Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blacksplain vs. Mansplain vs. Whitesplain vs. Poem

I wrote the poem "Song of the Fatigued Blacksplaining Folk" during National Poetry Month of this year, and recently turned it into a digital poster that's embedded farther down in this blog post. As the title indicates, and to borrow the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, "I am tired of being sick and tired" of explaining racism in America and how racist policies hurt not only people of color but the entire country.

Of course, living under Jim Crow laws, Ms. Hamer had a much tougher life than I did. Still, I get frustrated sometimes because some of the words that come out of the mouths of some white people sound like they'd be fine with returning to Jim Crow. Yes, there are many "white allies," who want America to live up to its credo, but there area also many who refuse to even attempt to understand systemic racism and how it contributes to many of the problems found in black communities, especially poor black communities.

Also, the last two years have been more difficult than usual because of the increase in the number of unarmed black people killed by either police officers or by white citizens. Both the officers and the vigilantes tend to claim they felt threatened even when the black person, often a young black male, is unarmed. Essentially they assert black people's bodies are weapons.

I had the pleasure of reading my poem at the Poetry Buffet at Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue earlier this fall. The multi-ethnic audience appeared to enjoy it.

© 2014 Nordette N. Adams

Click picture to enlarge.

You may have heard the invented words mansplain, which is a combination of man and explain, and whitesplain, as in white people explaining. The word blacksplain is a combination of black, meaning black people, and explain. However, unlike mansplain, which is the word given to a condescending explanation a male gives to a female, the word blacksplain is usually not associated with condescension, unless, of course, a white person is defining it who's shown him or herself to be a racist jackass. If that's you, then a black person may have blacksplained something to you in a condescending manner before.

Usually to blacksplain is to explain some aspect of black culture, history, heritage, or experience to a person who is not black. That person may be a sincere person who is asking a potentially offensive question but does not mean to offend. Or that person may be a racist jackass who still doesn't understand that America works this way: A black person has to be able to shift between white culture and black culture/white world and black world easily in order to be successful. But often white people don't have to know anything significant and factual about black people in order to be successful.

Frequently black people end up blacksplaining on some racism-related topic. For example, at, the first definition of blacksplain is actually an example of racist hate speech that's allowed to remain there probably because their editors are hipsters (see hipster racism) who think it's okay to have the offensive defintion since a more accurate definition follows it. In reality, the definition of blacksplain on that website is very similar to how n*gg*r used to be defined in the Webster's dictionary as "a Negro person." Only the worst stereotypes are included in the definition, but they let it ride because I guess they consider themselves "urban."

The word urban is often used as a euphemism for people of color, primarily black people, Latinos, and Mexicans, but as is the often the case, on one hand its used to marginalize people of color and on the other a white person uses it to make money. An even better example of that phenomena would be the success of Thug Kitchen. At CNN, healthy food activists Bryant Terry does an excellent job of blacksplaining why Thug Kitchen is problematic.

Now for the term whitesplain, it usually means that a white person is speaking condescendingly to a black person or other person of color when giving a white person's definition of racism (often wholly inadequate and stuck on overt racism) or is explaining why everything in America is fair and just: black people just need to work harder, and what about that "black on black crime" and those fatherless households. Another example of whitesplaining involves a white person telling a black person that in their eyes skin color is irrelevant. "I see everyone as the same. I'm color blind," they say, even as they speak to the black person in ways that make skin color very relevant.

It's possible also for a black person to whitesplain the world because frequently you may come across black people who have internalized the white supremacist propaganda against black people and don't think much of their own black skin and culture. For instance, it's possible that a black person wrote the first blacksplain definition at Ironically that definition reads like whitesplaining.

But I'm not going to write here again all the reasons I am tried and worn out from blacksplaining. If you're interested in why that may be, though, please read my post on Toni Morrison's 1975 lecture. I'll just say here that I was a lot less tired before Trayvon Martin's death and the violent deaths of black people who have followed him since then and who were pre-judged and killed because they are black. And I'm really disappointed in myself that I've written this blog post that has some blacksplaining in it again.

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