Special Edition Series | Episode 05
White Women’s Toxic Tears with Lisa Sharon Harper
In light of the uprisings of the past weeks, it is not enough to perform wokeness. We need true solidarity. True solidarity requires an understanding of the historical and cultural roots and current-day patterns of white women’s betrayals of people of color. It will also require repair. This is a raw, honest, informative, solidarity-building conversation with author and Freedom Road founder and president Lisa Sharon Harper.
Jen: Everybody, welcome to the For the Love Podcast. It is me, Jen.
And I am really happy that you’re here today. I’m really happy that you clicked download on this one. A couple of weeks ago, I had a really profound and important conversation on Facebook Live with my incredible friend, Lisa Sharon Harper, who is an activist, a civil rights champion. She has had her hand at the work of racial equality and repentance and reconciliation for decades. I mean, she is truly special and important. Her voice is needed right now. And so I am so happy that you are listening to it.
I invite you to listen to this bonus release today on the podcast, for we grabbed that conversation and uploaded it over here for you so that you could hear it easily, so you could hear it again, so that you could share it, so that you could send it to your friends and family, because this one really packed a punch, you guys, in a good way. This is an important conversation to have.
Lisa leads us well, and she and I discuss, essentially, what has been the long history of the weaponization of white women’s tears and emotional fragility, and how deeply it has not only crippled the work of equality, but has caused innumerable harms to black men, women, and children. And so this is—this is big. Buckle up today. And I say this somewhere in that conversation, but for my white listeners, I invite you to set aside your preconceived ideas or your defensiveness and even your shame and just listen quietly today. Listen to what you hear. Listen to the history. Listen to the stories. Listen to the examples. And let’s learn together. Let’s lean into this work. It’s such a moment in time. We are in an incredible worldwide moment. And I’m so happy that you’re joining. I’m so happy that you’re here.
And once again, I am delighted to bring to the show the incredible Lisa Sharon Harper. And listen, after you hear this conversation between the two of us, go follow her everywhere. Go listen to everything she has to say. Go to her website, look at her or her organization. She is such an important and a worthy leader to follow right now. So thank you for being here. Share this episode. Share this. Send it to your folks. This one’s worth listening to.
Lisa: Hello, America. Hello, everybody. Jen is now putting on her makeup. Thank you so, so much, for coming and being a part of this conversation, again. We had an amazing conversation, just a few days ago, on Friday of last week, about white women’s toxic tears. What we were referring to there, we were referring to the incident that happened in Central Park, in New York City, with Amy Cooper and Mr. Christopher Cooper. Also, that happened on the same day that the video came to us, on the same day that we watched the public lynching of Mr. George Floyd.
My name is Lisa Sharon Harper, and I’m here in conversation with Jen Hatmaker, about white women’s toxic tears. We’re doing a take two, because…
Jen: Yes, we are.
Lisa: Unfortunately, we had some tech issues last week. Okay? So we actually have some friends who are helping us out today. They looked, they watched themselves, and they were like, “Oh, these girls need help.” They called and said, “Can we help you guys?” So Red Wine & Blue is an amazing new organization that actually does this kind of thing, and they’ve offered their help. They’re donating their help in order to service the nation, actually, with this conversation. Also, why are we having this conversation, as opposed to others right now?
Well, for me, this is really critical, because I see the reality that in order for us to have lasting change in our nation, which is what we want—we are at the place where we have had seventy-five cities experience uprisings over the last six days. We are now on the seventh day. There has been no ceasefire declared. The only thing that people are asking for is justice. We got charges last week, but the charges were lower than what the video tape says, shows us that happened. The reality is is that in most cases, what you find is DAs do not have to prove the entire case before they bring charges. They prove the case in court.
They lowered the charges, based on what they thought they could prove, but they didn’t actually say what they thought happened. That’s all people are asking for, is for what happened to be stated in the courtroom and then prove the case. So we are here talking about the role of white women in this whole experience of the subjugation of black men, women and children. Why white women?
Well, because of the Amy Cooper, girls. Amy Cooper showed us, in base relief, what people of African descent have experienced literally for centuries. For centuries, but she clarified it. We want to dig into this. We want to examine it and we want to actually begin to mine this, so that we can never have this happen again. Never again.
Jen Hatmaker, a week ago, right? We watched the public lynching of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin. By all accounts, Mr. Floyd was a generous man. He was a loving soul, known and respected by all, and known by Mr. Chauvin. They worked at the same night club for years.
And at the same time, in New York City, this white woman, Amy Cooper, unleashed her dog in Central Park in an area where unleashing was illegal. This avid birdwatcher, a board member of the Audubon Society, and Harvard Grad, Christopher Cooper, a black man, asked Amy to leash her dog, at which point she got indignant. He didn’t want the environment to be ruined. She did not want to leash her dog. So he took out his phone to videotape the conversation, and thank God he did. She came toward him, and he said, “Please don’t get close to me. Don’t come close to me.” Then she backed away a little bit, and whipped out her phone and called the police.
And as she dialed, she told him, “I’m going to tell them that there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” and that is exactly what she did. He was twenty feet from her, as she repeated again and again in hysterics, “There’s an African-American man threatening my life. I’m in Central Park. Come and help me. Come and help me.”
Jen, I want to know, what was your very first response? What was your first thought when you saw that on the video?
Jen: It was so upsetting. My absolute first thought on contact of seeing that video, was, Oh. She is going to get him killed. She is going to get him killed by police, and she’s lying. Her life was not in danger. There was not a shred of truth in her claim. Not one shred. Not in any way, shape or form. It could not have been perceived. It could not have been misinterpreted. It was a lie. The ease in which she was prepared to weaponize her white victimhood, her white tears, her white fear against an utterly innocent black man was chilling. It was absolutely chilling to me.
It is a mercy that that deescalated and disbanded before the police got there, because they would have believed her. They would have believed her. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. It’s a weapon, and it could have ended his life. It was horrifying to watch.
Lisa: What was the feeling? You said it was horrifying. I get that. Name a feeling that came up for you.
Jen: The feeling that I felt—which makes me so mad—is that this is predictable. I’m like, “This is a predictable response.” When she was not getting the result she wanted immediately, she resorted to tears and hysterics…
Jen: …and fear. Did you see her? She flipped it.
Jen: Like, “Let me double down on my fragility, on my emotional state.” It was very performative.” And let me see if that will secure the outcome I want.” I was angry, and I was sad. I was angry, and I was sad. What did you feel?
Lisa: That’s a good question. Here’s the thing. Well, first of all, my first thought was Emmett Till. That was my first thought. My first thought was Emmett Till. Right? So what that led me to do is, honestly, to feel terrified. Because when she did that, it was literally like she was conjuring 1955. The year 1955, that was the year after the passage of the Brown v. Board of Education. Right? So Brown v. Board of Education is that moment in time when we finally get the Constitutional protection of our lives. It’s when we’re told, “Separate but not equal is not Constitutional. And people of African descent, and all people, and all citizens, all residents have equal protection of the law.” So the response to that by the originators—hello, somebody—of the culture wars was to go and just eradicate, and they eradicated Emmett Till, one year later.
Let me tell you a little bit about Emmett Till. So Emmett Till, 1955, for those who don’t know, he was fourteen years old, visiting his uncle down in Mississippi, and he was lynched. He was not just lynched, as in strung up, although that’s bad enough. But he was eradicated, as Tim Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till, says. They brutalized him. They beat him to a pulp. They wrapped him in razor wire. They stripped him naked and then wrapped him. Then threw him off the side of the Tallahatchie Bridge. Right?
That was a message. It was a message that, “Brown v. Board of Education does not apply to you.” It does not apply. In other words, it is irrelevant, as far as we are concerned. But see, the history of this goes back. It goes back even further than Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a warning. Right? “Don’t try. Don’t even try to be protected by the law, by law enforcement.” Hello, somebody. Right?
It goes back to slave patrols. Literally, the policing in America goes back—the seed of the tree that is bearing this fruit right now was slave patrols. Literally, what they did was they [conscripted]—in the midst of more than 1,000 uprisings that happened on plantations throughout the South—they [conscripted] slave plantation owners, the plantation owners and overseers, to patrol the area. Like a volunteer posse, in the evenings, in order to make sure that the black people could not have freedom of movement and nobody was coming to kill Missy, right, in the middle of the night, or rape Missy in the middle of the night.
Only white women, in the midst of this, at this time, could legally declare that they had been raped in the Antebellum South. But there was no protection for black women who were often raped by their masters. And according to the American Bar Association, a report that I read last year, in 2019, they said that oftentimes women were raped by their masters in front of the master’s family. I’m like, “What?” So you have the rebellions, you have the slave patrols, and the slave patrols are explicitly to hunt down and prohibit the movement of black men, women, and children.
The thing is, the rape of white women by black men was codified into law as the deserving of a death sentence then, in those days. So these are the seeds. These are seeds of what we are experiencing in our society right now. And the slave patrols were literally the precursor of the current day police. If you look at the old slave patrol badge, they had a badge, it was the actual star that we now have as our Sheriff’s badge. It’s the same star. When I was researching and I saw this, this blew my mind.
In the Jim Crow era, you have more than 4,000 black men and children then that are lynched, usually on the word of a white woman who pointed her finger and said, “He raped me,” or “He winked at me,” or “He looked at me.” And that man, woman, or child, like Emmett Till, would be dead. And now the accusation of rape, it justifies inordinate sentences. A black man is twenty percent more likely to be convicted of rape. Lots of times, they’re more likely to have longer sentences and exponentially more likely to be wrongfully convicted. So think about that.
So Jen, what I want to know, knowing all of this, knowing that that is the seed of the tree, right? That’s the seed of the tree that we now have called policing and law enforcement. And it is the history of white women pointing the finger and the reality that the tree exists [is] largely dependent on white women pointing the finger. How does this happen? How are white women conditioned to use their tears, in order to gain that power?
Jen: Yeah. Thank you, first of all, Lisa, for tracing this fact, because it is an unbroken chain. It’s not a disconnected thread. It’s run the whole course of history, and it doesn’t even take a lot of effort or energy to discover that. It’s not some hidden mystery that is unknowable. It’s just that we erased that from our history books. We erased that from our classrooms. Thank you for just doing the most obvious work, of explaining how this came to be.
I want to say this first, before I answer your really important question: I know, like on my channels for sure today, a great majority of you listening are white women and are talking about us. I want to challenge you today, as your sister, that for some of you, this will be the first time that maybe you’ve heard some of the things we’re going to talk about. Our instinct is sometimes to be incredibly defensive and incredibly ashamed. That comes out with all kinds of sideways energy. I want to challenge us today to set that aside, set those reactions aside, and choose humility today. That we can, and should, just simply be listeners and learners. That’s an appropriate position. To hear, just to hear. Hear, hear, hear without a response. Just let this be. See if that can be a posture that we can take inside this conversation. Because Lisa has just asked a really important question, which is how are and have been white women socialized to use their tears and their victimhood and their—I would call it learned helplessness—in order to gain power? This matters. This really, really matters.
Just like Lisa just traced this back to root origin sources, we can do the same thing. Because there is definitely an M.O. of this behavior that’s been around for a really, really, really long time. If we’re committed to the work of anti-racism, this is where we start. We look backward first. This original, let’s just call it Damsel in Distress persona, if you will, was a way originally for white women to exercise whatever limited power we had, which wasn’t much. Still, white women have always been embedded in white patriarchy. That’s also true.
Lisa: That’s important.
Jen: Yeah. It’s important, because it very much informs the conversation. We had a little bit of power, and our power was primarily exercised through sex and tears. Those were our tools. Those were our tools at our disposal. The Damsel, I’m just going to call her the Damsel, for short, insured that even inside incredibly violent and abusive scenarios, that white women were at least considered human, although still very much dependent on the men to defend them and assign any amount of honor or respect to them whatsoever. That was still out of their control.
So white women needed to be seen as worth protecting, that that was some sort of noble cause, if you will. Also, this matters too, if we’re going to look backwards at history, which was also that protecting white women from abusive black men. Right? Or black men who would exploit them, was the only way at the time also to maintain a pure race. Right?
Lisa: You know what, Jen? Can I interject here?
Lisa: Because this is essentially important. I didn’t plan to talk about this, but it actually does connect.
In my research for my next book, Fortune, I traced my family back to like 1662, 1667. It was right around that same time, sorry, ’82, ’87. It was right around that same time that the first race laws were created in America, in Virginia and Maryland. They were the first two colonies, ever. Right? The first two colonies. The first laws were actually created in response to white women.
[There was] a flood of white women having either affairs or marrying enslaved black men and choosing to marry them. There were a lot. There were 600 mixed race children that were birthed in Maryland alone, just in the colonial era. The legislatures created the race laws in order to stop that. In order to stop it. They said, “We can’t have this.”
It’s funny, because it wasn’t actually, at first, the impetus of white women to think that black men were brutes. They were trying to marry them. But white men were threatened by that, and said, “Oh, hell no!” You know what I mean?
Jen: That’s right. That’s right. That’s important, too. Because you probably know the details, because you have a steel trap mind for history and dates, but interracial marriages were illegal as recently as—is it maybe fifty years ago? Am I getting that a little bit wrong?
Lisa: No, no, no. It’s 1967, with Loving v. Virginia. Hello, somebody. Guess what? It was from 1967. If you trace back the very first race laws in America, it was the time when they made miscegenation of the races illegal. So it was from 1660 to 1967 that it was illegal in America.
Jen: Totally. And so, obviously, there was this impulse to protect white superiority, self-proclaimed, and white power and white hierarchy, by keeping white women to the white men. There was a clear point. I think this is really important for women to notice, for us to look backwards with clear eyes and pay attention that the Damsel performance of helplessness, and distress, and fragility, and victimhood has never, and did never, work against the abuses of white men. Right?
So let’s keep it straight. It didn’t protect women from being raped and exploited and abused by white men at all. It’s not actually the protection of white women that was at stake. That was an excuse. That was a front to protect white male power.
Lisa: Did you know that the very last state to outlaw rape in the context of marriage was, I believe it was North or South Dakota, in 1995.
Jen: Wow! So let’s get it straight. Let’s get it straight. It wasn’t an altruistic desire to keep white women from harm. It never was. It was a tool in the bag of white supremacy. That’s kind of where it came from. It’s where this narrative really grew roots and then blossomed, as Lisa said earlier. I think what’s as important to our discussion today is that this persona, the Damsel, is still in play, clearly. It’s been one week since we saw it on every single news channel. The Damsel is still in play, because it has some benefits, and it has a goal.
Lisa: Okay. Let’s talk about the benefits. Let’s talk about those benefits.
Jen: Why don’t we talk about that?
Lisa: What do they get from it?
Jen: Okay, again. Let’s just receive this with open hands. All these white tearful denials and indigence at our good character called into question. Right? Like, “How dare you?” What that does is it keeps our innocence intact. What I mean by that is it has this knee-jerk trigger response. It will muster sympathy, first of all, which is what we’re trying to get. We want to get on the right side of things really quickly, as the victim, not the perpetrator. It musters sympathy as quickly as our tears can secure it. Then also, it helps us avoid accountability.
Because here’s the truth. Our hurt Damsel feelings will always be prioritized over black outrage, or black conflict, or even just plain old ordinary truth-telling by the black community. Just calling a fact, a fact, saying what is on its face.
Lisa: And black life.
Jen: Black life.
Lisa: Black life.
Jen: I don’t know how many times we have to see this. We have that trump card to play and it’s our feelings. So we have learned to center it in every encounter of white supremacy, knowing that it will be favored. It will be assumed that our white innocence and that our white perception and that our white fear is real and that it’s true. And that, that’s the honest experience of the moment. Then, of course, that very much partners with the opposite assumption, which is that people of color, men specifically, are to be feared and distrusted, and they’re dangerous. Right? They work in tandem.
So here’s the thing for us. This sort of emotional centering of our own hurt feelings, our own misguided perception of a moment, it helps maintain the narrative that we are incredibly virtuous. And that we want to be seen. Like, white women want to be seen as virtuous and absolutely good. That we are good to our core and how dare anybody suggest otherwise. How dare anybody suggest that we may have a lot of lingering inherent racism and bias, because it’s the air we’ve breathed since the day we were born on this earth. Like, how dare? What about our character? What about our innocence? Of course, as I just mentioned, this very much partners with the narrative that black women are very sexualized and very radicalized.
Jen: I mean, it’s just such a trope.
Jen: Right? And that black men are dangerous and violent. And it works. It’s very reliable. It’s very reliable.
Lisa: I have never heard the coupling. I’ve understood the relationship to black men. I’ve never heard— but it’s true. The opposite is also true. Well, first of all, whiteness was created. Whiteness as a political construct was created in relationship to blackness.
Jen: Right. You taught me that.
Lisa: It doesn’t exist without blackness.
Jen: You taught me that.
Lisa: It doesn’t exist without it. But I’ve never heard that whiteness for white women is actually in diametric opposition to black womanness.
Jen: It worked like a charm. It works like a charm, because our narrative is going to be assumed as the true one.
Can we also talk about this, Lisa, because let’s just come to the table of confession, and then ultimately repentance. Because our tears and centering our emotions at any given moment, there’s also an inherent advantage for white women, because that response keeps the white men in power happy. Do you know what I mean?
Lisa: Yes! Yes, I do. Before you go on, can I just add something to that real quickly?
Lisa: Hold that thought, hold that thought.
So going back to those first race laws, do you know what the very first race law was? The very first race law in Maryland, that first race law came into being in 1662. In 1662, the way that the white male legislatures wanted to deal with this problem of white women marrying black men was to say, “If a white woman marries or has an illegitimate child with a black man…” Well, actually, no. This was really just marriage. If they marry a black man, who is enslaved, she too will become a slave, enslaved by the owner of her husband’s master until her husband dies and her children will become enslaved in perpetuity for…
Lisa: …freakin’ ever. Right? So what you have there is—as I’m thinking about this, I’m like, there is literally no motivation for white women to align with people of color at all. Because if they do, they literally, legally, lose their whiteness. They lose their whiteness. If you don’t have whiteness as a white woman, you don’t have anything. You have nothing. You might as well just be a slave. In fact, they tried to enslave you.
Jen: That is so interesting. The history of that disincentivizing, because there’s still very much at play in our culture right now. When white women choose to be offended by black sorrow and rage, rather than becoming an ally—let’s just be honest. What happens is we are then afforded ancillary privilege because of that, which is what you just described. We get to keep our scraps from the table. Right? We get to maintain sort of that second place space in white culture, but it’s better than no place.
The truth is that the white Damsel is very much still rewarded by white supremacy. It’s just true. It gives us power. It hands us position. I think we know that either consciously or subconsciously, that when white women decide to become anti-racists and when they become allies to their brothers and sisters of color, they’re going to upset the very power brokers that have kept them in the game. It’s predictable. It’s predictable. We see it. Then just like that, what used to be sort of this trope of protecting us, we are on the other end of it now, called names, disparaged, diminished, discredited. Just like that, pushed out. There’s really no inherent loyalty inside of it. Let’s be fair. It’s really just keeping white supremacy and hierocracy and patriarchy intact. That’s really what it’s doing. Thus, we have very much conditioned, in every way, both overtly and subtly, and just through every single experience we’ve ever had since the day we were born. We have learned how to center ourselves in virtually every conversation and circumstance around racism. Here we are. Here we are left with that. I guess it’s really ours to decide, Oh, that is a tough pill, but what am I going to do with it? That’s where we are today. What am I going to do with it?
Lisa: Yeah. What are we going to do with it? Jen, what do you think?
Here’s the thing. Look. I love how you say it, “Let’s be real with this.” Right? Let’s be real. We have 500 years of this history. We have 400 years of race law in America, that was directly related to gender. So race and gender in America don’t exist without each other. Those very first race laws in America were also the very first laws that had to do with gender on this soil, that were created on this soil. So they’re literally inextricably linked. This is what we mean by intersectional oppressions. Right? When we are asking the question of, “What can white women do?” You know? What comes to your mind? What does it look like for you to renounce the tactic, the tactic of trying to gain power at all times?
Jen: Okay. So maybe a first step toward women who are being confronted with this and trying to decide what to do with it, is to pay attention to what context we are in, where we have been socialized to use our tears for power. So let me lay out a couple, which may be invisible to us, because that’s how white supremacy works for white people. We have the luxury of imagining it’s a facade, or it’s a construct of the imagination. Let me put it down to the ground in real terms. Here’s some contexts in which white women have become very adept at using our emotions in racial disparity and inequality.
Maybe first and foremost, is in our corporate and in our business settings. “Oh, please. Please, please, white lady, pick me.”
Lisa: When we talked about this on Friday, it literally hit me between the eyes. You’re stepping yourself a little too close. You’re stepping a little too close here.
Jen: Right, Lisa?
Jen: I know. Listen. Everybody listening? Please, ask your black friends about their white coworkers’ tears at the office. Please. Please ask them how many times a white coworker has gone to H.R. in tears after an ordinary business experience. So rather than using maturity and conversational skills and compromise and adulthood to work out what would typically just be business, white people run straight to H.R. with the tears and they call black people, especially black women, aggressive, mean, threatening.
Please ask a black woman how many times she’s been called on the carpet for her tone of voice. Right? Or how many times she’s lost a job. She’s lost a job on the word of white tears.
Lisa: You are calling it out.
Jen: It’s true though. Right, Lisa? I’m not making it up.
Lisa: No, you’re not. You’re not. I can her, the black women, just going, “Whoo!” Like, literally gasping, because you are reading our book. You’re reading our book. Do you know what the thing is? I actually get this. I understand why you could read our book, because white women wrote it. White women wrote that book. Hello.
Jen: It’s effective. It’s worked for us for all the years, and it continues to, because white women have believed the lie that they are so incredibly emotionally fragile, that rather than responding to any given moment with maturity, they get the opportunity to resort to helplessness and victimhood. It’s a lie.
Lisa: Can I just say real quick? My assistant—she’s fabulous, everybody. Her name is Kady. So Kady actually told me, we were having this conversation, once she was literally trained. She was stopped by a cop. The cop was going to give her a ticket, and the ticket was actually probably very legitimate. Right? But this other guy wheeled up to the car, next to the car. A white man wheeled up next to her car, and said, “Just cry, you’ll get out of it.”
Lisa: She was literally trained, by a white man, how to use her white tears.
Jen: Every single white woman listening right now is nodding her head. We were 100% taught that and we were right.
Lisa: Let me tell you, that does not work with black women.
Jen: No! It’s hysterical.
Lisa: Yeah. Sandra Bland.
Jen: That’s right. Sandra Bland. We will say her name. It does not work. The way that we weaponize our emotions in the workplace causes so much harm to our coworkers of color. Thus, if you’ll listen to your black friends talk about how they police their own tone, and their own facial expression, and their own body language, so as not to trigger our constant fragility in the workplace, it’s exhausting, and it’s enough.
Here’s another place where we’ve been socialized to use this. When our white children have either harmed or displayed racism toward a child of color, cue the tears. “Not my kid. He must have heard that from a neighbor.” Right? “He’s a good boy,” rather than face the music. That is the moment you can expect to watch a white woman dissolve. That we are unable to face the inherent racism. And our kids are also picking up on the atmosphere. Right? They’re not going to be the first generation not to. That is absolutely a place where you can see whiteness at work.
To not only absolve her, or her child, or her family of any potential shred of racism, but then to place the burden of reconciliation on the family of color, who then has to just deal with our emotions over it. Right? We just recentered it. That’s my point. From here, to here. So that’s another place.
When we women have been called out on microaggressions. Here’s an example, because it happens so much, that I just want to melt into the ground. When a black woman says, “Can you please stop touching my hair without asking me? Can you just stop doing that?” And we’re like, “Huh! Well, how dare you? I’m not… I’m just…” As if we have a right to just touch somebody’s body, because it’s interesting to us. Right? I mean, how many times do they touch your hair?
Lisa: That’s right. Okay, so I’m in the supermarket. I’m in the supermarket aisle. And my hair, when I have it out, it can be out. Right? You know? I’m in the supermarket, and this white woman reaches up and touches my hair, and I turned around and [was] like, “What was that? What was that?” The thing is this happens all of the time, all of the time. Now I understand. I do. I get it. Black women’s hair is amazing. I mean, we have amazing hair. We really do.
Jen: Right. You do.
Lisa: It’s so amazing that down in Louisiana and New Orleans, back in the day, actually in the Antebellum period—and maybe even the colonial period, but I think it was Antebellum—the black woman would put jewels in their hair. They would put stuff in their hair. Can you imagine?
Jen: It’s majestic.
Lisa: And so they outlawed the showing of women’s hair. They actually said, “You have to wrap it. You have to wrap it,” so that it’s not seen.
Jen: God, I’ve never heard that.
Lisa: That is for real. That’s the level of subjugation. So now, when we do show our hair, now it’s a, “Ohhh!” But the thing is, is our bodies are our bodies. They’re not your bodies. You don’t have the right to cross this boundary without asking.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: So white women, just don’t do that.
Jen: Just don’t do that. Just don’t do it ever again, as long as you live.
Jen: Or when we’re called out on any microaggression. Look, it is a courageous moment for a lot of black men and women to say to a white person, “This thing that you just said, the way in which you said it, that hurt me. Here’s how I received that. Here’s how that is received in my lived experience.” And again, here is where we immediately center our feelings. “You know I didn’t mean that. I’m not racist. I didn’t…” We immediately center our defensiveness, rather than—imagine this as a possibility. “Oh. Oh, my God. I am so sorry. Please accept my apology. I will never do that again. Thank you for telling me. I hear you, and I will do better.” How about that for a response? Just that. No buts. No, “But you know I’m a good person.” No, “But you know I’m not a racist.” None. Just, “Thank you for telling me that. Absolutely received. Here is my apology. I will never do that again.” Amazing. That’s a different response.
Lisa: Sorry. Can I just say, that is not unique to white women or white men or white people. The reality is we live in an incredibly diverse society. This is what makes America America, is that we literally have everyone in the world here. We can’t know about everybody. We can’t know. We can’t know when we’re going to offend somebody. We should actually take the position, all of us, that we don’t know and that we are going to say things that offend.
Just the other day, I actually said something that offended somebody else. I immediately—because I know I don’t know everything—just said, “Do you know what? Please forgive me. Can you point me in the direction, or I’ll Google it. How can I learn more about this, so that I don’t make this mistake ever again?” And that was it. He told me something or she told me something about the word that I had used, the history of it. I was like, “Oh, my God. I had no idea. I will never use that word again.”
Jen: That’s so good, Lisa.
Lisa: Yeah. It’s not all that. It’s just humility.
Jen: It’s humility and it’s human. So this is just a good way, a good rule of operation as human people with other human people, that when someone tells us that something we said or did hurt them or caused them harm, that we believe them. We don’t think they’re making it up because they want to fight or they’re interested in a confrontation. But they’re telling us something tender and true and we say, “Message received. I am sorry, and I will do better.”
I want to mention one other place that I think white people are doubly conditioned to use our tears to resist repentance, acknowledgement, and confession. And that is inside our churches. When our brothers and sisters of color point out our white structures, our white preferences, our white leadership, even our white theology—but that’s a whole can of worms that we don’t have time for today. But when they do…
Lisa: Come on over to Freedom Road. We have that conversation all the time.
Jen: Go over. Lisa’s your leader. You’ve got her right here. That is where you go.
Jen: Our first instinct there is to layer it. So not only is our whiteness innocent, but so is our faith. Our faith surely has to be free of guilt or shame here. Right? We do a one-two punch there, because we’re doing God’s work. And so I deeply urge my friends listening and watching to imagine that our black brothers and sisters have something very salient to say about the white church in America. I mean, are we serious right now?
The white church has been conflicted in white supremacy since the very beginning. It has been a reliable partner. It is way past time that we admit our guilt, as we put our fingers on racism and white supremacy, and used our Bible to support it. That is another place where we just want to default to our presumed innocence, where really what is required is our repentance.
Lisa: Can I just say, just to add to that, because we have a little bit of time here. Speaking of the white church—and actually, there is a whole webinar series that you can take through Freedom Road Institute on decolonizing the Bible, how to decolonize the Bible. That’s the heart of it. The heart of it is the reality that the Western church has lifted physically brown Jesus, politically black Jesus, out of His context and dropped Him into empire, as if He was the king of a Western empire, complete with purple robes, a crown, everything. And yet this was a physically brown, politically black man who was literally colonized by white empire. So He was killed by white empire.
When you understand that and you understand all of His people and every writer of every single book in the entire Bible was physically brown and politically black, every last word of them were either colonized, or in danger of being colonized, including David and Solomon. Yes, they were kings, but they were kings of a dinky little kingdom that kept getting sacked. Right? So they were not kings of an empire, but they kept getting colonized by empires.
When we, the white we, when the white church positions itself, centers itself, as the authority of theology, the authority, the authority of what the Bible actually says, do you understand how crazy that is? That would literally be like the white church claiming authority over the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Jen: Right. That’s a great example. It’s that absurd.
Lisa: To interrupt that, and not just to interpret, but to enforce the interpretation around the world.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: It is that absurd.
Jen: That’s right. I know. Thank you so much for your incredible teaching and leadership on this. There’s so much to unravel there. For the majority of white Christians in America, I 100% grew up under the pictures of white Jesus holding a lamb.
Jen: 100%, and He was fine. Why was Jesus so good-looking in His white skin? It was very confusing. All the Jesuses in Hollywood are also incredibly white and good-looking. It’s a very weird rendition of the actual Jesus.
Lisa: I swear to God, Jesus. Oh, I swear to God. Thank you, Jesus. Jesus really did look more like Malcolm X. He really did. And He was fine, as we say in our neighborhood. He was fine. Fine. Do you know what I mean? He was fine.
Jen: Wow! I don’t know what’s happened, Lisa.
Lisa: It’s okay. It’s okay. We’re bringing it back. We’re bringing it back.
Jen: I think maybe here’s what I want to say, before you give us some other really incredible action steps. To the community that are white women listening to me right now, this is our work. This is white work. I want to say this really gently, because I see this a lot right now. We are in such a moment of national reckoning. We feel it. The temperature’s high, and I’m watching white women who maybe have been historically silent on this, try to find a foothold into this, to start the engine here on anti-racist work.
But I think what a lot of white women do—I believe this is well-intentioned. I’m going to go ahead and give benefit of the doubt here. But what they do is they turn to communities of color, and they say, “Teach me. Teach me what to do.” So just like that, to a community that is so traumatized and tired, so tired. We then say, again with the helplessness, “Can you also both explain and defend lingering racism in our culture to a white community” that it should be glaringly obvious to, that is a learned helplessness, too.
Do you have Google? Google it. At this point, there are so many comprehensive lists of anti-racist resources to learn from, to listen to, to watch, to read. There never even needs to be another one made for the rest of our lives. There’s so many out there.
Lisa: That’s really true. Honestly, over the last week, I’m actually very grateful. I’m grateful for the people who have said, “Do you know what? Let me follow this voice.” They followed me. They followed a lot of my friends. Honestly, all you need to do is go online right now. Go on any social media platform and you will see names of people, stories and posts with all the lists, the lists of all the people, the people of color who are teaching these things and are teaching about this. That’s good. I love that. I’m honored that you would come and that you would sit at our feet and listen.
But the problem is when it’s demanded and when it’s thought to be, “Teach me on demand.” Do you know what I mean? “I don’t know this, now you have to explain it.” When you come to the comment section, right, and you’re like, “Now you have to.” Do you know what I mean? “You have to explain this to me right now.” No. Google it.
Jen: Google it. Can you read? Can you read?
Lisa: There’s a million movies now, too. Sorry.
Jen: It’s too easy. It’s too easy. This is white work, and we need to stop asking communities of color to do the heavy lifting of our education. That is so lazy. Again, I’m going to give benefit of the doubt, which I think that the intended posture here is, “I’m deferring to your leadership and your experience.” I think that’s the point. Which is, “I am going to be under your leadership.” That is the right posture. But the difference is, “I’m going to listen and learn from you” versus “Teach me now.”
Jen: Right. “You teach me now.” Well, maybe you can just sit quietly and listen, because it’s already out there. If our eyes and ears have not told us already, that white supremacy is alive and well and reins supreme in this world, we’re just not paying attention.
This is white work. It belongs on our plate. This is ours to do. Specifically, it is ours to renounce this low-hanging fruit tactic of using our tears, and our helplessness, and our victimhood against black bodies, black experiences, and black lives. We have to stop. We just have to stop. We don’t step this down. We don’t gradually walk it back. We stop it, once and for all.
May we recognize in the moment, when we are tempted to let those tears just burn in profession of our own innocence and integrity and virtue, and rather let’s be in the moment like grownups who are anti-racist, in partnership with our brothers and sisters of color who are near and dear to us, to the heart of God, to this world, to the lived experience of humanity. It’s just enough. That is it. We renounce it, and we lay it down.
Lisa, I would love to hear from you as we go. I would love for the final words to be yours. I would love for you to kind of commission us, if you will.
Lisa: All right. So here’s what I think. Looking at all of this, going back to Emmett Till, slave patrols, the use of the tears in order to gain the power because you are not fully empowered, yeah, there’s a reason, but at the same time, it’s freakin’ evil. Right?
Jen: Yeah. That’s right.
Lisa: The reality that pointing of the finger, that pushing off of responsibility, that failure to take responsibility for your own actions, that has cost us. That has cost. It’s cost us. It’s cost jobs. It’s cost spiritual fulfillment for people who can’t go to church. They would, if they weren’t going to experience that. It has cost family members, who have been lynched. It’s cost land. The great migration largely happened because of the stream of lynchings that happened largely at the pointing finger of a white woman. It has cost us.
So the question is, how do we repair what race broke in the world, really?
I think reparations is necessary. I think we gotta speak the word, and I think it starts right now. We don’t need any kind of a national declaration of reparation. I think it starts with you, and I think it starts with you right now. All reparation is is repair. It is the work of repentance. It is the work to repent.
Now, look, when I was in youth group, that’s where I got taught what repentance is. All repentance is is when you see that you’re walking one direction and it’s the wrong direction, what do you do? You turn and walk 180 degrees in the other direction. So 180 degrees from the pointing finger, which actually causes all of that loss, is to point that finger back at yourself and to pay reparation. To actually pay into the solution, to be a part of the solution, as opposed to sitting on the sideline, being frozen and not knowing what to do. No. It is to unleash yourself and engage. That’s what it looks like. So I’m going to give you a few ways that you can do that today. You can start today. Okay? You ready?
There are several movements on the ground in all of those seventy-five cities that have had the uprising today. We obviously know that this is a national problem. It’s not just located in Minneapolis, though that was the flashpoint. Right? It was one of the big flashpoints. And we also need to say the names of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery as well, and the so many that have come before them. It’s not even just what happened this week. The week before that, we had Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Then the week before that, there was someone else. And there have been others that have remained unnamed, even in the week since George Floyd.
In light of that, there are organizations, there are movements that are on the ground right now that are being led by people of African descent. Let me tell you, the most critical part of the repentance for white women and men is to acknowledge the fact that what white supremacy says to the world is that only people of European descent were created to rule, were created to exercise dominion on this land, were created to exercise agency and make decisions that impact the world. It is you. It is white people who should be the people who are leading into the solutions. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. That’s not true. Biblically, it’s not true. That’s not true sociologically, mentally. Any way you cut it, it’s not true. We are all human. All of us are human. And scripturally, we know on the very first page of the Bible, that what it means to be human is to be made in the image of God. What it means to be made in the image of God is to be called what the divine call and capacity to exercise dominion in the world, to make decisions that impact the world, to exercise agency.
Your first act of repentance is to trust the leadership of people of African descent on this land. In these cities, you have to trust that we know what the problem is, and we know the solutions. All we lack is the public will to do it, and that’s where you come in. You are the public. You can bring the will.
So I want to call on you to follow the lead. Follow the lead of the movements of the people of African descent in this United States and other subjugated peoples of color: Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx community, people who are what we call Middle Eastern, but are culturally Arabic, Persian, Pakistani, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, who have long roots in America, but have been perpetually foreignized, and are seen as the foreigner.
What would it look like for you, people of European descent, to recognize that you are not white? You are European descent. Just like I am of African descent. What would it look like for you to step down off the scaffolding of whiteness and join the community of creation, join the community of humanity in a circle? And in this moment, the people we need to lead us are the people of African descent, because we’re the ones who have experienced the brunt of the problem. We know it like the back of our hands.
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: I want you, right now, not right now. Right after we get off of this, I want you go on NAACP’s website, and then also Legal Defense Fund. Those are two different organizations. The NAACP is doing great work in Minneapolis. I want you to give. I want you to give your money to the NAACP today. I want you to go to the Black Lives Matter National. You’re able to give to any Black Lives Matter chapter through their national network. They are also doing amazing organizing in every city. I also want you on their page. This also goes for the movement for Black Lives, which is actually a compilation of hundreds of different organizations.
I want you to go to their page and I want you to look for their vision, because they actually do outline the vision. What are they working toward? I think you’ll find that it’s a beautiful vision. What the vision really is, is the vision of Shalom. The vision of peace. The vision of all of us being equal.
Next, I want you to go to the Color of Change website. Color of Change is doing amazing work again. The Color of Change is an advocacy group that works on a national level working policies that will bring the freedom of black people and all people.
Then finally, I want you to go to the Poor People’s Campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign has an incredible initiative that is rising up, and it’s going to be taking place June 20th. It’s an online national protest. And know this: there are more white poor people in America than there are black poor people in America. Okay? There are more white people in America than there are black poor people. It’s just that the percentages, the ratios within our community are skewed. Right?
So together, if we address the issues of poverty, we—do you know what Reagan used to say, the trickle down theory? The trickle down, all boats will rise. That never did work. It doesn’t work. But if we raise the poor, then we all will be raised. We will all. Our society, our economy will be raised.
Then finally… I said, “and finally.” This is not finally. There’s like three more. EJI, Equal Justice Initiative, so Equal Justice Initiative. Right? Actually, Jen, you were there with us.
Jen: Yeah. You and I, that’s when we met.
Lisa: We met there. They spent years building this incredible museum and monument. But their work, their every day work, is actually to free black men and women and children who have been rounded up and have experienced police brutality, and also the brutality of our entire justice system that levels inequitable sentencing and inequitable experiences in the courtroom on poor black bodies. So go. Because they teach the history, and they also tell you what you can do next. That’s your next pilgrimage. If you haven’t been there, you’ve gotta go.
Lisa: Yes. Today. You can watch the movie.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Lisa: Watch the movie on Netflix and then buy the book, and read the book, if you haven’t already read it.
Be the Bridge. If you’re looking for a place, and I hope you are, where you can personally be led as a white person, this place exists for you. If you want to move forward in your anti-racism, if you want to become more aware, as Jen has become more aware and is becoming more aware, then I want you to go to bethebridge.com. I want to follow Latasha Morrison online, on all the social networks. Just look for Latasha Morrison, because homegirl and Be the Bridge, they are doing the work as literally few entities in the United States are doing right now. So you really do have to go to her.
And, of course, Freedom Road. So if you have an organization that wants to become anti-racist organization, if you, yourself, are on the journey of decolonizing your thinking, then I want you to go to freedomroad.us and I want you to log onto our institute, and the institute will give you the opportunity to take webinars, become part of growth communities, get coached in how to be an anti-racist, basically. How to move forward in all of this. Also, of course, if you’re an organization, we can consult. That’s what we do.
So friends, we are at a crossroads in our nation. We have a choice. It feels so despairing, doesn’t it, when we’re watching the news at night and all you see is burning buildings, and you see the chants, and you see police cars ram people. When you see trucks go through crowds, you just think, We are losing our minds. We have lost it. Our nation is unraveling.
But friends, let me share something with you, a thought I had last night, in closing. Our nation may be unraveling. That’s not such a bad thing. It gives us the opportunity to build it right. Up to this point, we have never really examined the ways that our systems and structures have been created to do what they are doing right now. The policing system is bearing the fruit that the seed produces, and the seed is racial violence. So in order for us to have a new result, we need a new seed. So this is our opportunity. It’s our opportunity to dream and build a new society. Imagine that. Imagine that. We are here. We are here. We’re in that moment. Take it. Move. Move forward. We can get there together. Your freedom is mixed up in my freedom. And my freedom, Jen, is mixed up in yours. Amen.
Jen: Amen, that’s a word. Thank you for being such a profoundly gifted leader for this moment, Lisa. Thank you for your faithful witness, for your philosophy. You’ve had your hand at this for a long time, and you have stayed the course with profound anointing. So for all of the ways in which you have taught me, and led me, and corrected me and challenged me, and been a friend to me, I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life.
Thank you for your investment today in our communities. Because what you said mattered so, so, so much. I remain your friend, your sister, and your partner. Thank you for this moment. Thank you for today. I love you dearly.
Everybody, if you haven’t already, obviously, follow Lisa on all platforms and all spaces. Get your life right. I don’t know what else we have to do.
Lisa: That’s so funny.
Jen: I’m telling you what to do. Okay? Let’s keep scrolling. Because remember, we got fancy tech help today.
Lisa: Yeah. They’re awesome. Thank you, Red Wine & Blue.
Jen: Yeah, thank you for understanding that we needed help. Okay, sis. I love ya.
Lisa: All right. I love you, too. And I want to say thank you also for doing your homework. Thank you for doing your homework.
Jen: Yeah. Absolutely. Okay, community. Thanks for joining us today.
Lisa: Thank you.