White Tears/Brown Scars
There’s an invisible violence that occurs when the emotional grievances of white women are prioritised over the experiences of non-white women. When it’s exposed, the response is often one of hostility. In White Tears/Brown Scars, Ruby Hamad explores this violence through personal reflection, academic research and case studies from around the world.
Hamad begins by dissecting the history of gendered racism and the establishment of whiteness as the global canon. She recognises that women of colour not only endure the Madonna/whore dichotomy experienced by all women, but are also seen as exotic or beastly, wild or tamed, the villain of the story or an altogether invisible entity. These stereotypes, Hamad writes, “dissolve any requirement to take certain people seriously or to empathise with them”. Her main thesis thus unfolds: the dehumanisation, sexualisation and colonisation of women of colour is so ingrained in contemporary society that it is overlooked and ignored.
While white men remain at the pinnacle of the racial hierarchy, Hamad holds white women to account as equal perpetrators of racial discrimination. Pointing to the example of white Australian women removing Indigenous children from their homes, she shows how femininity can be used to implement “maternal colonialism”: “They saw their role not as depriving Indigenous children of their families but as ‘rescuing’ and ‘saving’ them from uncivilised parents.” Discrimination such as this was often seen as justifiable, she explains, because Indigenous women did not fit the European colonial model of womanhood.
When white women are challenged by women of colour, they often become defensive. This is when their tears come into play. As Hamad puts it, “The tears may well be genuine, but that does not make them innocent.” Providing a series of case studies, Hamad examines how white tears perpetrate the idea of white victimhood against black or brown aggression, and undermine the expertise and lived experience of women of colour.
Through White Tears/Brown Scars, Hamad deconstructs the colonial narrative of “white is right”. She challenges society to face the discrimination it has normalised, and to commit to a future where white women let go of their privilege and stand with women of colour.
Melbourne University Press, 248pp, $34.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 28, 2019 as "Ruby Hamad, White Tears/Brown Scars".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.