In December, I had the opportunity to see one of my musical idols, Jay-Z, at the United Center in Chicago. I am astounded by what he has done for the community and for music in general. With the assistance of one of my best friends, I lucked out and landed 10th row seats. It was an amazing night that I will never forget. As most people my age do, I use Snapchat, and that night I video recorded some of the concert. The next morning, I got out of bed and, of course, checked my messages. Most of my friends were incredibly jealous (as they should have been), but I also received a message from an acquaintance. I was informed that it was “disgusting” that I was in such a place where the performer could spew hatred toward police officers without consequence.
At first, I was incredibly confused and thought maybe it was a mistake, so I asked what exactly he meant. During the show there were many mentions of Black Lives Matter, and there was a tribute to the fallen victims of police brutality and a tribute to NWA, a group that famously performed “F*ck tha Police.” I will spare you the details of the entire back and forth exchange, but it ended with a warning, “If you ever want to run for office, you need to be careful of the kind of people you hang around. I am trying to teach you something.” This warning was offensive and quite shocking. I was surrounded by professional men and women who were also having a great time, as one does at a concert. I then explained to my Caucasian acquaintance about Hip-hop music in the urban communities and how it resonates. And then it happened – I was lectured about the urban community as if I was not from South Side, Chicago. I lived on 79th Street, to be exact. This was the most recent incident, but not the first time, a person from outside the urban community attempted to “teach” me things about the neighborhood in which I grew up. I know that this unfortunately happens to many marginalized people every day, and especially to women.
The proper term for what happens to women regularly is “mansplaining.” For those not familiar with the term, the definition according to Google is, “a man explaining something, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” This happens more often than many people (especially men) realize. The most current example of this is Matt Damon. In December of 2017, he weighed in on the #MeToo movement, discussing how the nation wasn’t talking enough about men who aren’t predators. The public reaction was swift and immediate, as it should have been. Instead of understanding the horrific stories that were coming out all over the world of men taking advantage of their positions in power, he attempted to deflect to men who follow the law and don’t sexually assault people. The issue does not lie with the men who abide by the laws and respect women, which is why we are not discussing them. Another example, a much more personal one, took place when I was once having a conversation with a female friend regarding being catcalled. Another male coworker came over and joined our conversation. He began to explain to her that it wasn’t such a big deal, and that she should be flattered. You read that correctly. She, a woman who lives alone, should be flattered that strange men yell sexually obscene things to her as she enters her home.
This phenomenon also happens to people of color on a regular basis. This also has a name, and it is called “whitesplaining.” I can personally attest that this has happened to me all of my life, and still does. I have said that sometimes I think white men feel the need to urgently speak over me and correct me. And just as the sun rises in the east, there will be a white man who jumps in, speaks over me, and explains to me that not all white people do that. The problem with this mindset is that if you are trying to learn something about me, jumping in will not help. My intention when discussing this with friends and coworkers is not to accuse “all white people,” but in the course of conversation, maybe time did not allow for me to reassure you, because I am internally prepared for you to cut me off. Another kicker is the argument that you heard someone else say the complete opposite. For example, if you are listening to a Mexican-American explain how hard becoming a legalized citizen is, for the love of all that is holy, do not cut them off to explain to them that your other Mexican-American friend said it was a piece of cake. Just because two people are of the same race or religion or sex or sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean that their journey is exactly the same. The biggest problem with this form of “explaining” is that it disregards and dismisses legitimate fears of marginalized people. For instance, as a heterosexual person, you might not understand why HIV/AIDS rates are on the rise again in the gay community. You might say, “Why don’t they just use condoms?” This is logical, correct, to ask one broad question of millions of people who come from different circumstances? No, it is not. What you have just done is dismiss an entire group’s problem because it does not fit into your narrative. Instead of condemning, choose to listen.
One of the best lines I have ever heard is, “God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason.” We must all listen to each other and not interrupt, accuse, and de-legitimatize. It is not the marginalized person’s goal to make you comfortable, and it is not their mission to consider your personal feelings while trying to explain their situation to you. Yes, Matt Damon, we understand that you may be a “good guy” but THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Many of us have benefitted from privilege, whether we want to admit it or not. I have personally never had anyone explain to me how a car works or explain to me how football is played, because I inherently possess male privileges. It’s not about shaming or criticizing you, the reason marginalized people speak out is because they realize you might not understand their situation. Leave your feelings at the door and listen. So, to my acquaintance, who I mentioned in the beginning of this article, who tried to shame me for being proud that I am black and out and having a good time: IT. WASN’T. ABOUT. YOU.
Contributing Editor: Ken Mejia-Beal
Ken Mejia-Beal is a concerned citizen, who cares deeply for his country. Ken wants to make the world a better place for all people. A capitalist with a heart who believes in free thinking and human rights. Ken wants to use his words in order to shine a light on political ventures in order to allow those without knowledge to form strong positions through fact based conversation. Ken resides in DuPage County, within Illinois. He has ambitions to motivate those around him to communicate differing ideas while remaining civil.