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Image description: A drawing of four faceless women standing in front of a night sky, holding a white sign with the female symbol and two hearts on it. The women are all wearing black tank tops and pants, and have different skin tones and hair styles. One woman wears a hijab.
Recognizing a Controversial Social Issue
I am a brown Pakistani Muslim woman, which puts me on one of the lower rungs on the ladder of privilege. Since I am a visual learner, I am going to try to paint a picture. Imagine a girl who is being followed by a trail of dark clouds. The biggest and heaviest of them are racism and misogyny. I think many women of color in this country would be able to see themselves as that girl. Go ahead and add a cloud if the girl is a Muslim and you have the cloud of Islamophobia following her. Let’s add another cloud if the girl is international. For lack of a better term, let’s call this cloud ”backlash from one’s own culture.” Many girls from conservative parts of the world would unfortunately know what I am talking about.
So that’s the kind of girl I am –– being hovered over by the big four clouds described above.
I am also a devoted feminist, and so I found myself very intrigued by the prologue of Ruby Hamad’s book, “White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color” when I came across it. I found myself an e-book and dove straight into it. If I were to summarize her work, I would say that she is trying to help us understand the complex relationship between being a woman of color and white feminism. She starts by walking us through a thoroughly researched white society’s perception of women of color throughout history. Her accounts include Black, Indigenous, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian women. Most of these women are characterized as angry, uncivilised and ’not woman enough.’ She then devotes an entire chapter to the white society’s perception of a white woman –– the epitome of womanhood. She uses these perceptions to show how women of color have to suffer at the
hands of not only white men, but also white women who use this false yet unflattering perception of women of color in order to maintain the privilege bestowed upon them by their whiteness. The reason why being targeted by a white woman is more alarming than being targeted by a white man is because it is often invisible yet extremely common.
As I continued reading through the book, I could not stop thinking about never having a white girl friend despite going to a very international school for four years. By the end of the book, I got the answer to this lingering question: I knew that I could never be myself around a white girl because of the constant fear of offending one and being labelled as an insensitive person. Unfortunately, this happens more often than I thought. Her book goes through accounts of numerous women who lost their self-respect, self-worth, already fragile status, and psychological wellness by being “white-teared” (this refers to a white woman’s strategic use of her tears to win any debate or argument against a woman of color in the presence of a predominantly white audience). I reached out to some women of color around me and I asked if they relate to any of what Hamad was trying to say, and unfortunately many of them admitted that they did.
Despite Hamad’s extensive evidence, my brain is just not ready to accept the reality she portrays. I keep wondering if I have a biased opinion regarding this issue since it talks about me as a victim and justifies my struggles. It gives rise to the most problematic question a person of color might ask oneself: ”Am I being too sensitive?” So, I thought, maybe it’s time to talk to someone from the other group: progressive white women.
Fixing a Controversial Social Issue
So I have this great idea to talk to a progressive white woman about this, but this is when I stumble. How do I talk to a white woman without being too insensitive and hurting her feelings? This was the moment when I was able to recognize and appreciate the reason behind Hamad’s work. I do not have any defenses against a white woman’s tears and I have a feeling that I am certainly not alone. So, how do you talk to a white woman?
This is where I think Hamad’s book loses its magic. It does an excellent job to get the women of color on board, but then it leaves them stranded on this island of confusion and helplessness. I fail to see a white woman taking responsibility for all the crimes laid on her in this book because of the book’s accusatory tone. I reached that conclusion after reading the following excerpt in her book:
“I call McCain’s bluff just as I call the bluff of all white women who claim to be above racism -– not necessarily because they are consciously and avowedly racist, but because it is simply impossible for any white women to be genuinely ‘not okay with racism’ when we as a society have not yet reckoned with the fact that this model of strategic White Womanhood that has been honed and entrenched by centuries of colonialism is itself a racist concept.”
I cannot help but think that this is the most problematic part of the book. Calling every white woman racist because of something that exists in a society completely disregards the efforts of some women who are genuinely trying to be allies to the women of color. It is a repetitive pattern that I have seen in this book and I can see that it makes her words powerless.
So how do we fix this? How do we get Hamad’s message across without failing to combat white tears or without being too aggressive? Below are some potential solutions that I have been able to conjure after spending days pondering upon this:
• Fighting Strategy with Strategy: This issue is inevitably going to take more than emotions. It needs persistence and diplomacy. Why don’t we let the stories speak for themselves? Why don’t we let white women decipher them by creating an environment where they willfully get exposed to all the evidence that Hamad provides. I agree willfully is a trick word here, but I am providing this solution on the basis of my belief that there exist white women who do not realize the consequences of something that they are doing unconsciously.
• Educating the Audience: I think this actually might be something that is more empowering than getting white women on board. One way to get rid of the potency of white tears is by exposing them. My support for this approach comes from the overwhelmingly positive outcome of something as simple as identifying “Karens” and I have social media to thank for it. Karen became a pejorative term that was used to identify white women (and sometimes men) who used their privilege and entitlement to get their way. Recognizing Karens not only made the public aware of the motive behind certain behavior but it helped them to call out and condemn such behavior. As a result, for some of those who thought they might be classified as a Karen, the fear of being bestowed with such a title made them more mindful of their actions.
I am not suggesting to come up with a pejorative word for women using their white tears, but I am asking the women of color and their allies to use their privilege to expose such behaviours.
• Asking the White Women: I am going to take this opportunity to leave the white women with one question:
“How do we talk about this to you without offending or hurting you?”
If you identify as a white woman who cares about feminism for all, I would like you to take this opportunity and tell us how we can help you understand our side of the story. You will find many of us more than eager to work with you.
I hope I was able to stir up the waters and open the floor for a discussion that needs to keep happening until we come to a resolution. It saddens me to see that we are further divided as women of color and white women. I think that is where my motivation to write this piece came from. Even though I had my reservations about Hamad’s book, I still recommend people of all colors to read it with an open mind, and to use their critical thinking to come up with their own conclusions.