Friday, February 2, 2018

The Inevitable Power of White Women's Tears: Hope Hicks and White Female Privilege

Whiteness is the complexion for the protection -- and being white and female comes with great privileges as well.

According to Wednesday's New York Times, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller will interview a former spokesman for Donald Trump's legal team named Mark Corallo, who resigned last July. Corallo will reportedly tell Mueller that he took part in "a previously undisclosed conference call" with President Trump and White House communications director Hope Hicks:

Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the [June 2016] Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice.

In response to this report, the sentiment has emerged on social media and elsewhere that Hicks -- a presidential confidante and senior figure in the Trump administration -- is somehow naive or too young or supposedly in over her head, and that she should be given the opportunity to make amends and to move on from the Russian scandal later in life.

This is extremely problematic. Hope Hicks is an adult who chose to work for Donald Trump. She was not coerced, and she is very well compensated. Her boss is a petit-fascist authoritarian who may have conspired with agents of a foreign government during the 2016 presidential campaign. There is a mounting body of evidence that he has obstructed justice in an effort to derail Mueller's investigation into Russian interference and other crimes.

If Hicks conspired with Donald Trump on these matters she should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Conservatives incessantly preach the merits of "personal responsibility." It is long past time they applied such standards to themselves.

Because Hope Hicks is a young white woman -- and one who by conventional white American standards is viewed as "attractive" -- she enjoys privileges and other unearned advantages that are denied to nonwhite women. Making excuses for her, and attempting to gin up sympathy and concern for her, all result from that fact.

Social psychologists and others have repeatedly shown that white women are viewed as being more attractive and more worthy of sympathy and empathy -- and also weaker and more vulnerable -- than nonwhite women. This divergence in perception is especially true when white women are compared to black women. Such perceptions and attitudes offer a pungent example of how race intersects with gender to do the work of white supremacy by negatively impacting the life chances of nonwhite women.

Other research has shown that black girls are often viewed as being older, less "innocent" and more mature than they actually are. This process of "adultification" means that black girls are more likely to be expelled and otherwise punished in schools. In the most extreme examples, black girls -- because they are viewed as being more like adults than children -- are subjected to more severe punishment and violence (including lethal violence) by police officers and other law enforcement agents than white girls in a comparable situation.

What has come to be known as "missing white woman syndrome" is another example of the way white women are viewed by the mainstream media as a privileged and protected group. While black women and girls are much more likely to be kidnapped or otherwise disappear than white women, it is the latter group who are disproportionately featured by the corporate news media. George Johnson of the Grio writes:
When we look at the overall picture of the missing, black people account for nearly 40 percent, while only making up 13 percent of the total population. The media coverage on the missing, however, is quite the opposite. The press is 4 times more likely to report when a white person goes missing vs. someone who is black or brown. These numbers are even more dire when the missing is a black woman.
There is also, of course, the inordinate power of white women's tears. Maura Cullen, who is a leading expert on diversity issues at colleges and universities, suggests that this power has three dimensions:
  1. Crying shifts the focus to me.
  2. Women of color are typically blamed and painted as villains for creating my upset.
  3. My intention will always trump the women of color impact.
In her article "When White Women Cry: How White Women's Tears Oppress Women of Color," Mamta Motwani Accapadi explains the broader cultural and political power of white women's tears this way:
Recognizing privilege means acknowledging that our societal norms allow White women to toggle their identities, meaning they can choose to be a woman and choose to be White. Combining these two social identities, White women can be both helpless without the helplessness being a reflection of all White people and powerful by occupying a position of power as any White person. Women of Color do not have the option of toggling their identities in this manner. When a Woman of Color acts, her actions at some level reflect upon her racial community, and she cannot centrifuge her racial identity from her womanhood.
White women's tears hold amazing power in American society. They have gotten innocent black men lynched, created mass panic about dark-skinned strangers who supposedly kidnap white women's children (when in most instances it is a family member, an intimate relation, an acquaintance or the mother herself who is responsible), and projected a state of victimhood and powerlessness that derails substantive social and political change across the color line.

As the pity party for Hope Hicks swings into full gear we are reminded of two fundamental truths:

Racism exists across the ideological spectrum in White America.

There are white liberals and progressives who are invested, albeit in different ways than conservatives, in maintaining and protecting white privilege -- even if that means offering ideological cover to one of Donald Trump's sycophants and political handmaidens.

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