On ‘Splaining: A lexicon of privilege posturing

Privilege posturing is when someone with a relatively socially-privileged identity takes control of a conversation.  It is purely structural and relational — content doesn’t matter as much.  Reasons can vary, from naive enthusiasm (e.g., really wanting to show or prove to the other that you “get it”) or combative defensiveness (often when conversation turns toward identifying the power dynamic or privilege inherent in the conversation).  As such, it exists as a type of micro-aggression helping to silence and marginalize voices that do not represent the status quo.  Representation can be based on identity (e.g., a white male voice) or on structure (e.g,. using master’s tools) or content.

I encountered feminists’ rhetorical invention of “mansplaining” first:

mansplain:  the magazine for women, written by men

still confused about mansplaining? this should break it down for you. ironically enough, it describes most things targeted “for women” in patriarchal societies, which is a reason why feminists and other liberation movements have worked hard at creating their own (e.g., black, women, queer, blue collar) spaces.

More recently, I encountered the term “whitesplain,” describing the more subtle ways the aggressions of the current race war work.   I think Xsplain is just too useful of a tool for us to stop at that.

Use of the tool

I think these words have utility as a shorthand to help us more easily identify, call out and hold to account privileged posturing wherever it exists.

So let’s break it apart and start creating and using and popularizing more Xsplains!

‘Splain:  short for “explaining.”  Explaining always entails a power dynamic between the speaker and the listener.  ‘Splaining is a specific sort of explaining that is often non-consensual, patronizing and entitled.  In other words, the person on the receiving end does not want to be “explained to” or have “things explained to them.”  They might want to have a conversation, but maybe they want to do some explaining of their own, to feel heard or listened to or acknowledged or legitimized, or they want to engage in a mutual exploration, rather than have the ‘Splainer hijack and take control.  Content-wise, the splaining is often just wrong, too.  But insidiously enough, it can technically be accurate and still be ‘splaining.  Entitlement and privilege are fun like that…

(preceded by) X:  a (preferably) one-syllable description of the privileged social category of the person doing the ‘splaining relative to the person on the receiving end.  Keeping X to one syllable (e.g,. man, white, wealth, faith, straight, gay) I think helps with speaking and using and popularizing these words as anti-oppression tools.

Some suggestions moving forward

#mansplain:  when the splainer’ is a man, and the victim is almost any other gender identity (woman, queer, etc).

#whitesplain:  white people telling black people how racism works, or how they’re not racist, etc.

#straightsplain:  when straight people tell gay or queer people how homophobia works or how they’re not homophobic.  I would also add #gaysplain for when gay people tell bi or other queer people things like, “you have to pick a side eventually.”

#wealthsplain:  when economically privileged tell people myths they actually believe about how they think the economy and economic success (as a chauvinistic interpretation of life success) works.  It often results in trite diatribes such as, “Get a job, you lazy bum” or “You hate us because we’re successful!”

#faithsplain:  when people of popular, well-accepted faiths tell agnostics, atheists or minority believers how faith, spirituality and religion work.

What sort of ‘splaining have you encountered or participated in?

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