Mansplaining and other forms of communication

There are lots of terms just alienate some people. Black Lives Matter. White privilege. Institutional racism.

mansplainer1Arthur, the executive producer of the vast AmeriNZ empire wonders:

How do you reconcile agreeing philosophically with people, yet being #@$%*! annoyed with them? I’m thinking of political activists, religious people, whatever. Generally speaking, do you tend to focus on the agreement and ignore what annoys you, or does your annoyance prevent you from acknowledging the agreement?

I used to have this brother-in-law. Back in 1977, my gypsy year, I crashed on his and my sister’s sofa during the summer. They lived in Queens, but he and I occasionally went into Manhattan on the subway. He was all into renewable energy, the kind of ideas President Jimmy Carter was talking about – and America largely rejected. But BIL was a sanctimonious pain, who would point out the foibles of other people – “No one is talking to each other” – while oblivious to his own.

I have found that period to be useful training in dealing with political activists this season, especially the Jill Stein for President people. Not that I can’t get a little irritable. I was asked if I really thought Clinton would do the litany of things she said, and I said yes, she’d make the effort, on the domestic front. Then I was told why I was wrong. Hey, do you want my opinion, which you asked for, or not? I got an apology out of that, shocking in the Facebook era.

Hey, I understand voting for the Green Party. I voted for Nader, twice, for President. I voted Green Party for governor at least thrice because New York State has this peculiar provision that, in order to have people registered in the party, the gubernatorial candidate has to get a certain threshold of votes. So don’t get all “you’re a sellout” on me.

I have a friend who’s aggravated by the imperfection of a certain religious institution in terms of inclusiveness, though it’s trying hard to meet that ideal. She’s frustrated; I’m of the opinion that it’s heading in the right direction, but the entity is made up of flawed, imperfect people – aren’t we all? – wanting to do the correct thing.

So it is situationally dependent. I’m fine with the Stein people – I don’t tell them they’re really voting for Trump. But they need to allow me the same courtesy. And religious people who, for reasons of goodwill, do the wrong thing, I sigh and say, “OK, did you know why someone might find that offensive?” But I don’t give up the ship, or the fight, or whatever analogy I’m going for.

We often hear about “mansplaining“, when a man, usually arrogantly, “explains” things to a woman. I recently also heard “whitesplaning” to describe white people “explaining” to black people what the nature of racism is, Black Lives Matter, etc. In your opinion, is there such a thing as “blacksplaining”?

[LAUGHS HEARTILY.] Oh, yeah, and I’ve heard it all my life, long before the term existed. And it comes from all political stripes, including people on the left who tell me X is racist when I just don’t see it.

Oh, and I don’t think “splaining” is always arrogant. Patronizing, sure.

And, are all these “splaining” names useful for understanding and exposing bias, or are they attempts to shut down debate? Are they used to intimidate people into silence, or are they merely a way to get people to see their own blind spots and arrogance?

Yes, it can be all of the above.

I got into some FB conversation with a guy I’ve known only online. Some woman accused him of mansplaining, and I thought she was correct. He did not, and went back and forth with the woman, and a bit from me.

By the end of the conversation, I was willing to concede, as he wanted, that maybe he wasn’t mansplaining, but he was just being, in his words, “an arrogant prick.” Hey, you win.

There are lots of terms that just alienate some people. Black Lives Matter. White privilege. Institutional racism. Racist, which, according to more than a few, only applies to people who wear white robes and hoods. So person T can’t be racist because he knows some black people, and some of them even endorse him for President.

Some days, I think calling someone a racist is unproductive, not because it’s untrue, but because it defines the totality of who they are, and they get their hackles up. (Random thought: What IS a hackle?)

Occasionally I find it easier to talk about racist acts because that’s more manageable. Of course, then they start quoting Avenue Q. They compare a verbal gaffe with excluding minorities from housing units, and shrug, “Well, everyone’s a little racist,” as though they were at all equivalent.


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