING” MIGHT BE SEXIST/RACIST PREJUDICIAL TROPES THAT STUNT DISCOURSE.

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-By Kween Emmanuels

Imagine this: you’re a woke woman, on social media, venting about your frustrations with your encounters with sexism or racism (as the case may be) and then out comes this man (maybe one of a different race), to tell you that your views are wrong — that most likely you’re looking at it from the wrong viewpoint. You are most likely to go off and put him in his place, shutting him down for trying to explain your experiences to you from his own angle. A name/tag exists for this common instances of men (whites) interrupting women (blacks) to explain their own (women or blacks) experiences to them. It’s called “Mansplaining” (or “Whitesplaining” where race is concerned).

But before you put these labels on him. Kindly consider these:

1. The assumption of subjective fiat:

Those labels are firmly rooted in the idea that it is near impossible for a person of a different sex, gender, or race to accurately understand the experiences of people different from him, or at least to be incapable of shedding more profound insight than the one who has those lived experiences. This is not entirely true. I might not have experienced being hit by a car, but I do know it would hurt. While I concede that because experiences are subjective, they are subject to varying explanations, these experiences do stem from real situations, and these situations are objective and can be studied and based on that knowledge, inferences made. Though I cannot say how much pain you’re passing through from being hit by a car, but I can very much examine the wound itself and know if it would hurt or not. The idea that whites today cannot possibly know what blacks passed through during the slave era in the US because their (white) ancestors perpetrated and perpetuated one of the worst acts of inhumanity in human history is odd. It is almost like saying a doctor cannot possibly understand the pain his patient is passing through because he’s never suffered such painful illness. It is possible to study these stimuli and people’s responses to them and make informed (or uninformed) judgements from them

Another odd fact is that these labels almost always never surface when the same opinion for which a member of a different group earns the tag(s) is being propagated by a member of the same group as the subject. It is never “mansplaining” if a woman tells another woman the exact same thing a man tells her (or a black person telling another black what the white person, whose opinions were labeled “Whitesplaining” a few seconds ago, said). Strangely, when the opinions of the man (or white person) is in tandem with the experience of the woman (or black person) —when it seems to support it — the tags are visibly absent. If the opinions of the white person on racism or of the man, on menstrual pains, match with the experiences of the black person (or woman), it is not Whitesplaining or Mansplaining, even though, technically, it is still a white person (or man) doing the explaining. Chants of approval and/or cheers go up. Doesn’t it amount to racial prejudice (or sexual prejudice) that these labels are only used when the views are at odds with the experiences of the subject?

Opinions can be wrong or right. Granted, they are formed from our view of our world, clouded by our biases, and shaped by our experiences, but they are opinions nonetheless. They should be treated as such. A man can hold a valid or wrong opinion about a woman’s experiences. A white person can hold a valid or wrong opinion about a black person’s experiences. These opinions are not wrong because the person is white or a man. The opinion is wrong because it is unsubstantiated/illogical/wrong. The labels show the bias in their origin and usage. You call the explanation white because it doesn’t conform with your subjective black experience. Significant effort should be put into separating the opinion from the person. Where an opinion is wrong, tackle the opinion. One must resist the urge to tack labels on people’s foreheads because it reduces the scope of the argument and colors the discourse.

No one wins when discourse is shutdown.

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