There’s a trend on Tiktok where women – mainly white women – record themselves crying, then changing their expression to a smirk, showing how quickly they can fake their tears. More on this trend in Nylon. These videos are being condemned for demonstrating a very real and dangerous history of white women using their emotions to vilify Black people and other people of color.
Consider another video also trending on Tiktok. This one is real: a woman is caught on camera physically attacking a Black Muslim woman in a store, only to break down crying, accusing the victim of attacking her. In the minutes that follow, the woman cries and screams, “get away from me,” while running towards the Black woman, who continues to back away (Complex).
This is just one of many recent examples of this practice, though. Amy Cooper called the police on a Black man who simply asked her to leash her dog, stating that he was “threatening her life” (NYTimes). A Starbucks employee called the cops on two Black men for “trespassing” while waiting for a friend (NBC News). Frustrated that the police didn’t come sooner, a white woman expressed she was scared by Black men barbecuing in the park (Newsweek).
But this practice is responsible for some of the most well-known injustices in our history. The Tulsa Race Massacre was sparked after Dick Rowland, an African American shoe shiner, accidentally stepped on the toe of Sarah Page, a white elevator, causing her to scream (OK History). And Emmett Till was just 14-years-old when he was brutally lynched in August 1955. Till was attacked because 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, accused him of making advances on her when he entered her family’s store to buy 2-cent bubble gum. The two men responsible – her husband and his half-brother – were acquitted (PBS). But in 2007, Bryant Donham (since remarried) confessed that she fabricated that part of her testimony (Vanity Fair). Despite this, Bryant Donham, who is still alive today, has not been charged with her complicity in the murder. Emmett Till’s birthday is July 25. He would be turning 80 years old. Learn more about the official foundation’s efforts to demand justice.
How did we get here? According to Wendy Brown in her book States of Injury, this stems from a practice that progressive moments have often centered the perspective of “wounded identities” (Princeton). Even though there are many wounded identities worth listening to in our society, the marginalization that white women experience – the “damsel in distress” narrative – is prioritized in our white supremacist culture. It’s also often weaponized by white men to justify racial discrimination (consider our article on pools from last week) (NYTimes). Some white women may use it unconsciously, familiar with the privilege of having their emotions come before another’s. But, as in the examples noted above, it’s often used intentionally to minimize accountability, deflect blame, or worse, inflict harm in scenarios where they know their whiteness grants them superiority. Ironically, it’s often used by the same people that will denounce acts of racism, unable – or perhaps unwilling – to see how power and privilege play in these situations. Ruby Hamad’s book, “White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color,” is a comprehensive resource to dive further.
Today, this violence is codified in the racial bias of algorithms and content moderators on social media platforms today. White women tears trended last month on Tiktok as the platform was banning content with terms “pro-Black”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Black success” and “Black people” (NME). Videos of violent encounters go viral across social media, but rarely do posts outlining the importance of acknowledging white fragility or dismantling white feminism. Although trending videos drive awareness, they continue to reiterate who is centered in the broader narrative around racism and systemic oppression. And in the process, they trigger those most impacted by this harm.
Remember that for every video that trends, there are dozens more of these scenarios happening offline – perhaps in your workplace, park, or local coffee shop. It shouldn’t take a victim to record the violent incident for them to be believed. Consider: how can you prioritize the needs of those experiencing harm? How can you be an active bystander for someone experiencing this type of attack? And how can you use your power and privilege to change this narrative? The TikTok trend may have started innocuously, but this practice is guilty of harming too many people of color. And until we dismantle it, our work to create a more equitable future will continue to get washed away.