Dear White Women, Your Tears Won’t Drown Your Guilt

White people: you don’t need to pretend you are free of racism (no one is) to be an active anti-racist.

Art by Amelia Mertha

“You’re trying to say that as a POC you feel genuinely threatened and anxious when you see a policeman in Australia? That is simply BS! Are you just milking the minority card to have something to argue about?” This is an excerpt from a long message that I woke up to one morning, from a white woman (who was one of many others in my inbox). It was a response to some anti-cop rhetoric posted to my Instagram story after witnessing the water police at my favourite ocean spot. Reading them transported me back to my feelings of violation as I stood aghast by the water that day. I blocked the sender and shared a post about white people needing to recognise their privilege and lack of ability to define what constitutes experiences of racism. I had a few condescending replies from white men, yet none victimised themselves like the numerous white women did, calling me “dismissive” and “attacking”, insistent that I was “spreading hate”. 

I’ve quickly learned that white guilt is so deep-rooted that white women will dig in their heels and end long-standing friendships to avoid being ‘labelled’ a racist. They’ll scramble to boast about their study of Indigenous issues (ignoring that the unit is run by a colonial institution which profits off stolen lands) as a feeble attempt at alleviating it. They’d sooner make your anti-racism work about their feelings rather than acknowledging that they constitute the problem. In fact, they’ll claim that you’re the real racist for making generalisations about white people. That they’re the victim here, so your posts about white complacency must be targeting them specifically. They’ll tell you off for being too judgemental or angry in your approach, allocating you the responsibility of educating them gently. They’ll be offended when you share the ‘milking the minority card’ messages, insisting that you consider the feelings of these senders who don’t want their opinions broadcasted — because then they’ll be obligated to condemn them. But God forbid they betray the sisterhood and speak out against another white woman; isn’t feminism all about #girlpower and female solidarity? 

Their tears fall strategically, the flow of a stream that serves the sole purpose of drowning you (and their guilt) out. In their watery eyes, they are excused from the reality that despite being subject to patriarchal injustice, they too are adherents and inflictors of oppression. Their tears pool together, cold and saline, as if to form an ocean on which to carry the police boats they seem to love so much. They adopt their role of policing our behaviour — a violent and punishing tactic built on the comfortable complacency enabled by the system of white supremacy they refuse to unlearn. 

White people: you don’t need to pretend you are free of racism (no one is) to be an active anti-racist. The anti-racist work of others should not trigger your guilt in the way it so clearly does. It’s not enough to hide behind strong activists, or your friends of colour, and use an association with their efforts to absolve your guilt. Your indignance with racism must be more than your fear of being called a racist. It is your responsibility to be less fragile, less defensive, and less passive — your silence is still an act of white supremacy, and your tears won’t drown your guilt.

And to everyone else: you don’t need permission from white people to speak about racism. You don’t need to soften your outrage or hand hold to conciliate their needs and feelings. You have the right to expect your white friends to actively listen, support you, and take your side; that they won’t ice you out of activist or friendship spaces in an attempt to mitigate conflict and appease others. You do not have to stick around for white people who punish you for demanding a safer space, calling out racism, or sharing your experiences. Why must you protect them from the pull of the moon, the waves and the tides, when they should learn to swim?

I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, [] Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. [] We welcome all women who can meet us, face to face, beyond objectification and beyond guilt.” 

—Audre Lorde, 1981