Sunday, February 14, 2021

Book Review and Personal Reflections: White Tears/Brown Scars

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color

by: Ruby Hamad
ISBN: 978-1-948226-74-5

In her work, Ruby Hamad takes us on a journey through the history of racism in America and the greater "white" world, providing ample evidence for how the actions and attitudes of white men accompanied by the silence of white women is the defining feature of Western settler-colonial society. 

In short, as the title suggests, this book is about the use of White Women’s tears as weapons and the price we pay for our role in maintaining the status quo of white supremacy. The idea of white women as the best supporting characters in maintaining whiteness in our society is a blind spot in our antiracism work even though the evidence is everywhere. Racism gets more subtle over time, and while White Women are not screaming rape when a black man passes us on the street, we are supporting the oppression of people of color with our inherent white innocence. And it’s all bullshit. 

Hamad's in-depth analysis of representation in media, tokenism in social circles, internalized oppression, and large-scale/global gaslighting are spot-on and important for those doing the work of antiracism:

On page 57, Hamad writes, “[Representation] matters because it is in popular media that our social world is both constructed and reflected back at us.” How many times have I felt comforted by the diversity of a cast, as though the presence of people of color was enough to comfort my whiteness into feeling “woke”? How many of these stereotypes did I miss, did I “not see,” and in my blindness perpetuate? How many times have I made excuses for the stereotypical portrayal of a character because “it saves time” for the plot to move forward? Yikes, me. 

On the white art of tokenism: Just as having a black friend doesn't make us "not racist," having a black woman as a member of our women's group does not give our group legitimacy as "progressive," "diverse," or even "woke," nor does it give our group a bye on the work of anti-racism. That, simply put, is the very heart of tokenism. If there's at least one person of color present, too many groups and organizations think they get to check the diversity box and be done with it. We need to make space for the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of women of color, not just their bodies.

"Whiteness has become so attached to the symbols of privilege, wealth, and status that it no longer even needs European-derived people themselves to perpetuate it." (Amad, p. 206). Another term for this is "internalized oppression," and if you are not familiar with the term, I definitely encourage you to do a quick google search. Basically, it is when an oppressed group self-restricts their own actions and even thoughts based on the dominant cultural norms that apply to them. I am reflecting on what the unspoken cultural norms of women's groups would be that women of color automatically adhere to, such as ensuring they hold space for white tears properly, apologizing when they anger or upset a white woman, or other similar things. In reflecting on the unspoken rules, it is my hope that I can find ways to change those rules. The real way to defeat unspoken things is to speak them. Once spoken, they can and, Gods be good, will be changed.

Finally, the idea of large-scale gaslighting must be addressed.  White society has convinced itself that all we have done was for the good of those “less-than” us—meaning less-than-white. It is othering on a global scale. As you’ve heard us say at Mountain Ancestors: we [the dominant culture] create outsiders. 

People of color have had to continually deny parts of themselves and adopt whiteness, through ideology and appearance, as a way to protect themselves from literal harm. The more they pass, the less they have to deal with the direct threat of racism, but at what personal cost? 

Our role as women has been one of softening. White Womanhood has made the edges blurry between white supremacy and the rights of people of color. White Womanhood has perpetuated the illusion of creating a better world that keeps whiteness at the top of the hierarchy of humanity. We are the rose-colored glasses through which white supremacy is filtered—and our white tears, as Hamad points out, are a result of the rosy perception we have created crashing into the unfiltered reality where people of color live. 

So what do we do? As a group, white women need to focus on what Hamad has pointed out: acknowledge the unfair advantage our race has given us in the form of white privilege AND our participation in a system where our womanhood has been both a privilege and a weapon. 

What do we do on an individual level? For me, I am starting by answering the many questions Hamad poses to us as white women on page 244. From there, I need to take off the proverbial rose-colored glasses and see what reality—and accountability for my/our parts in creating the world we live in now—actually looks like. Reconcile the truth of the now with the lies we told to fabricate our current version of the overculture. 

I do not want my tears used as a weapon to hurt others. I do not want my emotions used as justification for other people’s actions—especially when those actions are violent and hateful. I want full ownership of my own self, and the cost of that is giving up the “get out of jail free” card that allows my tears to shift the blame and rescue me from my own failings. 

I will start with a refocus on personal accountability. If we all start there, maybe we can begin to truly dismantle the broken and violent system we have held aloft on the pillow of our femininity.

Ruby Hamad is a journalist, author, and academic who spilts her time between Sydney, Australia, and New York, New York. This work was inspired by the response to her article entitled, "How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour." 

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