Ayers then describes (and Alexander-Tanner illustrates) the following, relatively common incident, which happens while a white student of Lessing's is presenting a story that takes place at a skating rink.
What happens here is a common form of white solidarity:
It's worth noting that the victim of racism here -- a double victim, actually -- is a black woman. Given the images of black women that commonly lurk in the white imagination, I wouldn't be at all surprised if such white bumblers would be less likely to spark such incidents with their tears if the victim of their actions were another sort of person of color. I think even the tears themselves would be less likely.
In a blog entry on some differences between white women and women like herself, Dr. Renita J. Weems writes of "the vivid memories lots of black women have of white women whose tears promoted their causes over that of the black women":
Many of us, myself included, have stories to tell of white women crying and taking on postures of weakness to avoid conflict with black women. They cried, they shut down, they ran out the room, and feigned helplessness -- especially when confronted with the criticisms black women had about their racism. It’s almost a rule of thumb that senior black women pass along to younger black women to expect white women to faint, get weepy, and come up with stories about their one black friend when the time comes to talk openly and honestly about their complicity in the status quo. Watch for the dagger that follows, I was once told by my own mentor.
Beliefs informed by stereotypes can be so strong that we take them for granted. As black women we know what it is to be saddled with the stereotype of being strong, aggressive, and animalistic in our sexuality. Stereotyping and projecting our worst memories on each other allow both white women and black women to maintain our places in the status quo. It keeps us from finding common ground and from joining forces to battle against the forces bent keeping women sex objects and breeders.
But when is something a stereotype, and when is it true? Not every white woman you and I know has used tears to get her way. Just a lot. Just one too many. Just enough to keep the stereotype alive, I guess.
Yes, this common white tendency -- and I'm sure there are white male versions as well -- is really a way of avoiding conflict, isn't it? And when it's a black woman, a seemingly (O noes!!) Angry Black Woman, then acting as if you're the injured party can seem especially, and ridiculously, prudent. The tears* can function like a false flag, which that loudly signals "Injury!", but also hides fear. I was about to surmise that running away in tears at such moments is also a way of maintaining dignity, but I think what's actually being maintained is a white sense of superiority.
It seems to me that white people who recognize how they're continuously encouraged to be racist by the world around them should prepare themselves for this kind of moment -- a moment in a discussion of racism when someone white suddenly claims that they've been hurt. We should think about how something like a reflex may well lead us to jump to the aid of the perpetrator of racism, instead of helping out or standing by the victim.
I think we should ask ourselves how, instead of expressing solidarity with the white "victim," we could instead express solidarity with the real victim. We should also think about why the latter doesn't immediately feel right. Until it does immediately feel right.
* I like the name that Ayers gave to the crying white girl -- "Misty." What Misty does in that cartoon, of course, is a classic form of a white pathology, widely known as White Women's Tears.