Weapon of lass destruction: The tears of a white woman

In this current moment, talking about violence against Black bodies is almost trendy as more non-Black folks awake to the realities and horror of systemic racism—horrors that, frankly, we people of color (especially us Black people) have been telling y’all since the peak of the Civil Rights Era remain  a core part of the American experience for Black and other people of color. However, one of the problems is that the main reason so many more white people are waking up to this is because of social media and the ability to see just how shockingly glaring many of these Black experiences are.  And so, sadly, a lot of these conversations focus only on the overt violence and trauma, such as when our unarmed bodies are killed and left in the street. Or we are unjustly jailed (or detained for waiting at a Starbucks to meet a professional colleague). Or our teenagers are assaulted or harassed by police officers for hanging out just like white teens do, whether at malls or pool parties.

However, white violence against Black bodies is not always so dramatic. There is a type of violence that is just as deadly as a bullet yet rarely seen in the public eye—yet it touches the Black spirit and lives with us. We carry the scars and yet even amongst ourselves as Black people we don’t always talk about it. But it’s there.

Perhaps the only thing deadlier to a Black person’s soul and well-being than actually being killed or incarcerated are the tears of a white woman—among other weaponized emotions. White women’s emotions, particularly their tears, have taken countless lives over the generations. These tears and emotions are weapons of mass destruction and we rarely allows ourselves the chance to have an honest conversation about it. White women tears kill the soul, they make you doubt yourself and your right to exist, they render you voiceless because an emotionally distraught white woman becomes the priority in whatever space she is in. It doesn’t matter if you are right—once her tears are activated, you cease to exist.  And few things bring other white people—especially men, and sometimes no matter how misogynist they are—to a white woman’s defense than her declaring that she is feeling hurt, sad or discomfited by the words, arguments or actions (no matter how reasonable or nonviolent) of a Black person. Jobs have been lost, friendships ended and sometimes those tears can send the wrong person to jail. White woman tears are not simply a release, they are a tool.

Last night on Twitter, I saw a few tweets about the weaponization of white women’s tears and it prompted me to share a story that until recently I had parked in the deepest recesses of my mind. It is a story that changed the trajectory of my life and yet a few weeks ago, after reconnecting with a childhood friend, I finally had the language and emotional maturity to give the story the context it needed.

In sharing the story, it found resonance with many so I decided to write about it.

As a teenager in the mid 1980s, there were few spaces for awkward Black girls like me. I was a social chameleon who, due to academic success, landed at what at the time was a prestigious public high school in Chicago. It meant that I bounced between the “drama kids,” “stoners” and “trendies”  My trendy friends were all white kids with a few biracial Black boys—and myself, I was the token Black girl. At the time, I would not have called myself that but by the beginning of our senior year of high school, it was clear to me that I was not a true participant; I was the comic relief and the outward display of how not-racist my “friends” were.  

Somewhere between my junior and senior year of high school, my black consciousness started to develop and while I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate the concepts well, I knew that my position within this particular group of friends was not an authentic connection but a racialized existence.

I told one of my friends (a white girl) how I felt and that conversation ended our friendship. It also ended my high school career since in the aftermath of that conversation, my friend was distraught and suffice to say, no one heard me. Instead I was suddenly the mean black girl. I was also the weird Black girl and when you throw in the mean Black girl and you have a recipe for disaster. So right after I turned 18, I bounced. I never went back to school. I pretty much blocked that year from my memory for decades but 2018 seems to be the year where I am facing my past full force.

A few years ago, this particular friend and I reconnected via Facebook; she is now a professor at a prestigious college in New England. A college where her colleagues have shared some of my very posts in faculty meetings. We recently met up in Boston for lunch and at the end of our lunch, she apologized for what went down 28 years ago. She told me that my words had sat with her for years and now she understood what she had done to me all those years ago. In choosing not to hear me and centering herself and her whiteness it meant that she did not have to consider the ways in which she and our circle of white friends othered me and turned me into a Black caricature that in a dehumanizing way to me allowed them to be a diverse group of people.

I accepted her apology because, after 28 years—despite dropping out of high school—I have gone on to have a good life. But I am very suspicious of allowing white women to get too close to me. Time and time again, I have learned that white women rarely have the emotional maturity to examine their racist actions and how they harm Black women and other women of color.

Over the years, my experience has been that few white women can sit with emotional discomfort around certain issues (such as race or, especially, the intersection of feminism and race) and when they are confronted or challenged, they take out the one weapon that society has given them. Tears. These tears effectively serve to shut down any constructive conversation and instead in group settings, the goal shifts to soothing the white woman and taking care of her feelings, typically at the complete expense of the Black person’s feelings. Even in racial conversations of weighty matters—and even in settings that are meant to be focused on racial issues or anti-racism work—too often tears serve to stop the conversation from moving forward.

To cry is human but not all tears matter. And they particularly shouldn’t matter when they come at the expense of someone else. Rarely do the tears of a non-white woman carry any value; instead. society conditions us to not cry and, with tears not having equal value, you create a “strong” Back woman. The damsel in distress is never Black. We are expected to always be strong yet also expected to never show anger or disappointment. To always turn the other cheek and be the calmest person in the room.

White women tears are multipurpose: They derail conversation, they emotionally bully others (particularly people of color), and they are almost never questioned—which only adds to the power of a white woman and her tears.

My colleague, author Debby Irving, speaks honestly in our public dialogues about learning early in life that her tears had value. She has publicly shared being told by her parents as a teenager, that if the cops pull you over, start crying. I have heard other white women share similar tales of crying to get out tickets. I have never heard of a Black woman crying to successfully get out of a ticket.

In this moment, as more white women wake up to the horrors of racism and choose to make a difference, there are some honest conversations that need to be had: the role of white women in perpetuating and supporting racism, often through the use of tears and emotions, is one of those conversations. A white woman cannot be a real ally or accomplice without examining her own past experiences using emotional manipulation as a deflection tool, especially in cross-racial settings. To be clear, not all white tears are about literal tears, it’s about the emotional angst that comes out in settings that derails and dehumanize by placing white womanhood on a higher pedestal.

White woman are uniquely positioned in this society—they are both one of the oppressed and also one of the oppressors, and that duality has long served to keep white women and women of color at odds. White women carry a lifetime “get out of jail card” and moving toward any legitimate racial reconciliation requires examining this phenomenon. It means developing a level of racial literacy that can be faced honestly which also includes looking at when have your emotions and tears been deployed against people of color. When have your emotions harmed others? It means diving deep into white fragility and unearthing it—the work of Robin DiAngelo who coined the phrase white fragility is a good starting point.

As James Baldwin wrote “ “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

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36 thoughts on “Weapon of lass destruction: The tears of a white woman”

  1. This morning I read your tweets and they stayed with me the whole day. I thought about the work interactions I’ve had with white women who, when confronted or challenged, will cry and use their sadness to lash out. Let me state that I have white women in my life who love me and who I love. But my goodness, the things I’ve been through with the others. Just this morning I was in a team meeting where I had to forcefully tell the director of social media that we should not post a picture on social, of one of a member of our leadership team (white male) wearing a Native American headdress. Her eyes welled up with tears as I saved our organization from a Pepsi/Shea Moisture/H&M backlash. I’ve had white women cry because I hurt their feelings about recycling or stood my ground about not touching my hair. Sometimes I think they are worse than white men. White men put in the work for white supremacy. White women simply benefit.

  2. I rarely comment, but this post has me so much in my feelings. I’m currently at a crossroads with a friend who pulled the WW tears after a heated discussion over her sudden desire to school me, a Black woman, on the ills of the Black community and how Black people have been taught to be oppressed (but never have been). The kicker is that she used to identify as biracial, but now leans towards passing as white. She still texts me as if nothing is amiss, but I’m feeling this friendship cannot be salvaged because she has learned too quickly how to leverage those tears within the confines of our once-trusting and safe relationship, and that is beyond problematic. The situation is a whole mess.

    • yeah so I think that relationship is over. You can’t educate her. She’ll never understand. Don’t waste your energy on people like her. Move forward. Onward and upward.

  3. The essence here is learned manipulation …….and tears are used by white women to manipulate others. It is reinforced by the expected response as delineated in this very reflective article. But a few of us do see through the farce and are appalled that it works. Is it any wonder that the typical white woman in the United States is stuck in a perpetual adolescence ?

  4. Thank you for this very informative article. I learned about it from @luvvie. This reminds me of a time in high school when my mom experienced WW tears on my behalf. I just didn’t realize it until now. I was being unfairly kept from the national honors society (that only had two POC who also had trouble joining), even though I qualified academically, so my mom went to my school and talked with some leaders, including the lady (WW) in charge of the club. I don’t know what my mom said but the lady apparently cried during the meeting. My mom is a quiet woman but isn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially about racial nonsense towards her children. Thankfully I was able to join the club, but the WW who cried made a point of mentioning the incident to me like it was my fault. I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing. Thanks to this article I won’t be silent the next time.

  5. Dear BGIM, this spoke to me so loudly. I’ve experienced this in more situations than I could ever count. Thanks to @luvvie for mentioning you in her blog. There may be some hope with those WW who are awakening, aware and acknowledging their privilege. Will definitely be following you now and hope to send a “love offering” soon.

  6. White female fragility was on full display during a meeting I requested with school leadership and my son’s teacher. The very woman who attempted to intimidate my son through words and actions the following week went running and crying out of the room when she became “overwhelmed” by my relentless rebuttals. Oh, to see the way her white counterparts ran to her rescue moving forward in the conversation was a sight to behold! This idea that tears, no matter the setting, positions a white woman for perpetual support and control in a situation is nothing short of amazing. Come to find out, being a multi-dimensional, resilient, articulate and assertive Black girl is nothing short of magical, but in mixed company, when in constant competition with the witchcraft that is White fragility, it will be made to appear intimidating and aggressive. *shrugs and walks away, leaving a trail of black girl fairy dust*

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I know it isn’t your job to educate me on how best to interact with POC, but I appreciate hearing your side, and for having something to ponder. (I, too, got here thru @Luvvie.)

    Thanks Again,
    Lisa Ann

  8. I don’t want to hijack this woman’s experience, but I feel like I must not be white enough for these magical tears to work for me in this way – I’ve never successfully gotten out of a ticket or been forgiven a debt by turning on the waterworks (in spite of seeing other white lady friends work this charm). Reading the article struck a nerve to think that there could ever be any value to the thing which fueled the cruel taunts of my elementary school cohort. “Cry baby, cry baby, cry baby….” they would cheer until I’d run and hide. The adults I remember (clearly being sick of my white baby tears) trying to tell me that words couldn’t hurt me, or some other BS about it being about the taunt saying more about the bullies than about me, and I could “get over it.” Anyway. I’m not downplaying the systemic racist BS that this shithole country is built on, but maybe, just maybe kids are just dicks?

    • Alison, I want to ask you, as a white sister, to get back in your lane. Your reply is centering you and your white experience and this is about how are tears do harm. Will you consider this? Please and thanks.

    • Alison,

      Your white is showing. You are not the center of the universe. His piece was not written for you do debate about your seemingly unknown frosted fragility. We are tired of the shenanigans and the intrusion of your opinion. Please have a seat somewhere… Anywhere but here. Thanks.

    • Allison, beloved:

      Your post is the equivalent of saying “no offense” before making an offensive comment. Though you didn’t intend to hijack a post, you did, however, just cry verbal white tears about how perhaps white tears aren’t actually white tears at all. All while making one person’s experience about you.
      Oh, beloved. Dry your eyes.

  9. I experienced this with a co-worker several years ago. She was always seeking to do things her way and when others didn’t fall in line, she’d immediately run to management sobbing as if she had been physically injured. Besides the fact that people fell prey to the poor white girl antics, the thing that bothered me most was the way “my people” reacted. They were the first ones to run to her rescue, particularly the black males. It was frustrating to the say the least and disheartening to say the most.

  10. I can appreciate your anger. I hate this manipulative behavior. I am white and I get into trouble for being “too honest.” I’ve had women complain that I’m mean or I’m too this or that. I’ve never gotten in trouble for saying somethng rude or inapproprtiate but I keep pissing people off for calling them on racist or misogynistic’ bs. I hear stoopid WP say shit like “I’m not racist, but-” You know the next thought that falls out of that mouth is going to be ugly and racist. I try to be patient when other WW pull this but I’m olde and crotchety. Owning your particpation in a system that you despise is painful. I see whiteness as a mental inllness that we have only recently developed and that we don’t really grasp. I mean it’s more complex than we realize. The Civil Rights Movement achieved an historic victory in the 50s, 6070s. I grew up watching the marches and the protests and I remember how terrifying White anger was. We are light years from there. And yet we are still wrestling with an illness thatcauses delusional thinking on the part of whites and hhyper vigilance for POC. We are all infected. I wish we’d get more serious about getting everyone the cure.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this! White girl here, and white teacher who teaches tiny white 9 yr old girls who use tears to get their white mammas all riled up and all over my case. This made me think back to when I taught in a school with primarily black students- and I do not remember one of the black girls ever using her tears to emotionally bully me or get her mamma on my case- ever. I think little white girls are somehow conditioned to think tears mean rescue and that they win. I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing. I feel like this is a sacred space for you and I don’t want to tread on it or think my whiteness has any weight to validate your words EVER- but I’m humbled by your openness to share and allow someone like me in to your space in order to do some continual re-evaluation and self reflection so this world can be a safe and fair space for you. I loved your line, “not all tears matter.” Thank you- excellent and perceptive writing. You nailed it. And I’m so sorry.

  12. I’m a middle class white male therapist who has a number of PoCs in my caseload. This is a perspective I hadn’t heard nor considered before seeing a reference to this piece on a FB page. Thank you for the enlightenment. We continue to have a LOT of work to do on ourselves and our country.

    • I guarantee the POC in your caseload have a story to tell which is why they need a therapist in the first place. I hope you LISTEN, and understand the daily microaggressions black women face and work to address it to those WW who also visit you.

      • My opinion is —-if this “therapist” is really honest with himself —- he comes across as so culturally deficient that he should be referring his POC patients to a more qualified “therapist” ! Preferable one of the brilliant POC in the mental health arena —- that can be found even in a state as white as is Maine !

  13. Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection on a very painful experience. Mercifully I don’t remember being the target of such manipulation although I have certainly witnessed it. The revelation for me is the identification, isolation and dissection of an overtly manipulative behavior. What I find most disturbing is that the behavior is reinforced throughout childhood, transforming it from a natural reaction into a powerful psychological weapon. The parents may well be oblivious to the weapons program they are supporting, but it is far too easy to imagine circumstances where the finer points are polished by parental behavior.

    One might consider adding this topic to the “growing up” talks to be had with children along with discussions of sexuality, racism, and narcissism.

  14. Thank you for bringing this up. The issue of White Woman Guilt and tears are at the forefront of my consciousness these days as I continue to address my white fragility. Namely, how do I authentically own my own emotions, own tears, own grief… and not use them as tools of manipulation or to derail or rob the spotlight. It is not easy, but hearing stories like this, where I can hear about real impact are so helpful for me to continue being uncomfortable and trying to work it out instead of give up. Bless you for this. Thank you for this gift.

  15. I am a white liberal male. I appreciate this commentary. This is just the tip of the iceberg of experiences and knowledge that my white privilege allowed me to remain unaware of most of my life. It’s hard to pierce that bubble I have lived in far too long but I will continue to keep at it. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to email updates from this site.

  16. I appreciate this post, and am glad you were able to overcome the damage your “friend” caused.
    Recently at work, we were in a training session for dealing with difficult people, and a WW coworker suggested crying as a way to get sympathy. I was shocked that a grown woman would do that, but now I understand why she has been able to get away with her horrible treatment of others – she cries, and everyone else is then the bad guy!

    • mpw …. if you read the original blog’s and the comments here …. you would see that many . many very concrete examples have in fact been shared !

  17. Years ago, a ww coworker exploded on me, threatened to sue me all because I told her that her Dr.’s note to note work graveyard shift was ridiculous. I’d already covered her shift ONCE and my hours were again changed to accommodate her. So she can get a Dr.s not 2 avoid working a shift that everyone else rotates when it’s their turn. HR and my WM boss allowed her to work it, and scolded me for speaking my truth. I NEVER had a relationship with this young, immature, ignorant, entitled WW again. She didn’t understand it and proceeded to bad mouth and bully me until I eventually found work elsewhere. Before I left I spoke with the HR lady (asian). I told her how her approval of her doctor’s note was a joke. I explained to her that this ww and her older Jewish friend abused me daily by bullying, gossip and overall evil deeds in my workplace. I was always mean, rude, didn’t speak to them, when in reality I was protecting my sanity and removing toxic people from life that didn’t serve a positive purpose in my life. But THEY were always the victim of mean ole me. The HR lady cried. Umm..what? How weak are you? She extended her hands to give me a hug as she said, “but i think you’re a great person.” I was disgusted and stepped back. The SHOCK and AWE on her face at my questionable pause to hug her was priceless. TEARS, HUGS don’t make us feel better. TEARS/HUGS mean nothing when you’ve done wrong. It’s not an apology and it doesn’t make it right. I’m blessed 2 have survived such a horrible working environment and it changed me forever. Though I have a few of great WW as my friends who’ve i’ve known and loved for years, I keep most new ww that I meet at a distance now and have no desire to make new friends.

    • I am horrified that you had to deal with hat level of hatred. I have a reputation at my place of employment. I am the one that you do not come for..EVER! It pains me to have to be his way because I am the most loving person, but as I get older I know my mental health means more to me than reputation. I’m glad you are in a safer space.

  18. I am sad that you have experienced this. I am also sad that I am about to be judged and told that I cannot state my opinion because I don’t fully agree with the generalization of a group of people. I think it is dangerous to only have people comment who totally agree on an issue. This article was posted for all to read, not just for those who agree. So, please be open minded as I make my case. While these are obviously cases of that you have experienced, it is dangerous to generalize anything to a group of people. Just like it is wrong for someone to generalize a set of emotions to POC, stating that all WW cry to manipulate POC and to get their way is wrong. Please do not repeat the mistakes of the past and assume that you can possibly understand a group of people and their individual intentions because they are a certain color. Somewhere deep down inside you have to know that this is wrong. People of all races and both genders have used tears to manipulate others at some point in history. WW and WOC are equally guilty of this. Until you have created a device to look into the brains of all people and examine their intentions, there is no way to report this assumption as fact.
    Love, healing, and acceptance for everyone,
    A WOC

    • “it is dangerous to generalize anything to a group of people”
      But it isn’t, not all generalizations are equal. What harm is actually done by BGIM’s ‘generalization’? Sure, many white people reading this may feel uncomfortable, or guilty, in recognizing racism in ourselves and society around us. That’s not actually harming us, promise.
      She also didn’t say ‘all WW’ at any point, or make any sweeping statements declaring this was always completely intentional. Even if it never was, so what? Unintentional racism still has an impact.
      A WW

  19. I read each scenario here, and they are 100% congruent with everything I’ve ever seen. And I can see myself having been complicit in almost each one had i been present; running to stop those tears ignorantly pushing aside the rest of reality. Thank you so much for writing, and expressing this so incredibly clearly.

  20. I feel this is a fabulous point to bring to attention. This behavior being classified as a racist behavior downplays just how discusting this learned and taught behavior is. The women who do this manipulate everyone not just POC.

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