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The Weapons of White Women's Tears

Yesterday the infamous Amy Cooper of "birding while Black" fame lost her case against her employer. Franklin Templeton fired Cooper for her racism, and the U.S. District Court rejected her claim that her employer was responsible for her defamation.

Two days after Cooper's white women's tears coincided with the murder of George Floyd, I wrote this article about the the violence against Black people and our complicity on my personal blog. I've extracted the most important points for white women in this article.

If you're white, stop saying "I'm not a racist."

As whites, we have benefited from the structure of racism. We are all inherently racists. We must be actively anti-racist every day. Here are six recommendations from Ibram X. Kendi.

White women have used our tears as a weapon for hundreds of years.

The morning that George Floyd was brutally murdered in Minneapolis, Amy Cooper called 911 because Christian Cooper asked her to put a leash on her dog. Christian is a Harvard graduate, pioneering comic book writer, and biomedical editor for Health Science Communications, demonstrating only that a Black person's qualifications matter not a jot when it comes to racism. Amy told the 911 operator she was being threatened by an "African-American man."

White women, listen up. We have got to stop this shit.

For hundreds of years, white women have yielded our power as damsels in distress to endanger and sometimes kill Black people through our claims that we have felt threatened by Black people, usually Black men. Sometimes we white women have even made up stories about Black men threatening or attacking us.

And by the way, did you know that last month a jury declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who falsely accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of making advances toward her? We white women continue to get away with weaponizing our tears. I'm hoping the upcoming movie "Till" will renew interest in this tragedy and his mother's bravery.

Bryan Stevenson writes in Just Mercy about Monroeville, Alabama. It's the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird (another story of a false accusation by a white woman killing a Black man). Monroeville celebrates the book as its claim to fame. Yet when one of its own Black men (Walter McMillian) was arrested for a crime he did not commit (connected to his affair with a white woman), those same townspeople proud overlooked this connection and the faulty evidence. They just assumed McMillian was guilty.

To be anti-racist, we need to understand the role our whiteness plays in the structure of racism.

I see white tears often played out in social media posts, when white women cannot stand the discomfort from being called out for their racism. Robin DiAngelo shares in White Fragility how white tears are manifested:

  • "Control of the conversation by speaking first, last and most often

  • Arrogant and disingenuous invalidation of racial inequality via “just playing the devil’s advocate”

  • Simplistic and presumptuous proclamations of “the answer” to racism (“People just need to…”)

  • Playing the outraged victim of “reverse racism”

  • Accusations that the legendary “race card” is being played

  • Silence and withdrawal

  • Hostile body-language

  • Channel-switching (“The true oppression is class!”)

  • Intellectualizing and distancing (“I recommend this book…”)

All of these moves function to get race off the table, regain control of the discussion, and end the challenge to their positions.

By using the deadly weapon of her white tears, Amy Cooper could have condemned Christian Cooper to the same fate of George Floyd, Amaud Arbery, and so many others.

She knew exactly what she was doing. She knew her power.

We white people need to educate ourselves about our power and privilege. White women need to understand our tendency to become fragile victims when we are challenged for our racism.

We need to call out other white people when they weaponize their white tears. We need to read the words of and listen to Black people and demand positive representation. We need to demand justice for our Black siblings and pay them for the traumatic act of educating us. And we need to stop centering ourselves and making it about us.

When we know better, we can do better.

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I develop thought leadership content and communications strategies that engage readers and help companies stand out above the crowd. My internal communications help employees feel included and valued. I coach leaders on how to develop positive relationships with their teams through inclusive communications. I help them avoid the pitfalls of exclusionary language.

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