“Seeing her cry still made me feel the same way it did earlier.”
― Faraaz Kazi
“When white women cry, everything stops.” I wasn’t the first to say this, but the words crystallize what it means in amerika when white women, anywhere and anytime shed tears. From a single salty drop to a full-blown red-nosed ugly cry the outcome is always the same–if Black Folx are present when it happens, there is no doubt that we will suffer as a result. It seems impossible to believe. Doesn’t make it any less of a problem in mixed spaces where white women are present. Question them, they feel attacked. Challenge them to self crit, they respond with all the reasons they are a good white person. Try to engage them in dialogue, stay cool, collected and focused; they break down, they go on the offensive, they seek validation and comfort from your “onslaught.” And then this happens: whatever the focal point of whatever discussion was central dissolves and is replaced by the task of comforting, reassuring, and protecting their feelings.
This “protection and tending” to the emotions and feelings of white women shows itself in the erasure, oppression, and persecution of Black Folx. It is an important piece of how white women participate in upholding the tenets of white supremacy. It is pervasive and at its most dangerous results in death for Black Folx.
Don’t ask yourself if this is true. Ask yourself, why?
From When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tear Oppress Women of Color by Mamta Motwani Accapadi:
“While White women are members of an oppressed group based on gender, they still experience privilege based on race. This dual oppressor/oppressed identity often becomes a root of tension when White women are challenged to consider their White privilege by Women of Color…While White women have been depicted to be the foundation of purity, chastity, and virtue, Women of Color have historically been caricaturized by the negative stereotypes and the historical lower status position associated with their racial communities in American society (Hernandez & Rehman, 2002; Collins, 2000; Lorde, 1984; hooks, 1981)…Additionally, as Palmer (1994) states, “the problem for White women is that
their privilege is based on accepting the image of goodness, which is powerlessness.” (p.170).“
The machinations of white supremacy have indoctrinated white women to always claim their race-based privilege especially when challenged or engaged by Black Womxn. This claiming manifests in myriad microagressions and sometimes overt behaviors designed to maintain white supremacy’s systems, which are really all about who has and maintains access to wealth, power and privilege. White women get plenty of help to do this through the institutions of this country that have all been created to uphold white supremacy and keep its gears running smoothly.
Listen. Tears are healing. Indigenous cultures have always known this. There is no shame in crying and tears are often encouraged as a part of the road to moving through and beyond grief and loss. From Sobonfu Somé:
“When we do not allow ourselves to release our emotions, we allow ourselves to harbor negative emotions…When we cry, we are actually inviting life back into our bodies and into our spirits.” Women’s Wisdom from the Heart of Africa
There is another side to tears, though. The reasons why you cry are important. Are you crying because you’re sad, angry, nervous? Are you crying from remorse, relief, or joy? Are you crying from shame, embarrassment? It makes a difference. Crying is more than a physiological response to stimuli. Tears are also a socially influenced response and can be situationally driven. In other words, the context of when and how and who is in the room with you when you cry has an effect on how tears show up for you.
In an article in Psychology Today Jonathon Rottenberg says,
“…what we are learning about crying is richer and more interesting than the conventional wisdom. We are increasingly coming to understand WHEN and FOR WHOM crying is beneficial.”
Rottenberg did an analysis of 3000 reports of crying episodes and found that people who received support during their crying episodes were more likely to report a positive benefit from their crying. Let it sink in, white women. You have been socialized to seek comfort from others with your tears AND in the matter of your whiteness your tears are a powerful weapon to shut down, silence and punish Black people when they “step out of line.” This is why you feel attacked, why you think we are angry and aggressive, why you are fearful and seek protection from us at the conference table. Not all of you cry, to be fair. Some of you go on the offensive and use your power to silence and punish: promotion pass overs, demotions, write-ups, “coaching forms”, complaints to management, unnecessary requests for additional documentation–need I go on?
Your tears, in the context of white supremacy, are a weapon designed to re-center whiteness and destroy all attempts to dismantle whatever oppressive fuckery that is being challenged. How do you fix it?
When you feel your cheeks burning and your eyes starting to fill, you can try these coping mechanisms:
- Remember this shit is NOT about you. Stop taking call-outs personally and start focusing on how your behavior, not you personally are harming PoC.
- Sip some water. Take a slow breath and count the exhale out to ten. Reset your brain.
- Repeat this mantra (see number 1): This is not about me. This is NOT about me. THIS is not about me.
- Quietly remove yourself from the room and go splash your face with water. Straighten your wig-hat, check your seams and quietly return to the fray. Apologize for the interruption and refocus.
- If all of these fail, then quietly remove yourself and stay out for the duration. I would rather not see your snotty nose and red-rimmed eyes sucking all the oxygen and purpose out of the room.
Your tears not only center your whiteness and your “fragile white womanhood” that needs protection, your tears signal other white people that a monster is present, a threat that needs to be shut down in order for your tears to stop. I am tired of being your monster, white women. If you are serious about being an effective ally, start with your tear ducts. Get this work.