One of the most powerful chapters in White Fragility by Robin Diangelo was about “White Women’s Tears.” It’s a term that comes up a lot in antiracist discussions and one that really resonated with me and several of my friends who also read the book. Let’s dive into that for a little while.
“The term white tears refers to all the ways, both literally and metaphorically, that white fragility manifests itself through white people’s laments over how hard racism is on us.” [Chapter 11 of White Fragility by Robin Diangelo]
As soon as you start to cry, you divert the focus onto yourself. You can trigger the horrible memories for the history of white women crying leading the Black men being accused of crimes and subsequently punished, often via lynching. It can be very manipulative.
Even if it is well-intentioned, it causes problems. From page 134: “Whether intended or not, when a white woman cries over some aspect of racism, all the attention immediately goes to her, demanding time, energy, and attention from everyone in the room when they should be focused on ameliorating racism. While she is given attention, the people of color are yet again abandoned and/or blamed.”
There’s an analogy of paramedics arrive on the scene of an accident and going to help the person driving the car instead of the pedestrian who was struck.
That whole chapter really resonated with me because I am a crier. It doesn’t take much to get me emotional. But I always feel like I am doing it in solidarity and not to turn the attention back on myself. That being said, I also do not like to cry in front of people. If I really think about it, I can see how whatever situation I was in at the time shifted focus from the original situation to my crying. That totally defeats and purpose. And yeah, I have used it to be manipulative, but more in fights with my significant other than anything else.
My lesson learned from this chapter is that I need to have extra self-attention on making sure that I keep it to myself and continue to keep the focus on the story being told, and trying to figure out what I can do to keep plugging forward in antiracist education and behavior. As Robin Diangelo points out, it’s great if you’re recognizing the feelings, but what are you doing about it?
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