Stop trying to whitesplain Black women’s experience in America
Written by B87FM on September 1, 2023
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
When I wrote about Coco Gauff having to advocate for herself in a workplace situation involving two white women, I knew they were going to come for me.
They are the protectors, enablers and upholders of whiteness.
Usually, they are white people, but I can’t say white people because then white people get upset and accuse me of generalizing an entire group of people, and although I know that I don’t mean all white people, they seem to get stuck on the phrase white people, and they feel included in it even if, as they claim, they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.
So before I go any further, let me please emphasize that as Black people, we understand NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE.
Anyway, as I said, I knew when I wrote that op-ed that the white people were going to come for me, and they were going to be upset that I made the observation that what happened with Coco is what happens to a lot of Black people in general but Black women specifically in the workplace.
I was immediately met with the “This was not about race!” comments. One person on Instagram said, “You’re nothing but a race-baiting POS. This had nothing to do with race,” and another left the following comment:
Let’s not blow this up for more than it was. Damn folks move on. Yes Coco rightfully stated her case. Players cry all the damn time for whatever reason. This is not two white ladies vs. one Black lady civil rights moment. Smh GTFOH!
Both comments are from anonymous private accounts with no real profile pictures, and accounts like these that pop up in the comments of posts about racial justice are almost always white people throwing a rock and hiding their hands.
In other words, white people love to come around and whitesplain the Black experience to Black people even though they have never been Black a day in their lives, and judging from the way their fragility and thin skin erupt into irrational outbursts on the internet, I’m going to guess they have neither the mental nor the intestinal fortitude to survive even one day in a Black experience.
White people don’t understand the inanity of having your tone policed when you are speaking up for yourselves in a situation when the power dynamic of race comes into play. They don’t understand that in situations like what Coco went through, you have to adapt to the sensitivities of the white person you are addressing even as they are trampling over yours with no regard. They can’t imagine a world where everything you do is viewed through the lens of you being Black and how that lens is clouded with the smudges of implicit bias, systemic racism and white privilege.
In fact, it is white privilege that thrusts them into the position of thinking they can speak with authority and tell us how we are misunderstanding something that happened to us and not them.
Allow me to place Coco’s experience in the proper context.
Coco is a 19-year-old Black girl playing professional tennis, a sport in which she turned pro five years ago at the young age of 14.
Imagine, for a moment, how overwhelming it can be to be 14 years old and the vast majority of your peers at work are older white women. Imagine having to learn at that early age that even when something wrong is happening to you, before you speak on it, you have to make sure you are saying it in such a way that doesn’t hurt a white person’s feelings because once a white person feels slighted in even the most minute way, they immediately shut down and make you the problem.
Imagine you have played three straight sets of tennis where the white lady umpire is not making the proper calls against an older white lady opponent and letting said opponent get away with breaking the rules.
Then imagine that once you call the umpire out for it and let her know you are aware of what she’s doing, she tells you that you “play quick” and your opponent doesn’t, with the implication being that instead of observing the rules, you should adapt to the older white lady’s style of rule-breaking play.
The umpire telling Coco that she plays “quick” leans into a pervasive trope about Black athletes and the myth of Black athletic superiority. It is dismissive of the work Coco puts into her craft and instead implies that the only reason she is good and fast is because that’s just how Black athletes are. It invalidates Coco’s sacrifice, training and dedication to her craft — time she could have spent being a regular teenager and doing regular teenager things — by telling her she’s only that good because she’s young and Black. Whether it’s “casual,” “passive” or overt, racism is nothing new in professional sports.
I put the words “casual” and “passive” in quotes because if we are being real, there is no casual or passive racism. Racism is racism, but for the sake of this piece, I’ll frame it in those terms to help people understand the greater point. Similarly, there are no “microaggressions.” These things have been happening for so long in American history, they are actual aggressions and calling them microaggressions softens the blow for whiteness. We should not be coddling whiteness.
People have said that because neither Gauff’s opponent nor the judge in question is American, it can’t possibly be anti-Black racism, and here is where I inform you that racism is America’s greatest export.
Black people in America have been dehumanized since we got here, and while many would like to pretend we have evolved past that, the truth is that as a country we have not.
But let’s get back on track here.
Coco won the match, and during the post-game interview, her opponent — Germany’s Laura Siegemund — cried because the crowd booed her when she continued to break the rules throughout the match. She said they treated her like she was a bad person.
The thing about white women’s tears is they always seem to spring forward when the white woman in question is wrong.
Laura wasn’t crying because she was repentant for her rule-breaking; she cried because she was embarrassed for being called out for it.
The way whiteness works, white people are supposed to be able to break the rules and do whatever they want to do, and Black people are supposed to nod and accept it and not say anything.
Coco said something, and we should all be glad she did.
The umpire tried to whitesplain away the way Coco experienced the rule-breaking, and the umpire was wrong for that.
Siegemund was wrong for continuing to break the rules during her match with Gauff, and she was wrong for that.
Crying in the post-game interview and attributing it to people being mean to her was a way to make herself the victim in the situation and garner empathy.
I’m sure that worked for the kind of white people who look for any reason to excuse the behavior of bad actors, especially if said bad actors are white. Laura Siegemund is a bad actor.
Coming through after the fact to try and whitesplain what actually happened to Coco is especially ignorant because, unless you are Coco, you don’t get to tell her what she experienced or how she should feel about it.
Coco’s experience isn’t unique; Black women encounter these types of situations every single day. The difference is this one was caught in 4K, and the whole world got to witness it.
I’m sure once this op-ed runs, I will get even more messages from white people who will want to explain to me how I, as a Black woman in America, am totally misunderstanding my lived experience.
And that’s because if white people don’t have nothing else, they gon’ have the damn caucasity.
Not all white people; but some of them anyway.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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