White Women’s Tears and the Men Who Love Them

White tears are a reminder to people of color that white people don’t notice racism on a daily basis; we only notice racism when the media presents it to us loudly enough.

There has been much critique lately of “white tears.” This term refers to all of the ways, both literally and metaphorically, that white people cry about how hard racism is on us. In my work, I consistently encounter these tears in their various forms, and many writers have provided excellent critiques. Here, I want to address one specific manifestation of white tears: those shed by white women in cross-racial settings.

As the meeting started, I told my fellow white participants that if they felt moved to tears, to please leave the room.

The following example illustrates both people of color’s frustration with those tears and white women’s sense of entitlement to freely shed them. When another police shooting of an unarmed black man occurred, my workplace called for an informal lunch gathering of people who wanted to connect and find support. Just before the gathering, a woman of color pulled me aside and told me that she wanted to attend but she was “in no mood for white women’s tears today.” I assured her that I would handle it. As the meeting started, I told my fellow white participants that if they felt moved to tears, to please leave the room. I would go with them for support, but asked that they not cry in the mixed group. After the discussion, I spent the next hour explaining to a very outraged white woman why she was asked not to cry in the presence of the people of color.

I understand that expressing our heartfelt emotions—especially as they relate to racial injustices—is an important progressive value. To repress our feelings seems counter-intuitive to being present, compassionate, and supportive. So why would my colleague of color make such a request? In short, because white women’s tears have a powerful impact in this context, effectively reinscribing rather than ameliorating racism. To make sense of how this happens we have to first understand what racism actually is.

Therefore, as white people who want to interrupt this system, we have to get racially uncomfortable and be willing to examine the effects of our racial engagement.

Contrary to dominant culture’s definition of racism as isolated and individual acts of meanness based in racial prejudice, sociologists recognize racism as a system of racial inequity between white people and people of color, with white people as the beneficiaries of that system. This system does not depend on individual actors with bad intentions. Because most bias is implicit (or unconscious) and built into our institutions, racism is reproduced automatically. In order to interrupt racism, we need to recognize and challenge the norms, structures, and institutions that keep it in place. But because they benefit us, racially inequitable relations are comfortable for most white people. Therefore, as white people who want to interrupt this system, we have to get racially uncomfortable and be willing to examine the effects of our racial engagement. This includes not indulging in whatever reactions we have in a given cross-racial encounter—such as anger, defensiveness, or self-pity—without first reflecting on what is driving them and how they will impact others.

White Fragility is the term I use to describe the inability of white people to respond constructively when our racial positions are challenged. Because we so seldom encounter this challenge, we are thrown off balance and withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back in order to regain our racial equilibrium. These emotions and the actions that result from them are always political because we are not outside of culture. Our experiences are filtered through a particular cultural lens. This lens determines how we interpret the experience. In turn, our interpretation drives our behavioral responses. These behaviors affect those around us. We are not unique individuals interacting in a social vacuum. We have to look beyond ourselves and recognize our socio-political context. Our emotional reactions in cross-racial settings and the behaviors they inform have an impact to which we must attend.

White men of course, enact white fragility, but I have not seen it manifest as literal crying… Their fragility manifests as varying forms of dominance and intimidation.

White men of course, enact white fragility, but I have not seen it manifest as literal crying in these settings. Their fragility most commonly manifests as varying forms of dominance and intimidation:

  • Control of the conversation by speaking first, last and most often;

  • Arrogant and disingenuous invalidation of racial inequality via “just playing the devil’s advocate”;

  • Simplistic and presumptuous proclamations of “the answer” to racism (“People just need to…”);

  • Playing the outraged victim of “reverse racism”;

  • Accusations that the legendary “race card” is being played;

  • Silence and withdrawal;

  • Hostile body-language;

  • Channel-switching (“The true oppression is class!”);

  • Intellectualizing and distancing (“I recommend this book…”).

All of these moves function to get race off the table, regain control of the discussion and end the challenge to their positions.

Yet because of its seeming innocence, one of the more pernicious enactments of white fragility occurs when well-meaning white women cry in cross-racial interactions. The reasons we cry in these interactions vary. Perhaps we were given feedback on our racism. Not understanding that unaware white racism is inevitable, we hear that feedback as a moral judgement and our feelings are hurt.

A classic example occurred in a workshop I was co-leading. A black man who was struggling to express a point referred to himself as stupid. My co-facilitator, a black woman, gently countered that he was not stupid but that society would have him believe that he was. As she was explaining the power of internalized racism, a white woman interrupted with, “What he was trying to say was…” When my co-facilitator pointed out that the white woman had reinforced the racist idea that she could best speak for a black man, the woman erupted in tears. The training came to a complete halt as most of the room rushed to comfort her and angrily accuse the black facilitator of unfairness (even though participants were there to learn how racism works, how dare the facilitator point out an example of how racism works!) Meanwhile, the black man who was the victim of her micro-aggression was left alone to watch.

…a white woman was offered a full-time position as the supervisor of the women of color who had trained her. When the promotion was announced, the white woman tearfully requested support from the women of color as she embarked on her new learning curve.

A colleague of color shared an example in which a white woman was offered a full-time position as the supervisor of the women of color who had trained her. When the promotion was announced, the white woman tearfully requested support from the women of color as she embarked on her new learning curve. She likely saw her tears as an expression of humility about the limits of her knowledge and expected support to follow. The women of color had to deal with the injustice of the promotion, the invalidation of their abilities, and the lack of racial awareness of the white person now in charge of their livelihoods. While trying to manage their own emotional reactions they were put on the spot; if they did not make some comforting gesture, they risked being viewed as angry and insensitive (see abagond).

The following are some of the reasons why white women’s tears in cross-racial interactions are problematic:

  • There is a long historical backdrop of black men being tortured and murdered based on a white woman’s distress and we bring these histories with us. Our tears trigger the terrorism of this history, particularly for African Americans. As my colleagues of color have said, “When a white woman cries, a black man gets hurt.” Not knowing or being sensitive to this is another example of white centrality, individualism and lack of racial humility.

  • Whether intended or not, when a white woman cries over some aspect of racism, all the attention immediately goes to her, demanding time, energy and attention from everyone in the room when they should be focused on ameliorating racism. While she is attended to the people of color are yet again abandoned and/or blamed. As Stacey Patton states in her excellent critique of white women’s tears, “Then comes the waiting for us to comfort and reassure them that they’re not bad people.” That is analogous to first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street.

  • In a common, but particularly pernicious move of perverting the racial order, racism becomes about white distress, white suffering, and white victimization.

  • Because we so seldom have authentic and sustained cross-racial relationships, our tears do not feel like solidarity to people of color we have not previously shown up for. Instead, our tears function as impotent reflexes which don’t lead to constructive action.

  • Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent. When we are mired in guilt we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction.

  • White tears are a reminder to people of color that white people don’t notice racism on a daily basis; we only notice racism when the media presents it to us loudly enough. We need to reflect on when we cry and when we don’t, and why. In other words, what does it take to move us?

  • Since many of us have not learned how racism works and our role in it, our tears may come from shock and distress about what we didn’t know or recognize. For people of color, our tears are an enactment of our racial insulation and privilege. But because we see our tears as specific to us as individuals, we take offense when people of color find them problematic. In turn, based on past experience, people of color who question us can now anticipate some form of backlash.

  • Freely expressing our immediate emotions without attention to impact demonstrates that as white people, we have not had to think about the effects of our engagement on people of color. While white women cannot cry in the white male-dominated corporate culture without penalty, in cross-racial interactions we are in the power position. Thus, we have not had to rein in or control our racial responses and can indulge in them whenever and however we want. In fact, we feel completely entitled to require people of color to adapt to us and our white fragility. Much like white women in a white male-dominated corporate environment, people of color have to manage their feelings in ways that keep white people comfortable or suffer the consequences.

“[Black people] are only allowed to have feelings for the sake of your entertainment, as in the presentation of our funerals. And even then, there are expectations of what is allowed for us to express. We are abused daily, beaten, raped, and killed, but you are sad and that is what is important.”

I asked the woman of color I referred to in the opening of this article if I had missed anything in this list. This was her response:

“It’s infuriating because of its audacity of disrespect to our experience. You are crying because you are uncomfortable with your feelings when we are barely allowed to have any. You are ashamed or some such thing and cry, but we are not allowed to have any feelings because then we are being difficult. We are supposed to remain stoic and strong because otherwise we become the angry and scary people of color. We are only allowed to have feelings for the sake of your entertainment, as in the presentation of our funerals. And even then, there are expectations of what is allowed for us to express. We are abused daily, beaten, raped and killed but you are sad and that’s what is important. That’s why it is sooooo hard to take.”

The men who love us

In addition to the general dynamics discussed thus far, White women’s tears in cross-racial discussions have a very specific effect on men. I have seen our tears manipulate men of all races, but the consequences of this manipulation are not the same. White men occupy the highest positions in the race and gender hierarchy. Thus, they have the power to define their own reality and that of others. This reality includes not only whose experiences are valid, but who is fundamentally valid herself.  In the white racial frame, not all women are deemed worthy of recognition. For example, contrary to popular white mythology, white women have been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action, not people of color. I believe this is because when forced, white men could acknowledge white women’s humanity; white women were their sisters, wives and daughters. And of course through these relationships, white women’s increased access to resources benefited white men.

By legitimating white women as the targets of harm, both white men and women accrue social capital. People of color are abandoned and left to bear witness as the resources meted out to white people actually increase-yet again-on their backs.

White men also get to authorize what constitutes pain and whose pain is legitimate. When white men come to the rescue of white women in cross-racial settings, patriarchy is reinforced as they play savior to our damsel in distress. By legitimating white women as the targets of harm, both white men and women accrue social capital. People of color are abandoned and left to bear witness as the resources meted out to white people actually increase—yet again—on their backs.

Men of color may also may come to the aid of white women in these exchanges, and are likely also driven by their conditioning under sexism and patriarchy. But men of color have the additional weight of racism to navigate. This weight has historically been deadly. For black men in particular, the specter of Emmett Till and countless others who have been beaten and killed over a white woman’s claims of cross-racial distress is ever present. Ameliorating the woman’s distress as quickly as possible may be felt as a literal matter of survival. Yet coming to the rescue of a white woman also drives a wedge between men and women of color. Rather than receive social capital that reinforces his status, a man of color put in this position must now live with the agony of having to support racism in order to survive.

In conclusion

White people do need to feel grief about the brutality of white supremacy and our role in it. In fact, our numbness to the racial injustice that occurs on a daily basis is key to holding it in place. But our grief must lead to sustained liberatory action. Because they are indicators of where we need to work on our racial identities, our emotions can serve as entry points into the deeper self-awareness that leads to this action. Examining what is at the root of our emotions (shame for not knowing, guilt for hurting someone, hurt feelings because we think we must have been misunderstood), will enable us to address those roots. We also need to examine our responses towards other people’s emotions and how they may re-inscribe race and gender hierarchies.

While we cannot control how our tears impact others, we need to find ways that don’t privilege our immediate emotional needs over the needs of people of color. This work should take place with other white people or within an authentic, mutual relationship with a person of color who has agreed to assist us.

As we develop our racial consciousness we learn how to express our emotions in ways that do not continually center whiteness. While we cannot control how our tears impact others, we need to find ways that don’t privilege our immediate emotional needs over the needs of people of color. This work should take place with other white people or within an authentic, mutual relationship with a person of color who has agreed to assist us. Affinity groups are especially constructive spaces to do our grieving. Contact Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) or European Dissent for information on how affinity groups work and where to find them.

We can assume that our racial socialization sets us up to reproduce racism regardless of our intentions or self-image. Our task is figuring out how that happens, not if. Crying in racial discussions is often viewed from a white perspective as a supportive gesture of shared experience. But in the context of cross-racial discussion about racism, no form of white engagement that is not informed by an antiracist perspective is benign. Going against our reflexive and unexamined responses is difficult and often counter-intuitive, but it is necessary and will result in the least harmful and most authentic engagement.

I would like to thank Idabelle Fosse, Reagen Price, Marxa Marnia, Christine Saxman, Shelly Tochluk, Tee Williams and Jason Toews for their invaluable feedback on this piece.

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21st Century Masculinity

Photo credit: Getty Images

Comments

  1. Amazing insights here, particularly for my being a doubly privileged, as a white man, yet waking up to decades of unconsciously held fragility (even disability, un-diagnosed until a parent), made intensely worse in my also being on the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) continuum (intense world syndrome, hyper-sensitive and at times hyper-rational). I cry often when by myself watching emotionally ladened movies, and encourage myself to do so, to better engage with my fractured senses to connect with what is usually repressed. For many with ASD, we do have the raw feelings and emotions of others, yet the mental processing is interrupted and often impossible to make sense of (thereby sensory integration therapy is useful to re-learn raw experience).

    For me to read that I ought to consider the likely negative impacts in inter-racial social interactions (already highly vulnerable), of my crying, is important to my own healing and balancing. Clearly I already am deeply conditioned to not cry in public, even if devastated and abused, as indulging in anger is what is deemed more appropriate (and safer), and over many years of adapting as best that I can, I also have come to understand that it’s also unconsciously manipulative and seeking comfort (and/or distance) from others.

    There is an ambivalence of excluding (asking to leave room until equanimity returns) those women (or men) crying, in white fragility training sessions (working to overcome racist conditioning), that has great merit (the needs of the many outweigh those of a few or one). Yet we’re also embedded in a social system of hierarchical oppression of men by more powerful men, to suppress emotion and abide in seeming reason — and clearly (more so) of men over women and minorities. I see the challenge of being both vulnerable and authentic, in learning to let go of pretense and privilege, yet as Dr. DiAngelo said focused on the bigger issues of addressing how racism works, and to heal it, when that is the reason people are gathered together.

    In other settings, we need to encourage both men and women to be vulnerable and willing to courageously connect with their inner guidance, which may or may not, be affirming in the usual sense. Sometimes emotions are authentic and sometimes they reveal deeper indications of unrequited grieving and healing — which is to say — they inform us of erroneous conditioning, as a way to aid us to choose better. I feel as though all feelings are sacrosanct and inviolate, in being our inner truth of the moment (to guide us), yet that of itself is not necessarily embedded within the broader truth of our social relations and adapting over time to greater nuance of our own lives diverse experiences. I don’t believe everything that I think, and I am learning to believe everything that I feel has some meaning, even if it’s not an absolute truth, it indicates something important.

    Perhaps something less than seeming ostracism for crying in the meeting room, is needed (a secondary room), so as to not further condition holding back tears and emotions, while granting the clear fact that those tears are contrary to overall anti-racist healing (undermining its purpose), they are nonetheless part of one’s individual healing, learning and cultivating compassion (and self-compassion).

  2. MissPTT says:

    How white do you have to be to be too white to cry? If you’re mixed race can you cry? What if you look white but you have a black grandmother? What if you are an adopted white child with black parents or have a half brother/sister who is black? Or you have a black husband and mixed race children?

    I don’t like the way this article identifies someone by their colour and then uses that to decide if they have a right to be moved to tears by something. Yes some people are annoying but you can’t tell them not to be upset by something that’s wrong and upsetting.

    I think this article is actually talking about something non-racial. Women’s tears. Some women use tears as a way to manipulate a situation.

  3. Michelle says:

    I would like to thank everyone for their comments because they helped me understand the context of this article. Honestly when I first read the article I came away with white women shouldn’t cry in public because it’s racist. After reading the comment section I think I now get that it’s about deflecting from the issue and turning it into a personal issue, while completely ignoring the real problem.

  4. Thank you for this article! I think white women in the comments section who are saying that they can’t help when they cry and who are having a defensive reaction to this article should consider the fact that if you have never had to think about the impact of your tears, THAT is a sign of white privilege.

    I also think it’s REALLY important to give credit where credit is due, and that the quote “Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent. When we are mired in guilt we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction” is almost an exact quote from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. Many of the thoughts in this article are not new, and much of the theory behind this article has already been put forward by women of color. It’s unfortunate that it takes a white woman to write about it for other white people to take it seriously. Thank you for your work, but also please credit past writers, activists, and warriors who lay the groundwork and risked their lives for these conversations to come to the light.

  5. I’ve found the Buddhist concept of “idiot compassion” – discovered via Smiling Buddha Cabaret at this link https://enlightenmentward.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/manifestations-of-idiot-compassion/ – to be a really useful tool for thinking through issues like this. Basically, we are practising idiot compassion when we allow ourselves to be so overwhelmed by our own emotions that we lose sight of the effect we may be having on others, and of what actions might truly be helpful in a situation. Decentering ourselves and paying loving and respectful attention to others is the hard but necessary step.

  6. alinda wasner says:

    Much to discuss and contemplate and pray on. As all skilled teachers and facilitator know, there are always one or more members of a group who attempt, for whatever reason, intentionally or not, to deflect and interrupt the discussion at hand to meet their own needs. Stating the guidelines at the beginning of the meeting is always a good strategy. Had the facilitator in this case acknowledged that tears of emotion can deflect the conversation away from the focus and indicated that outbursts and defensiveness would be dealt with another time in another meeting but that she would appreciate if persons who became emotional would please excuse themselves and return when they got their emotions under control, they would be respecting the others of the group who were there to focus on the objectives at hand, she would have modeled the kind of leadership that is respectful while unflinching and fair. Otherwise, she unwittingly threw the upper hand to the white women from the get go.

  7. i don’t really understand why it’s such a big deal to be asked to control your external emotional responses. there are so many situations in life where it’s inappropriate to just express how you feel. I cry easily and often and for various reasons, but I totally get how in this situation it’s important to keep myself together. because this situation isn’t about my emotions, like, at all. and expecting to be able to express how we feel all the time totally comes out of privalege.

  8. Yes obviously guilt could be a factor or even empathy sometimes or to try and publicly show that they are sorry. I agree about the pulling focus “it’s not about you dear!”. I am glad I have been informed about this. Best to just listen, pay attention,keep your head down, shut up and try and help in what ever capacity.

  9. Control of the conversation by speaking first, last and most often;
    Arrogant and disingenuous invalidation of racial inequality via “just playing the devil’s advocate”;
    Simplistic and presumptuous proclamations of “the answer” to racism (“People just need to…”);

    Playing the outraged victim of “reverse racism”;

    Accusations that the legendary “race card” is being played;

    Silence and withdrawal;

    Hostile body-language;

    Channel-switching (“The true oppression is class!”);

    Intellectualizing and distancing (“I recommend this book…”).

    ^^The playbook on how to defend against political correctness brain washing techniques.

  10. OMG!!! I am reading this with a coworker right now on my break and we are geeking out, this whole tears of white woman thing just happened to us today!!
    Crying is not the problem. Hell, I am public crier, and not one of those pretty criers either. I am talking full on snot bubbles and running mascara. But I never stop the exchange of conversation because I am uncomfortable with my own feelings.
    The problem is that when you take the focus off of the issue at hand (i.e. oppression of colored people) by using your emotions to completely stymie a healthy healing dialogue about a social issue because you are uncomfortable with your feelings. THAT CREATES THE ISSUES WITH CRYING. By all means white people should feel free to talk about how they feel with their tears. Anybody’s tears make everyone a little uncomfortable, but continue the freaking convo after you get your Kleenex! What crying should not do, is COMPLETELTY STOP THE CONVERSATION and focus on WHY YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU ARE NOW THE VICTIM!
    I see it happen too many times just when the conversation is really getting good. These spontaneous sympathy tears meaning to deflect the spotlight off of them and stop the dialogue because they can’t handle either their own feelings of shame/guilt or the brutality that’s being discussed. It’s the craziest thing to witness because then, all of the white women and men rush to the aid of the white woman crying saying ‘well that’s all for today I guess’ or ‘we’ll pick this up later’. Let me tell you, later never happens and everyone of color is left either scratching their heads or ready to blow a gasket.
    Once again the issue of colored people will be put back on the bottom of the totem pole because ‘fragility’ of the white women’s emotional state takes precedence, and must be handled before any open discussion can resume, if ever.

  11. Are you kidding me. White folks just don’t get it. It’s not about you.

  12. This article is not about private tears of grief, and by putting the focus there, as so many white commenters have, the conversation is derailed. It’s a strawman: This article is about the effect of white tears in the context of systemic racism; in social context. Alone in our homes, our private tears are not directly part of that context or conversation. If a tear falls “in the forest,” it doesn’t make a sound. That was not the focus of the article, so the fact that it has become the focus of the comments is rather telling– we’re trying to derail and make ourselves the victims, again. Let it go, please.

    The conversation does concern white tears in context. In anti-racism work, participants could ideally be moved to discover the history and present realities of systemic racism, and to go beyond typical definitions of racism as simply a phenomenon of individual prejudice. That means that white people may have to experience themselves in a racialized way (to see ourselves as white) when we were previously only experiencing ourselves as “people.” This strong desire to cling to a non-racialized identity leads white people to say things like “We’re all the same,” etc. Unfortunately, one consequence of white people clinging to a neutral identity is a failure to engage with the fear and guilt that hides behind our continued racism. After all, if we remain “on top,” we will never have to face our pain, shame, unexamined bigotry, complicity, and so forth. So we have all kinds of strategies to remain on top.

    In the context of systemic racism, white people taking up a lot of mental/emotional space in a group, by crying, will tend to function as another form of white dominance. It functions that way because of racism/white supremacy, which is the fault of white people; it functions that way because of the historical and present-day realities that are very carefully explained in this article and in some of the comments.

    Were racism nonexistent, the question of whether crying is alright itself would be moot, and certainly there’d be no need for this article. The entire issue is brought about by the existence of white supremacy, which forms the context for this discussion. It is a larger-picture issue. As white people, we tend to resist seeing the bigger picture and seeing ourselves within that context. We constantly try to bring things back to the individual, and to our feelings. We prefer to ignore, and to force others to ignore, the fact that we are the present-day benefactors of a despicable war against people of color. To do this, we insist that people of color treat us as only “people,” representatives of nothing. We do this, most damningly, in contexts where our actual material and social advantages are being pointed out.

    Why are we white people suddenly victims, or suddenly “just people,” anytime that we are told what we might do to better dismantle racism? Why are we suddenly victims when told that we have certain advantages that can easily be proven using commonly available, reliable data? Why are we victims when confronted with stories from Black people about their own experiences? And yet we are not victims when we are receiving the spoils of our, or our ancestors’, advantages, whatever these may be for each of us. For me, I inherited $20,000 as a teenager, money earned by my great-grandparents many decades before the removal of Jim Crow, and perhaps sixty to eighty years after the abolition of slavery itself. Whiteness benefited them, and then me. Would I refuse that money, saying “we’re all the same, so why should I get this money and not someone else?” No. We’re only “all the same” when someone tries to talk to us about race.

    As white people, we tend to want to see ourselves as individuals when it benefits us, but we still reap benefits of whiteness (inheritance is only one example; again, don’t make this a strawman, saying not all white people inherit. We know that.) But we exist in context, and seeing that context so that we can respond in order to lessen and reverse the domination and violence we’ve enacted on Black people, is part of why anti-racist working groups and workshops exist. Hopefully, we are there because we care about the pain of Black people and because we want change. Yet when told how we might facilitate that process better, like by not crying publicly in this context, white people go running. My suggestion? Don’t run. Stay in the (metaphorical) room right now, even if it’s hard and you feel uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable.

  13. I am a white guy. I notice the inherent racism in still too much of our society very frequently. It appalls me. Especially when I see it in myself. But I consider this awareness and of other types of flaws in myself and in society, though painful, as a blessing. Because then perhaps I can make the shift.

  14. I think that the author’s intent is to help those of us who are members of the white community to understand that shedding tears (even tears that are shed from anger and/or commiseration) is an expression of feeling pain. While we as whites can sympathize with those in the African-American community regarding racism, we cannot feel their pain in its entirety; the day-to-day, moment-to-moment presence of racism is incomprehensible to us because we don’t experience it, we only observe. Therefore, our tears have the effect of putting the focus on us and our pain, rather than the pain of those who truly suffer the effects of racism. Obviously, any discussion of racism requires sympathy, but the author is challenging us as whites to change out the reaction of “I feel terrible about this!” for one of “What can I do to help?” This places the emphasis on those who are maligned rather than on the ones who experience the benefits of the racist system.

  15. God help us navigate through this tangle. Simply put, in my experience in many sessions, groups,workshops and lectures…we are all human. Let us have the humbleness of mind to recognize this one unifying fact. Tears are personal. Tears are a gift from God. Where would we be without them? We’d implode.

    We really do not have to analyze tears do we? But if we must let us consider that white people that cry in certain circumstances may be embarrassed about what our ancestors did. Some whites cannot fathom, the horror. So they cry. There is nothing they can do about what happened. It is frustrating and dis-empowering. But they can TRY to empathize as best as possible by being human and releasing a very sad old feeling. Let the tears flow.

  16. I don’t know what to say other than that I cry often and with little provocation simply because it is how I deal with things and you can piss off if you think I’m going to bottle it up for the sake of not offending someone.

  17. “White tears are a reminder to people of color that white people don’t notice racism on a daily basis; we only notice racism when the media presents it to us loudly enough.”

    Wait, so *all* white people don’t notice racism on a daily basis? If you wanna have a conversation, let’s start by getting rid of stereotypes and generalities altogether, from all sides and arguments. Adding the word “some” or even “most” white people would validate your argument better. Then, let’s have a constructive discussion.

  18. Wonderful article! After reading all the responses, I began to see a pattern. The majority of responders defended the woman crying and was upset to outraged she was asked to leave the room. So, the author’s point was made by your own responses . It is ingrained in white society to ignore the pain of blacks (or any non white minority) and run to the pain of whites, it’s not a victim statement, it’s been a fact all 55 years of my life. So please, take to heart and listen to the author’s very wise words and find appropriate avenues for your feelings by respecting and acknowledging ours as just as valuable as yours: “While we cannot control how our tears impact others, we need to find ways that don’t privilege our immediate emotional needs over the needs of people of color. ” I want to share this on Facebook, but I’m hesitant because I’m black, so I get attacked for race baiting. But when someone caucasian does it, well you know the rest. Racism will be the end of all of us if we don’t get it together.

    • “After reading all the responses, I began to see a pattern. The majority of responders defended the woman crying and was upset to outraged she was asked to leave the room. So, the author’s point was made by your own responses.”

      Not to contest your own experiences, insights and conclusions- but generally, philosophically, and rhetorically it always gives me pause when anyone frames an argument, an interpretation, or point of contention as such:   
      ‘Agree with me and by default you accept my point by your acclamation. 
      Disagree with me and by default you prove my point by your dissension.’

      Factually, the point may or may not be correct, but rhetorically, I’ve always found it troubling and disingenuous to attempt to validate or legitimize it that way because, of course, it allows for no other possibly or turns of causality other than that self-fulfillment – That its own interpretation is objectively, exclusively, universally & uniformly precise. To say with any certainty what effects the broader social and cultural parameters had on any one individual’s tears or outrage (or lack thereof), to say with any certainty that we can even know the boundaries of those parameters, individually or en masse, is daunting. Individually we are, of course, not always self-aware of our own cultural and cross-cultural influences, biases, and blind-spots; conversely though, insomuch as we are not always aware of them, we are not always beholden to them either- for better or for worse.    

      • @Mostly_123 “Not to contest your own experiences, insights and conclusions- but…” does exactly that.
        I see your point about the wording, but in this particular instance her comment was on target and I think considering comments in context is important.

  19. So do we have any white women who will admit they cry to get attention, deflect, or manipulate other people?

  20. Shawn, I appreciate your candor tremendously and I totally agree with you. The comparison you made with smiling was enlightening, and I appreciate that you took the time to articulate it. I hope it was clear that by no means am I undermining the potentiality for a white woman to manipulate an audience for her satisfaction by crying. I am not trying to invalidate DiAngelo’s argument in totality. I can absolutely understand why and when a white woman’s tears might be inappropriate. I think the crux of my point was that it isn’t always the case. Maybe 1% of the time a truly empathetic white woman, who is well versed in nuanced history of white Americans disenfranchising black Americans, might quietly and unassumingly shed tears over the anguish of a black man. Not as a victim, not as a perpetrator, but as a feeling human being.

    And Nadia, if your statements were in response to me, I believe we have misunderstood each other. If that said white woman were to sob hysterically in a room full of people of color who were still dealing with their own emotional trauma after being faced with another black life being senselessly lost, she would be out of line. I would feel disgusted by her outburst, because I am not justifying attention-seeking behavior. And shutting the proverbial door on the discussion of white women’s feelings altogether is inequitable. The core of the issue is not white feelings, and I am not making it out to be. But being able to discuss their subtleties at all, especially when this article is so directly about them…when white feelings within the context of racism are misled and when they aren’t, it seemed relevant.

    Your example about ‘my’ broken leg is something that I agree with. Having someone else divert much-needed support would be selfish, there is no question. So let me use an example too – I read this article after attending a memorial service. I did not know the deceased well. And at the service, during the final eulogy given by the survived husband of the deceased, I cried. I did not sob, I concealed myself and was as inconspicuous as possible – and nobody knew that maybe a handful of tears streamed down my face. Not a single person paid me any attention, and I didn’t want it. My grief wasn’t even an infinitesimal fraction of the heartache the husband was feeling, and my tears were not in competition with anyone at the service who had known her better. But when he spoke, I truly felt the depth of his pain for a brief moment, almost like a reflex, I needed to expel it. So if you think my behavior was totally improper, then we are at an impasse.

    • AJ, you’ve perfectly expressed my puzzlement with this article. I understand and agree with many of the points it raises. But it isn’t clear to me why a white woman quietly shedding a tear of commiseration should or would attract the attention of the rest of the group. Are there professional contexts in which it would be considered the “right” thing to do to draw attention to someone who is quietly crying? As a white woman who has been conditioned to avoid crying in public, I would hope that if I could not avoid doing so, others would have the grace to ignore it or discreetly hand me a tissue.

      Obviously if the woman was having a hysterical meltdown and distracting other people, that’s a different story. But I read this article twice, and as far as I can tell, the author genuinely believes any spontaneous display of emotion by a white woman in response to racial injustice is problematic if there are people of color in the room, even if the response is quiet and restrained.

      It’s no surprise to me that people are getting “stuck” on this point. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only controversial point in the entire article. And I fail to see how sending a (quietly) emotive white woman out of the room draws less attention to her than simply ignoring her reaction. If her emotion is genuine, she won’t want people to acknowledge her tears. If she’s looking for attention, then it’s best to ignore her anyway.

    • I think this is really a straw man argument. I think we are all clear as to what kind of tears the author is talking about. The kind of tears that change the focus. The kind of tears that shift attention. Private tears not done as a performance are not the ones at issue and that was made abundantly clear by the author.

  21. There were many points in this article I agreed with, and any that I did not. Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was the fact that she did not address the socialization and gender norms that make crying common for white women. In fact, she goes as far as saying that white women’s tears have been used to manipulate men of all races. This has no relevance on the article, and had she taken the time to address gender, she might have made the point that many of the ways white men shut down conversations about race (this is the answer to your problem, reversing the situation) are also used to shut down women.

    • Valkyrie says:

      Those techniques are indeed how white men shut down women. Yet I still think the author’s point is valid, insofar as black women, as a whole, have had to learn to regulate their emotions in ways that white women haven’t. You completely glossed over the fact that black women experience very different treatment from white men (the ultimate intersectional power-holders) than white women do. I believe that difference was fairly well explained in the original post as well as the comments.

      Part of why crying is a common strategy for white women to express emotion is that it’s safe and that it will evoke sympathy, comfort, and protection. Absolutely relevant to the topic at hand.

  22. Wow! This was an interesting read! I’ve heard the term “white tears” before but it’s never really been presented in this context. I really don’t think it’s reinforcing racism to be upset over the injustices I see towards minorities. Further, telling me I shouldn’t show emotion over those things because I’m white only perpetuates racism in the larger sense, pitting one race against another (i.e. you shouldn’t act like this because you’re this color/race). When you boil it down to the barest sense, I’m simply a human moved by another human’s plight. Also, I find it odd that she would ask people to leave should they become emotional. Withdrawing from a conversation about an injustice or cruelty committee against a person of another race seems counter-productive to bringing an understanding of another race’s experience to those who may not know. I am sure there are cases where crying is done specifically to elicit sympathy an make the situation about the crier rather than the overall scenario being dealt with; however, as the emotional creatures we women are, I find crying when confronted with cruelty or abuse of another person an involuntary manifestation of our humanity rather than a calculated attempt to make a situation about myself. I find it sad that we are being told we shouldn’t show emotion over tragedy or senseless acts against others. Indeed, we should be heartbroken over the injustices that are committed against others and that should, in turn, push us to act against those situations.

    • Epsilonicus says:

      It is not about intent, it is about effect

    • As a white woman, your comment clearly demonstrates that you don’t understand the term racism. Racism is NOT “one race against the another,” as you state, but rather the systemic oppression if people of color by white people. Moreover, you miss the point that our tears to show empathy or sympathy, even if that is your intent, but they take away from the actual issue and make us seem like the victim when we are not.

  23. I wholeheartedly understand all points made, and feel strongly that this article points out nuances that all white readers (especially) should and could meditate on.

    But the scenario where a white woman was asked to leave the room because of her crying was singularly beguiling. Crying, when confronted with an act of total cruelty, is a rational response, no matter what color the crying person may be. The intolerance demonstrated by asking someone to leave the room for doing so, especially in a situation that (I assume) is meant to evoke camaraderie, is unacceptable to me. And if that crying was offensive, a conversation should have been had, and perhaps all parties could have benefitted. Perhaps that white woman could have walked away with a far clearer understanding of her response, and why someone might find it questionable, but instead, she walked away in frustration. And it’s not about preserving her feelings, or making it about her experience – I realize that. But being flippantly dismissive is never productive.

    But I am struggling with why crying is always the wrong response. Crying is an emotive act that simply cannot be condensed and explained unilaterally by so few motives (ie. attention seeking, guilt, deflecting). Crying can happen spontaneously, without control or seemingly relevant provocation. Is a scenario where a white woman might quietly shed a tear (publicly) over a black man being senselessly murdered, without any interest in seeking comfort, so implausible? Couldn’t she have easily been ignored and passed a Kleenex? And does having an emotional response in such a situation absolutely insinuate that that white woman shields herself from thinking about racism in any other context? No. There are enough sad scenarios where black lives have been taken to cry a thousand times over, and a thousand times again. I hope that no one ever becomes so numb to the shock of each death that crying seems irrelevant. Being deprived of the ability to lament those losses through tears…is…I really don’t get it, and I don’t believe I missed the point of the article. A white woman allowing herself to feel the sadness of that loss does not negate or trump the impact that those losses have on people of color. I have no doubt that there have been plenty of scenarios where white tears have been evoked for selfish reasons; every other example makes that point unequivocally. Perhaps it is the majority of scenarios, and in those cases, expressing frustration is more than justified, it is deserved. But I refuse to accept that narcissism is irrefutably at the core of all white women’s tears, sometimes, I truly think it’s empathy.

    • You’re right that crying isn’t the wrong response, you’re right in that it’s often an expression of empathy in response to horrific events.
      BUT, the writer mentions that, as white folks, keeping ourselves from overshadowing the emotions and experiences of POC means NOT “indulging in whatever reactions we have in a given cross-racial encounter—such as anger, defensiveness, or self-pity—WITHOUT FIRST reflecting on what is driving them and how they will impact others.” <= key point right there
      I, as a white woman, feel lots of things in response to hearing about or watching a person of color being beaten, mistreated, or killed. Of course I'm allowed to express those feelings, but perhaps I can be a better ally by listening to the responses of the those directly affected by the events. Perhaps I can save my more demonstrative and attention grabbing expressions, like crying, for after the voices and grief of black communities have been heard.

    • To AJ:
      I thought I might venture a reply to your comments since you appear to be quite genuinely perplexed as to why a white woman’s tears might be perceived as anything other than sincere. Perhaps it may become more lucid by way of analogy with another ubiquitous human emotional manifestation. It’s fair to state that most of us engage in smiling on a daily basis and if you were to query most individuals to name an emotion that is synonymous with the aforementioned act, surely a significant cadre of them would invoke such adjectives as happy, joyful, cheerful, etc. However, with that said, there is indeed another emotional state that is inextricably connected to the act of smiling that may appear on the surface, at least to the vast majority of white citizenry in the US, to be completely incongruent with the conspicuous display of one’s pearly whites.

      It would first behoove us to recollect a time in US history when individuals of African descent were transshipped to this nation for the explicit purpose of labor exploitation. The general consensus amongst the dominant white ruling classes of the time was that enslaved Africans represented an existential threat to white society. As a consequence, one of the ways in which Africans adapted and learned to “assuage” the fear of whites during social interactions was to feign servility by smiling. Smiling reassured the white populace of Africans’ acquiescence to servitude and simultaneously reinforced the “happy-go-lucky” persona, manifested in times of great mental stress or threat of violence, that, unfortunately, is still associated as a constituent characteristic of blacks until this day. For blacks, the act of smiling represented a psychological coping mechanism to deal with white oppression and the total lack of black agency in a society that could exercise—at will—acts of violence that could result in serious injury or death; as in the case of Emmet Till that Dr. DiAngelo referenced in her essay. Thus, this oft employed human emotional response possesses the potential to invoke different emotional states in blacks than it normally does in whites.

      What is particularly salient here is that the act of smiling, as benign and innocuous as it may seem, cannot be properly understood and contextualized unless one is firmly cognizant of the tenuous race relations and historical social interactions between whites and blacks that have coalesced to create a rather nuanced connotation to the aforementioned act. Thus, when black people smile in the presence of whites, depending on the context, rather than being intrinsically synonymous with happiness, joy or cheer, it could very well be, at the deepest recesses of the black psyche, more tantamount to fear, servility or inferiority. Most blacks, I believe, remain totally unconscious of this knee-jerk reaction when in the presence of white people and this socially inculcated subservient disposition is similar to when blacks somehow feel the compulsion to whisper when talking about white people even when there is no white person in the same room or in close proximity.
      Therefore, the crux of Dr. DiAngelo’s critique, I believe, is that crying for white women, like smiling for blacks, cannot simply be taken at face value. On the contrary, in order to truly understand the act and the societal subtleties, nuances and subtext that embody it, one must situate it firmly inside American history and the systemic and systematic oppression that has disproportionately benefited whites and adversely affected blacks.

      With that said, you do, however, raise a very valid question which I believe is simply this; Is it possible for white women to invoke genuine tears sans the societal baggage that was equated with them in Dr. DiAngelo’s critique? Well, I would submit for your approval that the answer is definitely yes. However, I believe, and I think this is the rationale for Dr. DiAngelo writing her piece in the first place, that an inextricable component and essential prerequisite before such pristine tears could be shed would be for white women to first acknowledge and be fully cognizant of the psychological impact that those tears have had on blacks and how they have been historically utilized as liquid munitions to unarm, invalidate and delegitimize blacks’ attempts at social readdress and, as such, to effectively deflect dealing with white privilege and all that it connotes in American society.

      • “…that an inextricable component and essential prerequisite before such pristine tears could be shed would be for white women to first acknowledge and be fully cognizant of the psychological impact that those tears have had on blacks and how they have been historically utilized as liquid munitions to unarm, invalidate and delegitimize blacks’ attempts at social readdress and, as such, to effectively deflect dealing with white privilege and all that it connotes in American society.”

        So, you’re telling me, that a white woman, instead of spontaneously shedding genuine tears of sadness at a horrible act, should try to control them until she’s run over all the above in her head and then let loose the waterworks? Or, are you telling me that she needs to be advised of the above by a person of color and then she can cry? Or, are you telling me that she should first announce to the room that she’s carefully pondering all of the above before she starts crying?

    • But look how the focus is on whether a white woman can cry or not, and her feelings becomes the preoccupation. That the problem when white women do this in circumstances that aren’t about them, and the focus becomes about their sadness, and usually that detracts from the actual issue, and then nobody is allowed to speak about how they feel on a racial issue for fear that it will provoke or continue further tears about a white woman’s ‘sensitivity’ on race – which is not about being oppressed, or hurt by a racial issue, but about her feeling uncomfortable that racism is discussed in ways that don’t center her needs, her wants, the racism she finds acceptable, politeness to her, adoration of her, concern with only discussing what doesn’t make her cry. The ability of crying on cue to diminish a conversation on racism into one about not making white people feel sad, about how valid racial concerns are when centered around whether a white woman cries or not. You can certainly be assured that if a black women starts to cry about very real situations of racism hurting her, cause her pain, sadness, losses, that the room will not stop to coddle her, listen to her, and she’ll likely be shamed or guilted into silence ESPECIALLY if the crowd is mostly white women, or if mostly white men, and only if in a crowd of mainly black women will she be given concern – not just told to be quiet/er.

      “Empathy” is not a white woman controlling a room with her tears because someone else’s story of racism makes her too sad to bear the conversation. Empathy is not someone discussing their pain, and then you use an elevated social position and louder tears to over-ride their conversation, and even derail the whole conversation because it hurts you too much to hear.

      And is it sadness? Isn’t it often just “this isn’t about me and I find that weird” or “please don’t say that such things are racist because that implies when I do them or allow them or don’t criticize them I am somehow wrong and I can’t be wrong” – and knowing that her tears are supposed to stop the conversation or have it focus on her vs. being so ’emotional’ in stopping/not collaborating in racism. Why are the most “white women’s tears” about racism vented in a situation with people facing that racism, and not applied as intensively to intervene in racism? White Women’s Tears aren’t used with racists, they aren’t tears to back a person opposing oppression – they are as described in this article and most often – used to derail and self-center conversations against racism.

      If you break your leg, and as you are trying to talk about how you are trying to manage, I decide to start crying uncontrollably about how much your leg break hurts me, and everyone in the room rushes to hug me, hand me tissues, stop the conversation so I can be coddled, etc., as you sit there no responsible for not saying anything more to upset me, can you see that as problematic and not ’empathy’?

    • It is a matter of priorities…

      If the purpose of the meeting is to be an ally who prioritizes the emotional needs of those most impacted by racism, then a crying white woman’s need for education can’t be the priority.

      If the setting is designed to focus on white people’s need for racial education then by all means treat this white woman as a priority.

  24. Dr. DiAngelo makes some very salient points in her critique of white women’s tears. Certainly, socialization is a critical component that no doubt operates as a catalyst for the oft spontaneous unctuous comportment of a significant cadre of white women in American society and, as a consequence, serves as the constituent composition of the bitter-sweet saline solution that so effortlessly slides off the eyelids of so many “well meaning” whites who, in my opinion, are indeed cognizant of the quotidian injustices, as well as the historical ones, that are meted out to blacks. The American media are equally complicit in the perpetuation of propagating the pernicious notion that blacks are somehow intrinsically incapable of contextualizing their own reality and, in so doing, reinforce the idea that black people need, by default, white society to interpret their reality for them and, thus, ensure the maintenance of the farcical idea of the benevolent white oppressor while simultaneously reinforcing the mendicant mentality in blacks whose ultimate salvation, better yet “liberation,” invariably, lies in the hands of those who, historically and contemporarily, refuse to recognize their endogenous humanity. Ironically, this view is buttressed by the mere fact that many whites are more receptive and find it more palatable and easier to digest Dr. Diangelo’s critique, due to her whiteness, than from black women and men who have long contended the same asseverations but who, precisely because of their blackness, are perceived by white society as ungrateful moaners with over imaginative mentalities. Be that as it may, it’s my expressed hope that her critique does indeed enlighten the obtuse amongst us to be proactive agents of positive social change rather than mere reactionaries who remain staunch defenders of their reticent recalcitrance.

  25. The woman who was told to remove herself from the group, because others in the group found her gender and ethnicity unacceptable should sue the company for discrimination.

    Unless this woman doesn’t really exist and DiAngelo invented her to portray any white woman who isn’t Robin DiAngelo as a stupid, self-centered, coddled crybaby, for the amusement of this men’s website.

    • Which woman was that? The one asked to remove herself from the room if she began to cry during the discussion of an unarmed black person shot by police? That is an entirely appropriate request in a setting that is sensitive to matters of race. She is not being ejected permanently, nor insensitively cast out. A supportive professional was present to respond immediately.

      Creating a way to maintain a space that is respectful and supportive of all individuals present, while simultaneously avoiding the creation of an environment of frustration and perpetuated patterns of oppression is very prudent of the facilitators. It was in no way discriminatory. This guideline did demonstrate the facilitators commitment to the emotional lives of the people of color which have historically been brushed aside. That is an important step in building an equitable workplace. We first have to recognize and directly address racial injustice before we can begin to do things that are more just.

      • So, would she be acceptable if she didn’t cry? Who is assigned to monitor the white lady for that? Making anyone leave for crying is simple bullying – becoming your enemy. This whole article was precious and dehumanizing for all involved. Just awful.

    • Yes! She should sue! And she could very easily win, too! Bullying, indeed! Except- how many law suits should have been filed over the years by People of Color who have been bullied by us in these ways? What happens if, someday, these acts of bullying somehow get recognized on a legal level? Whoop, White people will have to start monitoring their emotions! But thankfully, that hasn’t happened. That Black woman should be expected to go and sit and just endure being silenced as usual. She’s the one being irrational, right? The important thing is that the White people in the room are free to express themselves (and by “express”, I mean “detract from meaningful conversation by whining about how bad we feel about everything.”) . We simply won’t stand for anyone bullying us. Precious indeed. FREEDOM. The White American Way.

  26. Speaks accurately right to the heart of things of things in an enlightening manner, although the message is hard to hear.

    I have been passed over for enough educational and career opportunities because I was not visibly minority enough to strongly disagree with the author’s statement that white women are the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action. My experience has been that the powers that be prefer to check off as many boxes as they can with one hire and women of any race are not welcome in the workplace.

  27. I enjoyed reading the article, it was very insightful. People have all kinds of way of invalidating other’s experience, and crying is only one way. I also would like to add something that I discovered in my master’s thesis in the mid 1990’s, that sometimes when White women cry it also reflects anger. Many reported crying because they were anger. Crying is a complex emotion, that may serve a dual purpose; inner subjective emotional expression and serve as a bonding element between people. I don’t agree with the perspective of asking White people to leave the room if they cry, I believe that everything should be held within the room (if possible). As a facililiator, I think my role would be to attend to the people of color in the room, while passing a box of kleenex to the person crying.

    • Emma Aubrey says:

      I agree that crying is a complex emotion and that asking people to leave is not the answer. Leaving and withdrawing from a difficult conversation is just as bad, if not worse, than crying. At lease crying is real and staying promotes the opportunity to communicate and/or educate. While I do agree that crying is not appropriate when approaching these conversation, at least crying is awareness, which is much closer to on the agent skill spectrum to allyship than distancing.

    • Yes,as a white woman, I can say that crying is very often the difficult to control response to anger. It can be the many other things as well, guilt/shame being high on the ladder. As to the example in the workshop, if the facilitator had been white, I think the result would have been very different. And yes, I believe it to be common thought that black women are “hard” , subconsciously reinforcing the unconscious believe that blacks don’t “feel” in the same way as whites. This is all so ingrained that many will just not be able to grasp the reality of the endemic disease.

    • Epsilonicus says:

      “As a facililiator, I think my role would be to attend to the people of color in the room, while passing a box of kleenex to the person crying.

      I wholeheartedly disagree. It seems great that you want it in the room. However, as explained above, everyone’s attention moves to white people when they cry. It is too distracting and it takes away,no matter the facilitator.

    • I agree people about people crying for different reasons. I personally cry at any major emotion. I’m a crier. I cry when I’m really mad, really sad, at church when I feel convicted and when I feel joyful. I cry at songs or when I’m reading books. That’s just how I am. I won’t sob out loud and try to draw attention to myself, but I definitely tear up. There’s a difference between someone who uses it to get attention or to use it as a way to excuse their actions and someone who is just tenderhearted. I would think that if I saw someone who was feeling for something I had went through who was trying to encourage me I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I guess it would depend on your perspective and what you knew about the person. I don’t know how I’d feel about it if I had grown up differently. Maybe I would be more reserved and jaded. That thought alone makes me a little misty to think of having gone through so much that I didn’t feel it anymore.

      • Jennifer says:

        Tenderhearted and/or dehydrated?

        For example, one of the medicines for poly-cystic ovarian syndrome has a diuretic side effect. That’s probably why my eyes leak water even when I’m just closing my eyes and meditating.

        Now in a group where we’re all there for the same thing (like meditation), it’s enough for me to just dab my eyes, say “don’t worry, I’m not sad, I just don’t retain water well,” and carry on.

        In a group where some other people are there as the focus and I’m there as an ally instead, even that’s probably not appropriate. When something is often done with a bad intention, better to not do that thing in the first place than to do it and afterwards say “but what I really meant is…”

        So, if and when I go to something in person as an ally, it’s my job to not make a distracting scene even if that means stepping outside to dry my eyes before returning. To do otherwise, to make it someone else’s problem, would be *rude* (and would be embarrassing myself).

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