White women: leave the room if you gotta cry
This one rang pretty true for me, because I cry easily and know that I would absolutely be the one to fall into this category without realizing the issues it carries. It might seem strange to hear this. You might think that being moved to tears by the plight of black people is a positive thing, as it shows your compassion and horror; who could hold that against you?
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.
Emmett Till was a name I had never heard (whiteness showing clearly here.) For any others who haven’t heard it, a brief history lesson: a white women told her husband a black man had been flirting with her in their store, so the white man got a bunch of friends together and brutally killed the black man. They were tried and let go without any punishment. The woman later confessed that she had made it up.
Emmett Till was fourteen.
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 only does this have horrific racial history tied to it, but black women are often not afforded the same luxury. When they cry over these things, they are ruining the image they are supposed to maintain as strong and stoic, or degraded as being overemotional and unreliable. Furthermore, when a white woman cries, the conversation stops as people move to comfort her. This forces black men to comfort white women; this is the victim comforting the perpetrator, in a way.
So in short: just go.
White people are the dangerous ones
Yes, anyone can be dangerous. But in racial relations, it is white people who have the power and are the danger.
Today, we depict blacks as dangerous, a portrayal that perverts the true direction of violence between whites and blacks since the founding of this country.
Black people in America are constantly portrayed as violent, dangerous, criminal. They are painted with fear which triggers in white people. It’s another way to validate keeping them oppressed by systemic racism. And yet, they are the ones being killed by (predominantly) white cops. They are the ones who are less likely to be hired because their name sounds “too black” or their hair is “unprofessional.” Black people are the ones facing danger, and yet we tell ourselves that they are the danger.
If you feel guilty, do something about it
To put it bluntly, I believe that the white collective fundamentally hates blackness for what it reminds us of: that we are capable and guilty of perpetrating immeasurable harm and that our gains come through the subjugation of others.
This is another really tough one to face. Even the idea of associating myself with the phrase “hates blackness” is bitter and feels every kind of wrong and makes me immediately defensive. But the idea here is that it’s hard for white people to address racism and look white supremacy in its face — our faces — because we feel REALLY GODDAMN TERRIBLE ABOUT IT. The crushing guilt of what our ancestors have done and why we are in a decent position today is easier to bury than to acknowledge.
But here’s my favorite quote from the whole book, and one that I’ve added to my general ways of living:
The antidote to guilt is action.
If you feel bad about systemic racism —
If you don’t want to hear more names added to the list —
If you hope things will change for the better —
then do something about it.