Social Justice Usage
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 131.
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. In my work, I consistently encounter these tears in their various forms, and many writers have already provided excellent critiques. … The following example [omitted] illustrates both the frustration that people of color feel with those tears and white women’s sense of entitlement to freely shed them. … I understand that expressing our heartfelt emotions—especially as they relate to racial injustices—is an important progressive value. To repress our feelings seems counterintuitive to being present, compassionate, and supportive. So why would my colleague of color make such a request? In short, white women’s tears have a powerful impact in this setting, effectively reinscribing rather than ameliorating racism.
New Discourses Commentary
Of the many ways that Social Justice as an applied ideology reveals itself to have profound parallels to domestic-style abuse (including child abuse), the doctrine of “tears” (white women’s tears, white girl tears, white tears, male tears) is probably among the most vivid examples. (Immediately, we hasten to note, this entry in this encyclopedia will be billed as a form of “white tears” so as to discredit any attempt to expose or explain their mindset, power, and tactics – see also, hegemony.) White (women’s/girl) tears are Theorized as a particularly “self-indulgent,” “narcissistic,” and “pernicious” manifestation of white fragility, via which white people have emotional responses that prevent them from engaging with the realities of whiteness and their role and complicity in racism (see also, racial stress, white comfort, white complicity; and white equilibrium).
Consistent with the view of the Theory of Social Justice, white (women’s) tears are considered a political act. This places them within the realms of the “politics” of systemic power as described by Theory (that is, identity politics, for the most part – see also, intersectionality, Marxian, Neo-Marxist, New Left, postmodern, and Foucauldian). In this mindset, everything is socially constructed and only relevant to the degree that it is politically meaningful for or against systemic power. As Robin DiAngelo tells us in White Fragility,
Many of us see emotions as naturally occurring. But emotions are political in two key ways. First, our emotions are shaped by our biases and beliefs, our cultural frameworks. … In this way, emotions are not natural; they are the result of the frameworks we are using to make sense of social relations. And of course, social relations are political. Our emotions are also political because they are often externalized; our emotions drive behaviors that impact other people. (White Fragility, p. 132)
Moreover, unlike “male tears” (which are Theorized similarly in feminism and gender studies) or “white tears” more generally, white women’s (or girl) tears are considered even more insidious. This is because it is recognized that they will summon more attention, help, and “recentering” of the white women’s (emotional) needs than any other type, from men (even men of color) specifically because of, as DiAngelo has it, “their conditioning under sexism and patriarchy,” ostensibly to care about and want to protect women. This means that, even if they don’t mean to, women who shed white girl tears are committing a racist act by being too delicate to confront their own complicity in racism and thus putting themselves at the center of concern and interest (see also, racial stamina).
One may note that one of the reasons that white women’s tears are considered so offensive is that “our emotions are shaped by our biases and beliefs, our cultural frameworks.” This comment is very indicative of the mindset behind Social Justice Theory, which is ultimately critical in orientation (see also, critical theory and critical race theory). The worldview of Social Justice is that racism (and other systemic bigotries) is “ordinary and permanent, not aberrational,” that it is participated in by all people, especially white people, as a result of their socialization and positionality, and that it is usually hidden from view for a variety of reasons, both conscious and unconscious, thus in need of unmasking. In this sense, white women’s tears are Theorized to be revelatory of white privilege, white fragility, inability to handle racial stress thus white innocence and white ignorance, and a variety of other concepts that are more conspiratorial and insidious (e.g., white solidarity, the racial contract, white supremacy, and anti-blackness).
It is difficult to see this concept, both in Theory and in application, as anything short of identity-based sadism, justified by the critical mindset and Theoretical developments of activists and, especially, activist scholars (who call themselves educators – see also, critical pedagogy). It is often deployed pre-emptively (as in the example below) as a means of excluding white people, especially women, from discussions about race and then to subsequently blame them for upholding racism.
Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Center; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Feminism; Foucauldian; Gender studies; Good white; Hegemony; Identity; Ideology; Implicit bias; Intersectionality; Male tears; Marxian; Mask; Neo-Marxist; New Left; Patriarchy; Position; Postmodern; Privilege; Racial contract; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Sexism (systemic); Social construction; Social Justice; Socialization; Systemic power; Theory; White; White comfort; White complicity; White ignorance; White innocence; White equilibrium; White fragility; White solidarity; White supremacy; Whiteness
Source: Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 131–134.
Chapter Title: “White Women’s Tears,” in White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
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. In my work, I consistently encounter these tears in their various forms, and many writers have already provided excellent critiques. Here, I want to address one manifestation of white tears: those shed by white women in cross-racial settings. The following example illustrates both the frustration that people of color feel with those tears and white women’s sense of entitlement to freely shed them.
When another police shooting of an unarmed black man occurred, my workplace called for an informal lunch gathering of people who wanted to connect and find support. Just before the gathering, a woman of color pulled me aside and told me that she wanted to attend but she was “in no mood for white women’s tears today.” I assured her that I would handle it. As the meeting started, I told my fellow white participants that if they felt moved to tears, they should please leave the room. I would go with them for support, but I asked that they not cry in the mixed group. After the discussion, I spent the next hour explaining to a very outraged white woman why she was asked not to cry in the presence of the people of color. I understand that expressing our heartfelt emotions—especially as they relate to racial injustices—is an important progressive value. To repress our feelings seems counterintuitive to being present, compassionate, and supportive. So why would my colleague of color make such a request? In short, white women’s tears have a powerful impact in this setting, effectively reinscribing rather than ameliorating racism.
Many of us see emotions as naturally occurring. But emotions are political in two key ways. First, our emotions are shaped by our biases and beliefs, our cultural frameworks. For example, if I believe—consciously or unconsciously—that it is normal and appropriate for men to express anger but not women, I will have very different emotional responses to men’s and women’s expressions of anger. I might see a man who expresses anger as competent and in charge and may feel respect for him, while I see a woman who expresses anger as childish and out of control and may feel contempt for her. If I believe that only bad people are racist, I will feel hurt, offended, and shamed when an unaware racist assumption of mine is pointed out. If I instead believe that having racist assumptions is inevitable (but possible to change), I will feel gratitude when an unaware racist assumption is pointed out; now I am aware of and can change that assumption. In this way, emotions are not natural; they are the result of the frameworks we are using to make sense of social relations. And of course, social relations are political. Our emotions are also political because they are often externalized; our emotions drive behaviors that impact other people.
White women’s tears in cross-racial interactions are problematic for several reasons connected to how they impact others. For example, there is a long historical backdrop of black men being tortured and murdered because of a white woman’s distress, and we white women bring these histories with us. Our tears trigger the terrorism of this history, particularly for African Americans. A cogent and devastating example is Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who reportedly flirted with a white woman—Carolyn Bryant—in a grocery store in Mississippi in 1955. She reported this alleged flirtation to her husband, Roy Bryant, and a few days later, Roy and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, lynched Till, abducting him from his great-uncle’s home. They beat him to death, mutilated his body, and sank him in the Tallahatchie River. An all-white jury acquitted the men, who later admitted to the murder. On her deathbed, in 2017, Carolyn Bryant recanted this story and admitted that she had lied. The murder of Emmett Till is just one example of the history that informs an oft-repeated warning from my African American colleagues: “When a white woman cries, a black man gets hurt.” Not knowing or being sensitive to this history is another example of white centrality, individualism, and lack of racial humility.
Because of its seeming innocence, well-meaning white women crying in cross-racial interactions is one of the more pernicious enactments of white fragility. The reasons we cry in these interactions vary. Perhaps we were given feedback on our racism. Not understanding that unaware white racism is inevitable, we hear the feedback as a moral judgment, and our feelings are hurt. A classic example occurred in a workshop I was co-leading. A black man who was struggling to express a point referred to himself as stupid. My co-facilitator, a black woman, gently countered that he was not stupid but that society would have him believe that he was. As she was explaining the power of internalized racism, a white woman interrupted with, “What he was trying to say was . . . ” When my co-facilitator pointed out that the white woman had reinforced the racist idea that she could best speak for a black man, the woman erupted in tears. The training came to a complete halt as most of the room rushed to comfort her and angrily accuse the black facilitator of unfairness. (Even though the participants were there to learn how racism works, how dare the facilitator point out an example of how racism works!) Meanwhile, the black man she had spoken for was left alone to watch her receive comfort.
A colleague of color shared an example in which a white woman—new to a racial justice organization—was offered a full-time position as the supervisor of the women of color who had worked there for years and had trained her. When the promotion was announced, the white woman tearfully requested support from the women of color as she embarked on her new learning curve. The new supervisor probably saw her tears as an expression of humility about the limits of her racial knowledge and expected support to follow. The women of color had to deal with the injustice of the promotion, the invalidation of their abilities, and the lack of racial awareness of the white person now in charge of their livelihoods. While trying to manage their own emotional reactions, they were put on the spot; if they did not make some comforting gesture, they risked being viewed as angry and insensitive.
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. As Stacey Patton, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, states in her critique of white women’s tears, “then comes the waiting for us to comfort and reassure them that they’re not bad people.” Antiracism strategist and facilitator Reagen Price paraphrases an analogy based on the work of critical race scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. Price says, “Imagine first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street.” In a common but particularly subversive move, racism becomes about white distress, white suffering, and white victimization. White men, of course, are also racially fragile, but I have not seen their fragility manifest itself in cross-racial discussions as actual crying. Their fragility most commonly shows up as varying forms of dominance and intimidation.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 135.
Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent. When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction. Further, because we so seldom have authentic and sustained cross-racial relationships, our tears do not feel like solidarity to people of color we have not previously supported. Instead, our tears function as impotent reflexes that don’t lead to constructive action. We need to reflect on when we cry and when we don’t, and why. In other words, what does it take to move us? Since many of us have not learned how racism works and our role in it, our tears may come from shock and distress about what we didn’t know or recognize. For people of color, our tears demonstrate our racial insulation and privilege.
Revision date: 2/7/20