De-Weaponizing White Tears

Disclaimer: In this post, I’m going to write first in a general way, as if I actually know something about this topic, or might be able to find out more. And then I’m going to focus on how I think I might be able to de-weaponize my own tears, in conversations and confrontations about systemic racism and my own internalized prejudices. Will it work? I don’t know. But I promise to strive toward this.


We make tears when we cry. Science identifies three kinds of tears: basal tears which continuously clean and lubricate our eyes; reflex tears which help get rid of specks, eyelashes and teargas; and emotional tears (also called “psychic tears”). Emotional tears contain stress hormones, which perhaps indicates a chemical-cleansing function. Emotional tears are a form of non-verbal communication.

People cry for a lot of reasons: sorrow, shame, frustration, helplessness, joy, tenderness. Tears can flow during depression or after trauma. Emotional tears provoke emotions in others: compassion, sadness, frustration, as well as anger and resentment, especially if the other person’s tears are experienced as manipulative. Yes, tears can be manipulative too.

As a counselor, I do believe that expressing emotions can be a healthy thing. However, there are also times when it behooves us to be responsible for our own nervous system responses–including tears if we shed them–to let people know that they are not responsible for our comfort, that we do not ask them to do emotional labor in response to our responses, and that we are willing, with good will, to continue conversations through our own discomfort and self-regulation.

And one of those major times is now. It’s time for white people to de-weaponize their tears and other sympathetic nervous system responses so we can ALL get on with the task of dismantling systemic racism that has been killing people for centuries. 

Why Are White Tears Harmful?

In her book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018), sociologist Robin DiAngelo dissects the mechanisms that white Americans use, consciously or unconsciously, to (1) buffer themselves from deep engagement with necessary conversations about systemic racism, personal prejudice, and necessary reforms, (2) redirect the focus back to white equilibrium aka white power, and (3) put the other person in the wrong, most often BIPOC. These mechanisms includes crying. And this is f’d up. How f’d up? I’m not going to whitesplain.

Just listen…

Tears Weaponized for Our Genocide Poem by Kbeau2ful, May 28, 2020, YouTube.

Just read…

About the Weary Weaponizing of White Women Tears by Awesomely Luvvie, April 17, 2018, at her website.

So. Let’s say you’re a white person who realizes it’s time (and if you don’t know this by now, please step up your game). There are conversations that are overdue. Perhaps there are important conversations in your past that were cut short by your tears. Maybe you feel badly about that. Maybe you don’t. But no one is giving you (or me) a pass anymore.

I can imagine crying during the course of a difficult conversation (about almost anything, really). Shame in particular is a very painful emotion and most people will do anything to avoid it. And tears can be part of processing that. Where tears become weaponized is when they are used to manipulate and avoid, when they are used to undermine or dismiss the substantial time and emotions that the other person or people in the conversation have invested in talking with you! If you use your tears to just walk away from the conversation, or shutdown, or center the attention on yourself and your needs, that’s textbook weaponizing right there.

Some Ideas

Historical Context: Self educate. Learn how the mechanisms of racism create life and death situations designed to pound away at Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. Understand that the tears we white folks might shed at being confronted by our shortcomings and faults are AS NOTHING to the rivers of tears shed by people, families, and communities destroyed and killed over the centuries, right up to present day.

Communication Context: I know I can be a bore about the communication tool known as the Johari Window, but honestly, I feel a lot of privilege and racism lives right there in that window pane (upper right hand) of “known to others, not known to self.” That’s where the “Clueless Family” lives (you know: Karen, Brad, and Becky…). And when some of that stuff gets shown to us, yeah, it can be painful to understand that yes, we really are those people. Now, it might not be our “fault” that the stuff is there (unless we are people who actively cultivate hate in our lives) as we white Americans have been swimming in racism and privilege for hundreds of years, but once revealed, we have a chance to work on these things, to examine them, disgard them, and vow to do better.

Racism Johari_Window copy
Public Domain Johari Window with Added Comments

But that’s painful. And you might cry. Other people might be around when you do. Here’s what you can do to protect them from your emotions.

Calming Skills: Prepare yourself in advance for the thought that you might have a myriad of feelings when dealing with issues of racism or a situation which has become racialized or when someone is calling you out, particularly if there is something you might have done that hurts another. Decide what you can do to acknowledge those feelings for yourself but refrain from giving way to your “flight, fight or freeze” sympathetic nervous system reactions. We can often choose receptivity over reactivity, but it might take some work. So practice some calming skills in advance, such as slow deep breathing.

Think of Others: Remember that other people are also likely to be triggered by your emotions, so calm yourself for their sake as well. Remember, they’re likely not loving this. And if someone else cries, be compassionate and ask if there is anything you can do for them.

Take Responsibility: If you have the opportunity, say something at the beginning like, “Please ignore me if I cry during this conversation. I do not expect you to take care of me and my emotions, and I intend to do my own work to calm my nervous system and work through emotions so I may give you my best attention and so we may have a constructive conversation.”

Time Outs: In advance, establish a protocol for a brief “time out” if anyone involved in the conversation needs time to calm. Make sure you commit to a return to the conversation as soon as possible, preferably within thirty minutes. Do not let the “time out” become weaponized as a technique for avoidance.

Emotional Repair: If needed, take the initiative in asking if it is possible to do emotional repair. Be prepared to hear no, and lump it. If you are allowed an opportunity, listen more than you talk, and again let the other person know that you are taking responsibility for your own nervous system reactions (and then do so).

If anyone has additional ideas on this topic, I hope you will add them to the comments section. Thank you so much for reading.

Other Links/References

Doheny, Kathleen. Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up. n.d. WebMD.

Geggel, Laura. Why Do People Cry? May 16, 2016. Live Science.

Waldman, Katy. A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism. July 23, 2018. The New Yorker.

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Anti-Racism Learning Resources

This list is a work in progress:

Videos

Video (before 2017): Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Video (2015): Professor Tricia Rose: How Structural Racism Works.

Video (2018): Dr. Robin DiAngelo discusses ‘White Fragility.’ Author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

Reading & Resource Lists (Please make payments to the authors or organizations who have compiled these lists, when requested.)

Document: Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources (payments suggested to one of three organizations)

Document: Tasha K., Shareable Anti-Racism Resource Guide. Email/Paypal: antiracismresourceguide@gmail.com

Blog: Good Black News, Acknowledging Your Privilege and Becoming An Ally – A Guide to Resources for White Folks.

Blog: Kyaza, A Polytheistic Life, A Reading List on Race.

Tickle.Life Anti-Racism Resources

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Fighting Forms, by Franz Marc. 1914. Public Domain.

 

 

 

Rabbit, Rabbit

No, I don’t wake up the first of every month saying this. I’ve heard about it, of course: a superstition to bring luck in the next month. But I do pay attention to auspicious signs and portents.

This morning (December 1st), my waking up to The Troth membership opinion survey regarding the hailing of Loki at Troth events was indeed auspicious. The hailing of Loki is controversial within the organization, which apparently consists largely of U.S. membership. I have heard that similiar organizations in other countries find this controversy puzzling and unnecessary.

The survey results will not produce a binding vote, but might help influence the organizational leadership’s position on this topic. Currently, Loki is banned from Troth events (a form of religious discrimination we call Lokiphobia.)

There were three options: (1) continue the ban on hailing Loki at Troth events; (2) no ban at all, so that Loki could be hailed at any time; and (3) a compromise position that would allow one hailing of Loki in the main event, with separate bowls and drinking vessels for Loki-hailers and abstainers, presumably for spiritual “hygiene.”

An aside: the one thing I do wish the survey had included was a second question as to how many people in The Troth membership do hail Loki at all, ever. I think this could have been very interesting indeed, as it would provide numerical information as to allies and practitioners as well as abstainers.

For those who don’t know, The Troth is an organization that promotes inclusive Heathenry (as opposed to all the white supremacists running around with Norse runes tattoo’d on their biceps). The stated policy of inclusivity is why I joined, even though I don’t describe myself as “heathen” per se at this point. Here’s a key portion of their policy statement:


From The Troth website: “We are deeply proud of our indigenous Northern European religious, cultural, and historical heritages. We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, physical ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry. Together, our members practice the moral principles followed by our noble predecessors, including: Boldness, Truth, Honor, Troth, Self-Rule, Hospitality, Industry, Self-Reliance, Steadfastness, Equality, Strength, Wisdom, Generosity, and Family Responsibility.”


Oh, the Irony…

…that such spiritual hygiene should be given such attention when there are a few other  more essential topics the organization could address more robustly.

For example, Jeremy Baer, a  Redesman for The Troth, just blogged his opinion on the divisiveness of the Loki/not Loki controversy and pointed to what he sees as the greater challenge for inclusivity in The Troth and heathenry in general: racists and “Nazi scum.” Baer writes:


Baer writes: “Whether it is on the domestic front in North America, or courting potential allies in Europe, the Troth does itself a strategic disadvantage in actively alienating devotees of Laufeyson. Most Lokeans I have met, because of who they are and Who called them, are natural anti-fascists who would stand against the racialist scourge.”

(Note: Baer uses “Laufeyson” as Loki’s “last name” instead of the more correct “Laufeyjarson.”)

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Pride Loki” artwork (based on “Marvel Loki”) by DKettchen.

Yeah, gotta agree on that. We Lokeans also seem to be more supportive of LGBTQIA+ and disability issues and many of us exist in marginalized spaces as a result of our own lives and identities.

(I’d personally love to see a survey on that, including the kinds of activism we’re engaged in outside of heathen and neopagan topics.)

However, in the Loki Wyrdlings facebook group, several people have pointed out that Baer seems dismissive and glosses over the problems of inclusivity that we Lokeans face, and that this must be addressed before unity can be achieved. Also, it’s been pointed out that as grown-ups, we can work on more than one issue, say, addressing internal prejudice against Loki practitioners as well as cultural appropriation and misuse of Norse religions by white supremacists.

But Wait! There’s MORE!

BlkPinkmcs_logo
From a hat sold by the Environmental Health Network of CA, http://www.ehnca.org. I was a board member and president back in the 90s.

But, Lokean as I am, I want to throw another issue into the “hygienic” mix, that of disability accommodation, particularly with regard to those who have the invisible disabilties of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses and respiratory ailments (such as asthma) that are triggered and worsened by the exposure to airborne toxins such as fragrances, scented personal care products, candles, incense, pesticides, paints, etc. Such people, at least the ones who have recovered somewhat from previous toxic exposures, generally do pretty well at maintaining their health and stamina as long as such products are excluded from gatherings and public spaces. I hear the Trothmoot this year is taking place on the West Coast. I would enjoy experiencing such a thing, just once in my life, and to be able to go home from it in relatively healthy shape.

Most people with conditions such as mine are socially isolated and many are longing to participate in faith and spiritual communities, including neopagan ones (heathen, Wiccan, etc.). When I moved here to Lake County, I even tried the local Unitarian Universalist church, as UU’s have a history of accepting neopagans. I had a few conversations with someone in the local leadership and decided to try attending a service. Within ten minutes I had to flee due to one person wearing a heavy dose of sandalwood essential oil. I cried all the way home.

I’ve never been to a Trothmoot, or indeed any public heathen or neopagan event except for that thing the Druids used to do in Berkeley in the park, and that only once. Reclaiming Witch Camps could be fun, but they are outdoors in the woods in the summer and I know the mosquito repellant would make attendance impossible. (I also dodge airborne toxins at health facilities, schools where I’ve taken classes, public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, senior centers, and so on.)

Good indoor air quality, which is what people like me need in order to participate in  events and experience those stated Troth values such as Hospitality, Frith, and Self-reliance, benefits everyone in attendance. Go on over to my Why Fragrance Free page on my professional website and you’ll see links to a study published earlier this year that estimates that 1-4 Americans has some form of environmental illness now. ONE IN FOUR. That’s staggering.

From where I sit and stand, always on the outside, I’d much rather see the vast amounts of attention focused on the pros and cons of Loki worship (so, just get over it and let us hail Loki already!!!!) directed instead toward a thoughtful consideration of a ban on fragrance use at such events, as the toxicity of such products is well documented in scientific literature and numerous anecdotal accounts. (Yes, and as grownups, we can also address the problems presented by alt.right fascists and neo-nazi scum, as well as other challenges.)

Because I have no kindred beyond those I find on the internet, and no place of worship beyond my own altars and my Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, I am probably doomed to spend the rest of my life as a solitary practitioner of just about everything. I try to make peace with that, but even writing about this brings tears. When it’s not too painful, I like to imagine the cheer of bright halls where people like me (aging, disabled, kinky, Lokean) are welcome as full members of the community. I long to toast, boast, recite poetry, and look with love on my kindred. I long to rely on the “kindness of strangers” who soon become my friends. I long to stand up and do battle beyond writing these blogs.

Alas.

smallEcoMaskBut, yeah, I’m a gonna bring this up. I’m bringing it up now. I’m tossing my respirator on the ground as a gauntlet. Loki is all about pointing out hypocrisy and the hypocrisy in action against those with disabilities is every bit as damaging as other forms of exclusion.

As for Loki–I’ll leave you with the song stylings of Joan Jett, Bad reputation.

Loki! Loki! (For luck.)

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