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White Tears


It’s been a couple of weeks since I facilitated the last book club on Whiteness. That week, we discussed, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. This was the smallest group, with the fewest attendees since starting the group this winter. I posed the question to the group, “why are there so few of us here? The answer came back:“this book was the hardest, most challenging” we had covered.


Interesting.


They weren’t ready for this conversation? This gives me pause to contemplate what developmental step could I provide to ready members for this conversation? It does show me that a developmental approach to discussing Whiteness is appropriate and useful. Last month we were exposed to such an approach. I even handed out a self-assessment for participants to use. It could be they weren’t ready for that either.


The conversation focused on our reactions to race conversations. The chapter on White Women’s tears was especially poignant (to me). It brought to mind a recent conversation I’d had with a native woman who was connected to the Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. I blurted out that my mother’s family had roots there as well. And because I was feeling so stressed, shared with her that my great-grandmother might have taught at a residential school there.


You could have heard a pin drop.


She smiled and said that there is still a lot of pain around Residential schools.

Later, I felt that I had forced this information upon her when she wasn’t expecting it. In a gush of emotionalism, I sent a message to her apologizing. That very act felt like I had made the conversation about me. I was so uncomfortable with my connection to a Residential school that I exaggerated my own emotions and made those that she was describing seem smaller or not as significant as mine were in that moment.


Diangelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy. The chapter on White women’s’ tears hammered the point home for me. When white women cry during a discussion on race they hijack the conversation, often completely manipulating and redirecting the attention and power to themselves. That is, AWAY from those who have been insulted, abused, or hated.


As Diangelo described White Women’s tears I saw my actions mirrored in her apt description. That, was and still is, humbling. I was looking to be forgiven by her. Thankfully, she did write back to me eventually and explained that she wasn’t that easy to hurt and I was on my own path.


I reached out and heard back from my cousin who is the holder of the family records. It was funny. He sent an audio message from Japan saying that my theory was very, very, interesting. He hadn’t thought of my great-grandmother’s life before marriage for a long, long time. Certainly, he said, he hadn’t thought of her at a time when First Nations experience had entered his consciousness.


The tears are justified, just keep them in your own space. Better yet, gather around exploring whiteness and share them with other white people. If you’d like support in creating a book club on Whiteness, contact margot@margothovey.com.

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD