What Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj taught us about whitesplaining

It’s a very rare occurrence that someone can say Miley Cyrus taught them something useful.

Especially about race.

Last month, the annual MTV Video Music Awards revealed a hostile moment between Cyrus and Nicki Minaj that no one really understood. It all started after Cyrus weighed in on Minaj’s comments on Twitter about the lack of black female nominees for the Video of the Year category.


Cyrus had a lot to say about Minaj’s tweets about the VMA nominees. (Courtesy of Miley Cyrus / Instagram)

“I don’t respect (Minaj’s) statement because of the anger that came with it,” Cyrus told the New York Times. “And it’s not anger like, ‘Guys, I’m frustrated about some things that are a bigger issue.’ You made it about you.”

So when the “Miley, what’s good?” meme was born, people missed the blatant whitesplaining that preceded it.

Minaj’s reaction highlights that no one should be so quick to tell a black person how they should talk about a race-based issue. Which is why we decided to enlist freelance journalist and activist Desmond Cole to tell us about how we can eliminate situations of whitesplaining.

Recently, a slew of terms have been used to refer to moments where people comment on an experience that is not their own (see: mansplaining). But whitesplaining refers to a situation where someone with white privilege attempts to belittle or oversimplify oppression by disregarding that a racist act is being committed.

“It’s really easy for a white person to say, ‘Why are they making it about race?’ Because they get to live most of their daily life not thinking about race,” Cole says. “They don’t understand that everything is a racial issue when you’re a person of colour living in a racist society.”
Unfortunately, Cole says he experiences people taking issue with his race commentary “on an almost daily basis.”

As a journalist himself, Cole also had advice for other journalists covering race-based issues from a place of privilege. “Most of us as journalists aren’t experts in anything. We take interest in a certain issue and we write about them. But we aren’t experts. What we ought to do is turn to the experts in issues of race and identity instead of pretending to be experts ourselves.”

We at The Ryersonian strive to present the facts as we learn them and will not make it our place to tell anyone how an experience should affect them. As we are fortunate to have a platform to present the stories of others, this is our promise that we will continue to listen to, and present, the diverse voices of the Ryerson community. We will not ‘explain’ issues in the shortsighted and condescending way that whitesplainers purport to explain.

We will, instead, dig deeper, explain only the facts and, most importantly, let the stories speak for themselves.


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