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Day 54: White Women's Tears...

Before I met Quanita Roberson, I never knew the entanglement within me about this simple phrase. I had already learned in higher education that tears were a kiss of death for defending scholarship. Blood in the water, for mere mortal scholars striving to be on the rise in whatever ways imagined. This strikes me now as odd, given my own mentor, Jim Loder, regularly cried when he lectured. It was one of the things that drew me to him—a signal that his masculine-ego was surrendering before us to something or Someone to whom he was more devoted than retaining his "masculine dignity." But I’m most familiar with spaces that do not welcome tears, even if we say or wish they did.

One of the toughest moments of leadership brought this entanglement into our country’s racial-wound expression. On a leadership team for a Wabash Center colloquy in 2014-15, I remember feeling a connection in the strand of discourse we were in, one that my older African-American woman colleague had said earlier in our leadership-team meeting. Not wanting to say her idea in my voice, I made reference to the connection and invited her to name it herself. Which thereby stepped me into her deep woundedness, even hatred, surrounding white women. She lashed out at me in front of all of us, putting me “in my place.”

I was blind-sided, deeply hurt. And I knew all the tropes about white women’s tears and fragility. I swallowed the tears and the humiliation the rest of the week. I held it in the sense of “your most difficult relationship can be your best spiritual teacher.” I came to see that the sizeable honorarium I would be receiving would require nothing else of me for the remaining 10 months of “work.” My role was to show up and shut up. I cried a lot in those months, but I also made sure no one ever witnessed this white woman’s tears. [It's this woundedness from the Wabash leadership work that ultimately pushed me into the Fire&Water journey...]

Two years ago, I showed up for a Zoom call with Quanita, directly after a Zoom consultation with my DMin Enacting the Beloved Community cohort, led by C. Anthony Hunt. Something clicked inside of me, seeing Quanita’s face. I simply began to cry. It was so good to see her. Tears of gratitude.

But they were a white woman’s tears, now being witnessed, even held, by a black woman.

I froze. I shut down. I almost withdrew from further coaching calls with her. But with “one more” a couple weeks later, we listened together about my body’s wisdom and its necessary release of tears for accessing that wisdom.

So I am blessed, if still entangled. Yes, white women “use” fragility-tears to refuse or deflect the racial realities of others. Yes, it is a body wisdom to release tears however and whenever they arise. And our cultural disdain of tears is a problem, at least if we desire authentic human connection.

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