How white women use strategic tears to silence women of color


‘Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her’
 ‘Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her’ Photograph: Caro/Alamy

The legitimate grievances of brown and black women are no match for the accusations of a white damsel in distress

 

By: Ruby Hamad: The Guardian Uk

That the voices of “women of color” are getting louder and more influential is a testament less to the accommodations made by the dominant white culture and more to their own grit in a society that implicitly – and sometimes explicitly – wants them to fail.

At the Sydney writers’ festival on Sunday, editor of Djed Press, Hella Ibrahim, relayed the final minutes of a panel on diversity featuring writers from the western Sydney Sweatshop collective. One of the panelists, Winnie Dunn, in answering a question about the harm caused by good intentions, had used the words “white people” and “shit” in the same sentence. This raised the ire of a self-identified white woman in the audience who interrogated the panelists as to “what they think they have to gain” by insulting people who “want to read their stories.”

In other words, the woman saw a personal attack where there wasn’t one and decided to remind the panellists that as a member of the white majority she ultimately has their fate in her hands.

“I walked out of that panel frustrated,” Ibrahim wrote. “Because yet again, a good convo was derailed, white people centred themselves, and a POC panel was told to police it’s [sic] tone to make their message palatable to a white audience.”

Trauma assails brown and black women from all directions. There is the initial pain of being subjected to gendered racism and discrimination, there is the additional distress of not being believed or supported, and of having your words and your bravery seemingly credited to others.

And then there is a type of trauma inflicted on women of color that many of us find among the hardest to disclose, the one that few seem willing to admit really happens because it is so thoroughly normalized most people refuse to see it.

It is what that writers’ festival audience member was demonstrating, and what blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi called the “weary weaponising of white women’s tears”.

To put it less poetically, it is the trauma caused by the tactic many white women employ to muster sympathy and avoid accountability, by turning the tables and accusing their accuser.

Almost every BW (black woman) I know has a story about a time in a professional setting in which she attempted to have a talk with a WW about her behavior & it has ended with the WW (white woman) crying,” one black woman wrote on Twitter. “The WW wasn’t crying because she felt sorry and was deeply remorseful. The WW was crying because she felt “bullied” and/or that the BW was being too harsh with her.”

When I shared these tweets on my Facebook page asking brown and black women if this had ever happened to them, I was taken by how deeply this resonated, prompting one Arab woman to share this story:

A WW kept touching my hair. Pulling my curls to watch them bounce back. Rubbing the top. Smelling it. So when I told her to stop and complained to HR and my supervisor, she complained that I wasn’t a people person or team member and I had to leave that position for being ‘threatening’ to a coworker.”

For the doubters, here is a mild version of this sleight-of-hand in action:

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Jully Black and Jeanne Beker

Notice it is the white woman – Jeanne Beker – who first interrupts the black woman – Jully Black – who takes the interruption in her stride. Black continues to speak passionately and confidently, which Beker interprets as a personal attack on her even though Black is clearly talking in general terms (just as Winnie Dunn was). Beker then attempts to shut Black down by essentially branding her a bully.

Had Jully Black not stopped and repeated Jeanne Beker’s words back at her – “Why are you attacking me?” – they would have passed largely unnoticed, just another woman of colour smeared as an aggressor for daring to continue speaking when a white woman wanted her to stop.

It doesn’t usually end this way. “White women tears are especially potent … because they are attached to the symbol of femininity,” Ajayi explains. “These tears are pouring out from the eyes of the one chosen to be the prototype of womanhood; the woman who has been painted as helpless against the whims of the world. The one who gets the most protection in a world that does a shitty job overall of cherishing women.”

As I look back over my adult life a pattern emerges. Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her. My confidence diminished and second-guessing myself, I either flare up in frustration at not being heard (which only seems to prove her point) or I back down immediately, apologizing and consoling the very person causing me harm.

It is not weakness or guilt that compels me to capitulate. Rather, as I recently wrote, it is the manufactured reputation Arabs have for being threatening and aggressive that follows us everywhere. In a society that routinely places imaginary “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern” people at the scenes of violent crimes they did not commit, having a legitimate grievance is no match for the strategic tears of a white damsel in distress whose innocence is taken for granted.

“We talk about toxic masculinity,” Ajayi warns, “but there is (also) toxicity in wielding femininity in this way.” Brown and black women know we are, as musician Miss Blanks writes, “imperfect victims”. That doesn’t mean we are always in the right but it does mean we know that against a white woman’s accusations, our perspectives will almost always go unheard either way.

Whether angry or calm, shouting or pleading, we are still perceived as the aggressors.

Likewise, white women are equally aware their race privileges them as surely as ours condemns us. In this context, their tearful displays are a form of emotional and psychological violence that reinforce the very system of white dominance that many white women claim to oppose.

Ruby Hamad is a journalist and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

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Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

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