The Damaging Effects of "White Tears" in the Workplace

WriteOnline
2 min readMay 1, 2023
A black male office worker appears surprised and confused as a white female colleague begins to cry in response to a comment he made. Three other colleagues, two white men and one white female, can be seen all appearing worried about the situation. The image is shot from the crying female’s point of view, so only a portion of her shoulder is visible in the shot.
Black office worker incredulous as white female colleague starts to cry in a meeting.

I got into a conversation about "white tears" with a Jamaican in a gallery on the famous King's Road in London. I can't recall how it started, but I think it had something to do with us being the only Black people in the space. The Jamaican insisted that it's not just women of colour affected by the "white tears" syndrome at work; Black men are also frequently targeted.

He said we are often perceived as more aggressive, making it easy for white women to manipulate the situation by playing the victim and seeking sympathy. In the workplace, Black men often have to walk on eggshells around their white female colleagues because they know how quickly they can take offence and turn on them. White women know their feelings will always carry more weight, so they use this to their advantage, portraying themselves as victims and discrediting their Black male colleagues.

“White tears” is a term used to critique an over-emphasis on the feelings and experiences of white people, particularly in situations where people of color are experiencing discrimination or injustice.
"White tears" is a term used to critique an over-emphasis on the feelings and experiences of white people, particularly women, in situations where people of colour are experiencing discrimination or injustice.

It may sound absurd to those who have never experienced the devastating effects of "white tears," he said. But in the United States, this phenomenon can easily lead to the death of a Black man. However, it's a harsh reality of everyday life for those like me who have lived and worked through it. It only takes saying something innocuous to a white female colleague, and before you know it, she's in tears, and you're being reported to management for making her cry.

He then concluded that this behaviour could often lead to Black men being wrongly labelled as a bully or aggressive and gaining a harmful reputation or worse. The conversation was strikingly relevant, as I was experiencing a similar situation at work, even requiring extended leave. However, I wasn’t ready to discuss it and kept my input to the conversation in the abstract.

Have you ever encountered "white tears" in the workplace or elsewhere? I would greatly value hearing about your experiences and how you handled them in the comments below.

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Often found in far-flung places reading Walter Mosley with a rucksack on his back.