By JR on Monday, November 23, 2015
'Whitesplaining': what it is and how it works
Leftists usually run away from any contact with conservative discourse because the factual points made by conservatives are toxic to Leftist beliefs. As a conservative, however, I have no fears about Leftist discourse and am always ready to learn so I read quite a lot of Leftist writing, even though I am often disappointed by its vacuity.
So I read with interest the attempt below by Catriona Elder (an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney) to explain some very fashionable Leftist tropes.
There she is, complete with feminist haircut
Sadly, however, amid her long ramble below I have found nothing but opinion. I would have thought that a social science professor might have brought some facts and data to bear but she has not done so.
And even her reasoning is just a ramble. I have read the article carefully, with particular attention to her view that being "colour-blind" is somehow wrong. Why is it wrong? She does not say -- but simply asserts that we are not in fact colour blind. Our behaviour does not match our beliefs. That is no new point, however; psychologists have been saying that since the 1930s.
But surely being color blind is a worthy goal? Perhaps not. It is difficult to get a grip on what she is saying but she seems to think that we should become MORE race-conscious. She wants us to SEE racial differences rather than ignore them.
That is very naive. The whole motivation behind the colour-blind people is to avoid us seeing too much. There ARE real race differences in educational attainmemnt, occupational attainment, crime-rates, IQ and much else. In one way I could be seen as her ideal person. I DO look at and report race differences. I have many published academic journal articles on race-related topics. And, as a psychometrician, I always feel free to mention black IQ if it is relevant.
Is that what she wants? I doubt it. She wants some ideal world where people see only those things that she wants them to see.
And her comments on privilege are frankly Marxist. Marx said that what you see depends on where you are. While that is trivially true in some ways, Marx meant that there was no objective truth and that what you see as truth will depend on your social class position. Catriona thinks the same, except that she sees your race as the important influence on your perceptions.
The nature of truth is a very large philosophical topic so, despite my interest in such matters I will forgo any attempt to address it fully here. Suffice it to say that those who deploy the "no absolute truth" weapon aim a gun at their own heads.
For example, if there is no absolute truth, why should I believe anything that Catriona says? She might simply be seeing the world from her own privileged viewpoint (I think she does) and all her resultant conclusions from that might simply be wrong and worthy only of being disregarded. She evidently wants to say that nothing is right excerpt what she says. Which is roughly what Mussolini said. She is a neo-Fascist.
So as far as I can see, what she says is an expression of muddled and poorly-founded opinion that expresses a diffuse sense of rage but achieves nothing more. I certainly fail to see from her writing that "race-blind" people are doing anything unworthy. Given that there are real and not always congenial differences between the races, I think that they are in fact rather heroic people. Ignoring race differences may be the best most people can do when it comes to fostering harmonious race relations
I am not entirely sure that I am spending my time wisely in commenting on the addled lucubration of an airhead like Catriona but her position in a senior university post is significant. The feebleness of her "explanations" should help to confirm in the minds of my fellow conservatives that even the smarter end of Leftism is intellectually incompetent. Had her screed been presented to me as a student essay in my time teaching sociology at Uni NSW, I would have failed it on the grounds of its incoherence.
Have you ever had an experience where someone is explaining to you, maybe in a lot of detail, something you actually already know quite a lot about? Possibly about your own life?
It’s frustrating. But it’s not a random occurrence, and it’s often about power. There’s a word for it: “whitesplaining”.
It’s a term that’s been in high rotation over the past couple of weeks, thanks to Hollywood film star Matt Damon and Australian radio and TV personality Kyle Sandilands, whose comments around issues of racial diversity and sexuality have sparked debate around issues of white privilege and “colour-blindness”.
Let’s reexamine their comments:
While appearing on Project Greenlight two weeks ago, Matt Damon - in the midst of a discussion about forming a directorial team for a reality show - argued the decision to appoint a director should be based on merit rather than diversity.
His comments suggest diversity is only an issue when casting actors, not behind-the-scenes crew such as directors.
A short while later, Damon gave an interview to The Observer where he argued gay actors should remain private about their sexuality:
"But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play."
As Nigel Smith pointed out in The Guardian, Damon’s point negated the interview he then gave, which spanned such personal topics as how he met his wife, their children and family life, his childhood and his political views.
Closer to home, Kyle Sandilands last week explained to the Australia television viewing public that the lack of non-white contestants on a new season of The Bachelorette is irrelevant:
"I think a lot of young people don’t think like that. They don’t think 'Oh we better have a black, we better have a brown'."
Being ‘colour-blind’ and why it’s a problem
Let’s begin by unpacking Sandilands' comments. His perspective is one that suggests “people are people”.
About 20 years ago academic Ruth Frankenberg studied the phenomenon of white people explaining away race and difference by declaring “people are people”. Her book White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (1993), explores the unspoken racial hierarchies around us.
In her terms, Sandilands self-identifies as “colour-blind”. It means you say you don’t see racial difference. Often making reference to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about being judged not “by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,” proponents argue that drawing any attention to race is, in fact, more racist.
An extreme form of a colour-blind attitude to race can be seen in the US movement Unhyphenate America, which argues terms such as African-American are divisive:
"Cultural cohesion and connectedness are more important than having a 'diversity' of skin colour. Anyone can choose to be a part of this culture, because the principles aren’t ethnically exclusive."
Sandilands made his on-air comments in response to his guest Sam Frost’s defence that The Bachelorette producers didn’t even think about race when casting the show.
But in a “colour-blind” world, they should have thought about it - because all the contestants for The Bachelorette are the same colour. In fact, Australian television in general fails to reflect our diverse population. So what’s happening here?
The selection process for who ends up on our screens is not neutral because, like it or not, we do notice difference, including race or ethnic differences, and we act on this awareness in subtle ways.
Ways that end up suggesting that the bachelors of Australia are white.
This is where the episode of Damon “whitesplaining” the world of race to an African-American woman is useful to explore. Richard Dyer, another scholar of race and culture, describes these situations in terms of white invisibility and white privilege:
"White people create the dominant images of the world and don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their image."
White people move through the world in a way that is made to suit a particular worldview. Damon, in explaining away any need for affirmative action, or awareness of race in film and TV, is only saying: I, personally, did not need it. He does not see his whiteness and all the privileges that come along with it.
Whitesplaining - derived from “mansplaining” - is a new, zietgeisty, word, but it’s essentially an expression of privilege: the unconscious, unearned and largely un-examined benefits of prejudice.
The concept of “privilege” was fully articulated in its modern form by Peggy McIntosh in her 1988 essay,White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
In it, McIntosh lists specific and personal examples of her white privilege. Point number thirty is particularly relevant here:
"If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of colour will have."
Sandilands and Damon are white, famous, middle-aged men. They used their platforms to make statements about the nonexistence of social issues that actively benefit them.
All of this is not to say Damon or Sandilands are necessarily racist. Their comments, however, are examples of how easy it is for those with privilege to assume their experiences are universal. Because our media, our government and our cultural institutions constantly reflect whiteness back at us, it is easy act as if is the default.
Privilege is insidious because benefiting generally involves little to no effort. It is often the result of other people’s actions towards you, and requires simply that you look a certain way. Conversely, perpetuating privilege means acting on invisibly socialised patterns of behaviour.
Calling out whitesplaining is not about saying white people can’t talk about race: it means prioritising the voices of those with experience, not those with the loudest megaphone.