In the last twelve hours, I’ve been told—by two different men – that I am both “racially divisive” and “culturally divisive,” due to the words that I used.

In the case of the “racially divisive,” comment, a dude that I was arguing with in someone else’s comments section (it was a slow Friday night) mansplained to me that my points were *really* “a cry for federalism and libertarianism.” dude. My points were exactly what I just spent 15 minutes typing out for you: I don’t want a smaller government or a socialist one, I  want one where there is no White Supremacy.

Apparently he didn’t like that I used the term White Supremacy to describe the political, cultural, economic, and social power structure that exists in the US and so replied

“Wow, Jada. I was trying to find some common ground with you, but your hostility is palpable, and smacks more than a little of racial divisiveness.”

I emailed my friend part of this conversation to complain about how frustrating these arguments are, particularly when I make the effort to clearly articulate my own position and a dude mansplains to me what I *really* mean to say. Which, surprisingly, led to an argument where he told me that my use of “meaningless and culturally divisive terms” was the cause of his tepid response.

Except the term “mansplaining” is far from meaningless. It connects with most women immediately because it succinctly describes the phenomenon that women experience in a sexist society whereby men patronizingly tell you what you *really* mean even though you’ve clearly stated your thoughts, or they explain the most elementary stuff to you (even when they don’t know anything about it), or they discount your stated thoughts as emotional or reactionary. You know that experience when a guy corrects something that you’ve just said with well, actually and proceeds to either re-say your statement in his own words or uses it as a launching point to provide unasked for advice and recommendations. Yep, that’s mansplaining.

Naming this collective experience, allows us to grasp it, to nail it down, to make sense of in a larger context of combined experiences. It’s a way of saying “me too”. Also, “you’re not crazy.”

Hey that experience where your male co-workers ignore your proposals in a board meeting, but quickly agree when a man in the room says the exact same thing that you just said. That experience happens to me too. 

Far from being simply a symbol of shared consolation, however, once you can identify these common experiences, you can start to connect the dots, to outline the shape of a structure of power (sexism) that directly impacts the lives of women everywhere.

The same is true for my use of the term “White Supremacy.” How else does one describe the  ideology in a country where wealth and power are so heavily concentrated in one group due to the historical (and continued) oppression of other groups? How else to accurately and succinctly explain how white men, who make up some 31% of the population, are 91% of the CEOs of fortune 500 companies, the overwhelming majority of both the House and Senate,  95% of elected prosecutors.  Or that 96% of wealth in the United States rests in White households.   I won’t even dip into the social/cultural effects of an overwhelmingly white media (both liberal and conservative) and a white Hollywood.  Calling it White Supremacy identifies, accurately, the system that exist in the US.

But divisive is an interesting term, isn’t it? It’s nothing less than alchemy, turning the person naming the problem – calling out the system of oppression — into the *real* problem. A system that gives preferential treatment to one group at the (often violent) expense of other groups isn’t divisive. It’s me and the words that I use to name that system oppressing me that is the true problem. The fact that women are paid less then men isn’t divisive–it doesn’t create any hostility or tension–me noting it and saying it aloud is.

Just think about that: my use of “white supremacy” or “mansplaining” offends you or hurts your sensibilities, yet you’re unconcerned that such a system exists in the first place.

Such is the strange nature of oppression. If you speak out against it. If you dare to honestly share your experiences — if you dare to name the things that shall not be named– you will be disliked, misunderstood, mislabeled and attacked. Possibly reviled.  Your tone and attitude and vocabulary will be identified as the source of division and people will ignore the very system that compels you to speak in the first place.

Speak anyway. Systems don’t vanish because we maintain our silence. They don’t hurt us any less or leave less deep scars. They don’t promise immunity to our loves ones in exchange for us grinning and bearing it. As Audre Lorde says “your silence will not protect you.”

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living…

Because the machine will try to grind us into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in out corners mute forever while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned, we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and still we will be no less afraid.

-Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action


So speak. Continue naming and fighting the systems that oppress us. Speak until you find the words that you need. And take heart, you aren’t alone.




2 Comment on “On Being Divisive

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