Picture it: a white woman feels challenged or uncomfortable about something a Black person said or did. Instead of using her words, she cries. Instantly, no matter what the initial catalyst of the situation is, she ends up being appeased, pacified and pampered. Lawd knows we’ve all seen virtual white woman tears shut down conversation, even if she was the instigator of conflict. The other person? Ends up being scolded. Or fired. Or arrested. Or killed. When Lorelei cries, heads roll.
Isn’t it the story of countless Black folks who have to work with white women who don’t know how to get anything but positive feedback? Isn’t it the story of why 2 men got arrested for standing in Starbucks? Isn’t it the story of Emmett Till?
White women tears are especially potent and extra salty because they are attached to the symbol of femininity. 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. The mothers, sisters, daughters and aunties of the world’s biggest bullies (white men). But the truth is, white women have been bullies themselves because they’ve been the shadows behind the white men who get all the blame. They have been doing much of the subjugation in white supremacy without any of the accountability, because: innocent white woman is a caricature many have chosen to embrace, even subconsciously. Why? Because it shields them from consequences. We talk about toxic masculinity but there is toxicity in wielding femininity in this way.
The Damsel in Distress reveling is real. Alice drowned people in Wonderland with her tears. Helen of Troy started a war. Miss Millie ain’t let Miss Sophia go home for Christmas.
White people will never have to deal with the fact that their skin is considered a weapon but they use their skins as ammunition by using all the privileges that come with it to terrorize the world. White women use their tears as pity me bombs all the time and it often instigates Black people being punished.
Last night, Shay Stewart Bouley (aka Black Girl in Maine) did a Twitter thread about this topic, and it is really what prompted me to write this piece. She then turned it into a longer post on her blog, called Weapon of lass destruction: The tears of a white woman. Do yourself a favor and read it. Here is the first of her many tweets on this topic:
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a childhood friend. White girl from the Southside of Chicago, she’s now a professor here in NE. Our friendship ended at 18. Why? White woman tears. I told her she made me feel like a charity case and it hurt her feelings.
— Shay Stewart Bouley (@blackgirlinmain) April 16, 2018
I posted this on my social and Black women’s comments of their experiences being on the opposite side of white women tears were infuriating to read, because this is real.
TP: My son was in Pre-K and another child got upset and hit and kicked him. He told me on the way home and I called up to the school and said tomorrow morning I wanted the president, the teacher, the teacher’s aide and the boy’s mother in the office to meet with me. The moment I walked into the door, the mother approaches me and broke down into tears. I never said one word as she gave a long speech about how her sons rough house a lot at home. At the end of her speech, I simply said, “what you do at home is your business but your baby needs to keep his hands off of mine.” Later that day, I found out that my husband works with her. He told me she came to work late (because she was being comforted for about an hour by the school President and teacher) and went to my husband and said, “your wife almost kicked my ass this morning”. *Blank stare* umm when and where? We don’t believe in violence in my household, I don’t even spank my child, I’ve never thrown a punch or received one. His response to her, “umm okay”.
KW: My God. This. WW tears = cancellation of my WoC feelings and my valid voice screaming into a void.
GD: I’m seriously having flashbacks to a co-worker that almost got me fired because I didn’t want her petting my afro-puffs; the tears, oh the tears she shed because I told her I wasn’t her pet. This was almost 20 years ago.
MR: I was a young girl, got fired from my first job because a white girl cursed ME out. By the time the boss came out she was crying and he let me go. I didn’t know how to defend or protect myself when I was seen as the aggressor. And frankly speaking the shit creeped me out and I think somehow they convinced me that my posture, or something made her cry. Hadn’t thought about it until now.
VK: Two years ago, I was barked on by a [bipolar] WW at my job. I barked right back on her. She ran crying to a supervisor. Somehow I was called to meet with the only Black supervisor at my job. That heifer had the nerve to DEFEND the WW’s tears. I no longer give a single f**k about any of their feelings. I call things as they are and keep it moving. They are not the end all and be all of my existence.
MH: It’s for this same reason that I’m leaving my job. The “tears” of whypipo have got me fed up. I look at them and question their real intent of moving here to Abuja to teach.
NP: I ended a friendship during my Peace Corps service over WW tears. I never looked back.
AS: As I was reading this thread, I was having little epiphanic moments and it dawned on me that this is why I have such a hard time at my current job. I didn’t want to go to HR about some WW making racist and anti-Semitic comments because of her tears. And I didn’t feel comfortable taking it to HR because the HR is another WW with tears. I don’t speak up in meetings -even when I’m 110% right- because of WW and their tears. I get chastised all the time over Lisa and Linda and Kayla and Amanda and whatever other WW’s feelings I hurt that day by not putting up with their bullshit. And I had the same problem in the military. There was never a problem in the office for the WoC unless a WW was involved.
JLP: I had this same experience years ago. I went to HR about three WW that were making my life miserable. I know for a fact that at least one made a racist comment. Instead of HR handling the situation I was told that I need to go out of my way to be friends with them. Now, I’m a very friendly, polite person so I always at least acknowledge people, even when I don’t like them. That wasn’t enough. I was told that I should go to their offices during the day and spark up conversation. My horrid manager even put in my mid-year review that I need to work on socializing with these particular women.
KGM: *Because in every other circumstance, victims of psychological and emotional abuse are ALWAYS taught to appease their abusers* 🙀 🙄 😡Oh wait! No they’re not! The globe stops spinning for a WW in an abusive situation, be it domestic/academic/professional landscape. You’re in the wrong skin for that protocol & protection, it seems. #HRappeasingtheabusers #AbusedVictimsshouldjusttryhardertogetalong MISS ME WITH THIS!
AG: Had to start a whole new career & almost lost my sanity behind WW tears. Took years of work & an old school friend who just would not let go to give up the bitterness before it consumed me.
LW: At an early position in my career I would see how they could cry in a meeting and immediately get their way, truly baffling, and no way could or would black women do that.
KH: I used to work for a local govt magistrate court that handled evictions, small claims, etc. One day during an eviction proceeding, the petite, blond woman who was a property manager burst into tears bc she was “afraid” of the tenant, a black man, after he raised his voice at her. Just a bit. In the courtroom. She had to be led out & brought back into the office with a sheriffs deputy for her “safety”. I could’ve ripped her to shreds. The other black woman and I seemed to be the only ones to recognize this power play for what it was. I was absolutely livid. We don’t even get the luxury of having somewhere to put our anger over these types of things that are so very common—from the tired ass angry black woman trope to Patty Mayonnaise get-out-of-jail-free tears for nothing.
FJ: My AA lit professor at a very prestigious PWI once called me into his office for a dressdown. I had made several of his sensitive white female students cry with my recitation of “If We Must Die”. I learned early to shut it down. Hell my grandmother washed clothes for wealthy white women. I have no sympathy.
LD: I supervised a WW whose negative reputation preceded our introduction. Determined to wipe the slate clean, I disregarded the baggage she came with and even offered praise on her performance evaluation. I said “she put forth an unusual amount of effort” on a task. She thought “unusual” was critical, took it (teary- eyed, of course) to the executive managers, and I was required to “fix it.” A WW tears story I will never forget. That was some bullshit.
JG: Amazingly, these tears come out of nowhere! However, I always say to people ‘never throw daggers when you can’t take a splinter’. These White tears often start off as daggers (on the offensive/ ‘raising Cain’) and end up as splinters (playing the victim). #pliersortweezers #useyoursleeve #growupplayingthedozens #dontwriteacheck #whitetearscauseblackfears
JT: Years ago on a job I was on, an older white woman was so jealous of a younger, more attractive black woman that she tried to push a chair on wheels into her. Instead of hitting her intended target, the chair ricocheted off the edge of the desk and hit the initial aggressor. Immediately, the white woman jumped up and ran into her out manager’s office, crying, insisting the black woman initiated the attack. The black woman, rightfully and angrily, followed after her to tell her side of the story but was shooed away.
Instead of being fired, the older white woman was moved to a spot next to me and became and tried to use her feelings of entitlement against me to demand attention from me. When I refused to engage her, she also tried to report me to management to no avail. She eventually stomped off to sit elsewhere. Thankfully, the black woman wasn’t fired either and she eventually moved in to a better job opportunity. This an example of a power dynamic that is frequently played out in work spaces and social settings and it is oppressive. It needs to end.
KG: been dealing with this ish for the past ten years. My co-worker and I got reprimanded because Holly, old enough to be our momma and alabaster asf, felt left out of our convo and cried to the bosses about it.
LM: This is also happening in developing world where WW especially young ones come into countries under this international development work and dare to cry in a meeting. This happened to me and till date I’m a bit stunned as to how she literally pulled tears and how that shut the whole meeting down. I remember watching the scene unfold and just saying out loud – now you are making me look bad.
AW: I’m always confused at how they are pushed into leadership roles but can’t handle someone yelling at them. I have seen it happen. When I relayed a story of my client cursing me out and how I replied, they were “shocked,” I also told them how he called back 20 min later apologizing and realizing HE was at fault. They would rather go to management and not work with the individual than face the fact that it’s like that sometimes. You can’t work in a “man’s world” and want equality, but can’t handle getting yelled at! 🤬 🙄
SH: I see this often in mixed race groups-especially when WW are confronted on some inappropriate behavior or micro aggressions. Almost like a conditioned response that deflects responsibility. Makes any meaningful conversations or accountability in understanding white privilege impossible. Wipe your tears away and take responsibility for your shit!
KT: A few years ago I was called into a meeting with my black female department chair after a white female student who I barely noticed…it was the first day of class…walked into her office and burst into tears because she found me “intimidating”. The student didn’t have any particular complaint about any action I did but before the semester was over her father demanded meetings with the chair and dean demanding something be done. But what could be done since I hadn’t done anything to the student. I stopped meeting with white female students without witnesses after that.
To quote Shay:
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.
When I posted all of this and the thread was popping, a few white women who read my work commented that this prompted them to reflect on if they’ve been guilty of this.
KKB: This is great and challenging and I hope my fellow white women will read and actually LISTEN without getting defensive or self-justifying. No more comments from me until I go sit with this/reflect on my own actions. Thanks for sharing.
LK: Wow, this is a seriously humbling post. Taken to heart. My husband, who happens to be a POC, often hesitates to tell me things because of my reactions, which quite often include tears of embarrassment and selt-pity. I’ve been conscious for awhile now that my tears do not help anything, are purely selfish, and only serve to derail any type of communication, but this just gives me a whole other perspective. I vow to do better.
NCA: This goes to the intertwining of racism and misogyny. WW in America have come up in a system that holds them back, but from the very beginning we were taught that at least we weren’t “one of them.” And that our only power was our sex and our tears (whereas slave women and WoC had no power at all). We have been taught that men are supposed to “protect” us, don’t worry our pretty heads about things, and if we cry “our men” will rush to the rescue of whatever Big Bad (usually a man of color) is hurting us.
It’s all toxic. All of it. White women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault and rape (I’ve experienced the “fun” of all three) are nonetheless trained so well from such a young age to dismiss the cries of WoC who’ve experienced the same things, but with the added layer of racism. It has to stop. WW and WoC have to be sisters, and it starts with us WW. We have to stop being defensive. We have to listen. We have to take a back seat. We have to learn (and the learning part? We need to do that ourselves and not constantly ask WoC to guide us!). And above all, we have to be strong enough to accept that sometimes, hard truths are going to make us uncomfortable, but keep in the forefront of our minds: our discomfort is NOTHING to the daily indignities and the life and death fears of PoC who are just trying to live their lives.
Two Black men were arrested in a Starbucks for NO. FUCKING. REASON. because some dumbass white woman cried (or in this case, called the cops, because sure). Enough.
Is there hope?
It’s interesting. White people have somehow created the narrative that Black and brown people are violent. When they have been the most violent and traumatizing people in history.
It is high time to do better, white women. But I already said this on this blog and in my book.
Have you bought my NYTimes-bestselling debut book I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do-Better Manual? Haven’t ordered it yet? Now’s your chance. You’ll love it. Amazon. Barnes & Nobles. iBooks. Audible (I narrated the audiobook myself). Kobo. Books-A-Million.