White women’s tears is one of the main ways White American women have of derailing any talk of racism, particularly their own racism. It is part of a more general pattern of white people making their feelings matter more than the truth – something you see too in the tone argument, for example.
White women’s tears can come about in different ways, but here is the classic scene:
- A white woman says something racist.
- A black woman points it out. (It could be any person of colour but it works best against black women for reasons given below.)
- The white woman says she is not racist and starts crying.
- For added effect the white woman can run out of the room.
- Other whites, particularly white men, come to the aid and comfort not of the wronged black woman but of the racist white woman!
- The black woman, the wronged party, is made to seem like the mean one in the eyes of whites.
- The white woman continues to believe she is not racist.
Tables turned! It works so well that it is hard not to see the tears as a cheap trick.
This is more than just a woman using tears to get her way. It is built on a set of White American ideas about race, listed here in no particular order:
- It works best when these two stereotypes can be applied:
- The Sapphire stereotype - black women as mean, angry and disagreeable
- The Pure White Woman stereotype - white women as these special, delicate creatures who need to be protected at all costs. It is what drives the Missing White Woman Syndrome – and, in the old days, lynchings.
- The r-word: to be called a “racist”, however gently and indirectly, is a terrible, upsetting thing for white people – far worse than, you know, being a racist.
- White people and their feelings are the centre of the known universe.
- Hearts of stone: meanwhile whites seem to have a very, very hard time putting themselves in the shoes of people of colour.
- Moral blindness: white people think they are Basically Good, therefore if someone points out something bad about them it must be out of hatred.
- White solidarity: whites are afraid to stand up against racism, particularly when they are with other whites. Also, they do not like it when you call other whites racists – they seem to take it personally for some reason.
All these things work together to help create the scene laid out above. It is why it works best for young, good-looking white women and why black women’s tears have nowhere the same effect in a white setting.
In my own experience White American women are by far the hardest to talk to about racism. Even if you get past all their defences and they believe what you are saying, they act like they are going to cry. So you either stop or you push on and are made to look mean and heartless.
- Stuff White People Do: Rush to the aid of crying white instigators of racism, instead of the victims – step 5 above
- The feelings of white people
- The Sapphire stereotype
- The pure white woman stereotype
- the r-word
- The hearts of white people: the science
- Derailing for Dummies