On Tuesday the 8th of May Ruby Hamad published an opinion piece in The Guardian entitled How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour, it was met with huge interest overseas but almost silence here in Australia. Although it was labeled as an Opinion Piece it is actually quite detailed with references and could certainly be classified as an article, but I’m not going to examine editorial decisions that I know nothing about, I’d like to talk about the silence.
I saw the article posted on the 8th, I follow Ruby Hamad on Twitter and it was right there on her feed. Even if I didn’t, it would have been hard to miss as the discussion picked up momentum, particularly in the US, and began to fill my timeline by the 17th. Ruby Hamad used this Twitter thread by Djed Press as a catalyst to discuss white women’s need to centre themselves in conversations for and about women of colour.
Ruby Hamad’s piece landed and then the whispered conversations began, ‘have you read it?’ Awkward conversations around if it was being said white women could never cry. White women were being quietly confronted and many of us didn’t quite know what to do about it. There was some #notallwhitewomen going on.
I kind of expected this response because as a white woman it is a confronting read. Being called out on bad behaviour is confronting. And then having to think about is it true, and have I done this, is confronting. It’s confronting not because anything Ruby Hamad wrote was terrible or viscous but because it is always confronting to examine yourself. I mean, at least it is for me. I’ve got awful self-esteem so self examination is generally telling myself how badly I suck, it might actually be pleasant for other people who constantly tell themselves how right and awesome they are. I imagine for those kinds of people this article would have been doubly confronting.
However, what I didn’t expect was the continued silence. I was expecting maybe 5 days to go past and then another established journalist or writer to join the discussion and really continue the conversation. It’s the kind of conversation that requires deft hands to cover it because there are complicating factors that have us white women clutching their pearls over this and it’d be great to see someone tackle these issues and still stand up and agree that this is a problem that we need to take responsibility for and check our behaviour on. I’m not saying white women are the only ones who do this, but I am saying we do have a problem with it.
Now I am not an experienced journalist nor an award winning writer, in fact I am the total arse end of Australian writing. I am a self-published, dyslexic author with ADHD and depression born into zero media or publishing connections. Heck, I lucked out on the connection front in any sense. I am not the deft hands needed for this conversation so I have stayed silent and waited to let the ‘adults’ do the talking… but they didn’t. The ‘adults’ didn’t join the conversation. They publicly ignored it. It’s possible that every single one of them somehow missed both it and the international coverage and that’s why they haven’t commented… But regardless of the reason there has been a lot of silence, so now this hack is commenting and hoping somebody will jump on in and do a better job. “Did you see that clumsy shit Robin wrote? I can do better than that!”
One of the major issues I heard whispered about was, isn’t that what MRA say about women? Aren’t we fighting them and saying that they’re wrong to say that? And it’s true MRA do say something similar. They do say women use their tears as weapons. They say that women overreact to being abused and use tears to garner sympathy for their abuse. Let’s be clear, if you hit, slap, push, scream at or threaten a woman, their tears are a valid response and not a dirty trick. However, that’s noy what Ruby Hamad’s article was about. It was about wronging someone and then when you’re called out for your bad behaviour resorting to tears and finger pointing to shift blame. You know, like a man who beats his wife and then crie that it was her fault because she nagged him. The tears being questioned are those used to silence people who have checked you on bad behaviour. It’s the tears used to claim a person calling you out is abusive, and that the person you wronged is actually worse than you for daring to point out your poor behaviour and they should have done it in some other way and there for you don’t have to list. Hamad’s a trick was not saying that if a white woman gets punched in the face she can’t cry, but that to wrong someone and then use those tears as a shield is manifestly uncool.
And quite frankly, we know there are women who do this. To deny this is to be dishonest. Honestly, I told a woman she was being pretty rude that exact same week and she began bad mouthing me at length telling people that I subjected her to inexcusable abuse and made some not so subtle references to my mental health. I basically just had to eat shit, because I’m open about my mental health I’m easily targeted by these type of people. ‘Oh that Robin, she probably did do the wrong thing, she’s crazy, poor you for being called in for being underhanded.’ Guess who else is easy fodder for these types of people? Anyone perceived as lower on the food chain, anyone they can easily assign blame to because they’re viewed as less capable. Disabled women cop this frequently too. ‘Oh they can’t really do things for themselves, we’ll just railroad them.’ ‘Oh you’re so good for helping those poor unfortunates out, how dare they want a say in how they’re treated and to have dignity, you’re so good, they’re so horrible.
So is it really any wonder that this happens to WOC too? A group of people who have been portrayed in everything ranging from literature, to movies, to the media, as aggressive and volatile. Heck Ruby Hamad’s article got treated as aggressive and shameful by some, and I won’t share links because I don’t want to give threatening statements oxygen. She didn’t write “all white women are always c-bombs and all WOC are always right” but people behaved as if she did. In fact she wrote:
“We talk about toxic masculinity,” Ajayi warns, “but there is (also) toxicity in wielding femininity in this way.” Brown and black women know we are, as musician Miss Blanks writes, “imperfect victims”. That doesn’t mean we are always in the right but it does mean we know that against a white woman’s accusations, our perspectives will almost always go unheard either way.
So far Claire Lehmann seems to be the only somewhat prominent, Australian, white woman really to have made a splash discussing it. She didn’t agree with the article but at least she acknowledged it and addressed it. It wasn’t this culture of silence. She didn’t go for a “ignore it and it’ll go away” type thing. I’m hoping more prominent, white women stand up and address the crying elephant in the room. Because, it happens and we really need to address it.
Cryptopart founder and journalist Asher Wolf has called attention to the fact that all this and more is happening in white feminism, and I’m hoping that her voice is big enough and respected enough that some more meaningful discussions starts happening here, like they have overseas. We need to stop falling for these narcissistic games of shifting blame onto the victim through theatrics. Not just in the writing or the media, but in every aspect of life. The best at crying isn’t always right. People saying something horrifically racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic/ablist should be able to be called out for their behaviour (I’m not talking about pile-ons) regardless of how poised they are when saying they’re repugnant opinions. Crying because someone checked your bad behaviour and trying to turn others against them for daring to question you is uncool, and people falling for this shit is ridiculous. “Oh yes, she is so awful for calling out your racist and homophobic behaviour, we should totally band against her and exclude her from all the things because she’s truly a bad apple.” Sometimes people cry, it does not make the other person a villain. I’m so fucking tired of it, I can’t even imagine how exhausted WOC must be in this society.
Anyway, find Ruby Hamad’s article (linked in first paragraph also) here.
Find Ruby Hamad’s website here.
Find Ruby Hamad on Twitter here.
Find Ruby Hamad on Facebook here.