Stop weaponizing your white tears and guilt

White fears fuel white tears. Graphic by Reece Butler


White people weaponizing their privilege and guilt is nothing new. 

Whiteness has always been weaponized against populations of color. When the white people who manipulate their privilege are called out, they often become highly defensive. 

The phenomenon of white tears encapsulates how white people often display their discomfort surrounding tough conversations about race through guilt or becoming defensive. When engaging in dialogue about their privilege and the deeply disturbing and harsh reality of racism and slavery in America, there are white people who feel so deeply uncomfortable that guilt and tears are all they can offer. 

Dr. Teigha VanHester, assistant professor of race, gender and sexuality studies, provided a framework for understanding white guilt and privilege. 

“White guilt is an inability to separate the self from structures within which the notion of whiteness in race perpetuates those privileges,” VanHester said. “[White people] are guilty about having privilege. They don’t want to acknowledge the privilege, but they benefit from it and thus [that is what is] leading to guilt.” 

White privilege is nocuous. White supremacy and anti-Blackness are so deeply embedded into our society that white privilege, guilt and tears are weaponized to seem like normal racial dynamics, where people of color are constantly gaslit about their experiences. 

White people perpetuate and uphold white supremacist notions — whether that be actively or inactively, explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly — yet they are also the ones that will weaponize their privilege. Having a candid conversation about race inevitably entails some level of discomfort. That discomfort is important, but it should never manifest itself in the form of white tears. 

As a professor, VanHester shared that weaponizing white privilege is never allowed in her classroom. 

“I make it very clear,” VanHester said. “I write in my syllabus, ‘You cannot weaponize tears in my classes.’ We don’t center whiteness or cisgenderhood or ableism. My classes are spaces for people in the margins, built by people of the margins.” 

White tears put racially marginalized individuals in a deeply uncomfortable situation. It now becomes our responsibility to console you for the guilt that you are experiencing because of what your ancestors may have done. It is ludicrous to hold the racially marginalized responsible for making sure that white people do not feel threatened by our experiences and histories.  

Sophomore health sciences major Kamarie Fuller-McDade shared that the guilt and tears of white women in particular can be quite harmful. 

“White women live in such a complex structure,” Fuller-McDade said. “With white women, there is sexism … They’re oppressed, but at the end of the day, they’re not oppressed on the side of race.” 

The dynamics of identity and privilege are complex and nuanced. It is entirely possible for someone to hold one marginalized identity while still contributing to the marginalization of someone else, and this is the case with white women. 

“When a woman uses white tears … we kind of see through it,” Fuller-McDade said. “I’ve had a lot of [experiences] where white women claim that I’m not a … feminist because I don’t believe their white tears … They’ll say something like, ‘Oh, I get scared when men walk next to me on the sidewalk at night.’ Understandable. I get scared too. However, it is an issue when you only get scared when it’s a Black man that’s walking on the same sidewalk as you.” 

The tears of white people — white women in particular — can have detrimental impacts. White women are often inherently perceived as virtuous “damsels in distress” who need to be sheltered. Their womanhood is honored as something innocent, precious and in need of protection. 

The question that is rarely asked, however, is protection from whom? 

In 2018, a white woman called the police on two Black men for using a charcoal grill. In 2020, a white woman called the police on a Black man in Central Park because his dog was not on a leash. Sometimes, these instances do not always cause outrage on social media or the news. And sometimes, the weaponization of white tears through the form of calling the police can have much more detrimental effects. 

“We know that these white tears led to the death of Emmett Till,” VanHester said. “The woman ended up recanting. However, a 14-year-old boy was murdered and lynched beyond recognition.” 

When white tears are shed, bodies of color pay the price. 

The intersection between race and gender needs to be considered with nuance. Holding one marginalized identity does not absolve you from contributing to the marginalization of someone else. White women experience sexism and misogyny; white women also play a pivotal role in upholding white supremacy. 

Senior strategic communication major Giselle Varre noted that white guilt and tears also often go hand-in-hand with white savior complexes

“[White guilt] is a slippery slope,” Varre said.  “It can seem as a good thing that white people feel guilty for the past actions of their ancestors. But then again, it could also lead to this idea of ‘crocodile tears’ and them feeling that need to just make up for everything that they did. And sometimes white guilt can lead to that white savior complex.” 

White saviors are white individuals who think they can save the racially marginalized through their whiteness. People of color do not need to be “saved” by white people in order for racial progress to be made. Instead of amplifying minority voices, white saviors speak over and on behalf of communities of color. 

There is a dynamic in place where white people want to absolve themselves of all guilt by engaging in white saviorism. This structure marginalizes Black, Indigenous and other people of color while also ignoring the genuine concerns that racially marginalized people have that white people need to address. White guilt centers the feelings of white people within racial progress, which is counterproductive. 

VanHester shared that white people need to use their privilege to support the voices of the marginalized. 

“Be in those spaces that are uncomfortable, because the rest of us are uncomfortable all the time,” VanHester said. “Check your fellow white folk who are doing some nonsense behavior … If you have that guilt of being white, it’s your duty to figure it out.” 

It is everyone’s duty to navigate our discomfort in a productive way. We are ignoring institutional inequities when we neglect to acknowledge that different communities and identities can have wildly different experiences. 

However, as racially marginalized people, it is not our responsibility to console you for your white guilt. We will not apologize for the discomfort you feel. We will not feel sorry for your white tears. 

Stop shedding your white tears and weaponizing your white fears against us.


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