Damsels in Distress
Many years ago, when I was climbing the corporate America ladder, I worked in a small office doing insurance accounting. The job itself was okay but I found myself being the “only” – the only Black person and the only Black woman.
One morning, my white female manager and I were going over some reports that I had completed. She questioned me about some of the numbers – forgetting that we already had a prior conversation about them. As I reminded her of what we talked about, she started to grow hostile towards me. Why? Because I made her uncomfortable. Therefore, she did what most white women do when they feel threatened - she cried.
She asked me why was I “being aggressive” with her and she wanted me to lower my voice. Well, I wasn’t being aggressive, nor was I talking loudly. She continued to make a scene, catching the entire office’s attention. Another white manager approached and asked ME what was I doing to HER. In that moment, she was the poor white damsel in distress, and I was the angry black woman.
After that incident, her attitude was even more indifferent towards me and she was determined to find fault with every, single thing I did. Needless to say, I moved on from there the first chance I got.
The everyday aggressions Black Americans face don’t always make national conversation. But when they do, white liberal women are given an opportunity that they always fail to take: owning up to the ways in which they benefit from, and actively promote, racism.
The fact that Amy Cooper could get on the phone with the police and strategically make a false accusation, while knowing she was being recorded speaks volumes about her white privilege. She was well-versed knowing exactly what to say – “an African-American man is threatening me” – and was okay with the result that could have caused.
In a recent CBS News special, Christian Cooper told Gayle King: “She was going to tap into a deep, deep, dark vein of racism – of racial bias – that runs through this country and has done so for centuries,” he said. “She basically pulled the pin on the race grenade and tried to lob it at me.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is fighting to pass the ‘Amy Cooper’ Bill, making it a hate crime to call 9-1-1 with a false accusation based on race. This follows similar legislation that was introduced in 2018 by New York Senator Brian Benjamin.
This is what we talk about when we talk about the violence of white women’s tears. As Black women’s voices get louder with legitimate issues and grievances, they are no match for damsels in distress. My manager, like Amy Cooper, is in a long line of damsels who leverage racial power by dominating Black people to pivot to the role of the helpless victim.
One of the earliest critiques of white women racism comes from the poet, journalist, and abolitionist, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, born in 1825:
"We are all bound up in one great bundle of humanity, and society can’t trample on the weakest and feeblest among its members without receiving the curse in its own soul," she declared.
"You white women speak of rights, I speak of wrongs. I do not believe that giving white women the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of society. I do not believe that white women are dew-drops just exhaled from the skies."
All of the video footage we have seen over the years, most recently George Floyd, is painful evidence that racial violence has never gone away. But we could, hopefully, begin to see a turning point.