Reaction to Rachel Maddow’s on-air tears are a reminder that some only believe the truth when white people tell it
I’m just bothered that it took her co-sign as a white woman to “prove” the truth was, well… true.
by Tynesha M. McCullers
While reporting on the border crisis, political commentator, Rachel Maddow, began crying about the “tender age” children being placed in shelters on the border.
Since breaking down on air, people have applauded this woman’s vulnerability and humanity in the midst of this national crisis. She’s been praised for being compassionate and “having a heart.” It has even been said that Maddow is “all of us” (Americans) right now, and that her tears represent all the pain and distress we’re experiencing as a nation.
As I continue to watch this story unfold, I can’t help but feel frustrated by the outpouring of solidarity. This appears to have been a lot of people’s awakening. Because this white woman broke down in tears on national television, this is somehow our cue to openly feel feelings, express outrage, and fight back.
I think about the pain and trauma of my people that has often been (over)shared through various media platforms and I think about the general lack of compassion for our communities. Perhaps there will come a time when our rage, our feelings, and our tears will have some kind of meaning without needing to be co-signed by white tears.
During the 2016 presidential election, the phrase “build that wall” was chanted at rallies, spray painted in communities of color, and called the solution to undocumented immigrants being in the United States, and there have been clear steps taken to ensure that life as an immigrant is a living hell.
There sentiments and false realities about immigrants are perpetuated in order to increase fear and justify systematic oppression against people of color. The lies about jobs being taken or heavy criminal behavior are nothing more than a rouse to convince white Americans that immigrants are illegal.
Last month, there seemed to be a huge disconnect when it was reported that almost 1,500 migrant children had been separated from their families and “lost” by the government. Even with the available evidence, there was denial. People gaslighted and insisted on further “fact checking” to prove that migrant children being separated from their families and “lost” simply was not true, because our government wouldn’t do that.
Last week, news broke of babies and children of “tender age” being separated from their parents and families and taken to shelters in South Texas. Breaking this news on her self-titled show, Maddow struggled through prompts for the story and refused to continue sharing while she cried.
What followed was a mix of disbelief, empathy, and support via social media. Into the next day, Maddow remained a top trending topic on Twitter along with “tender age” and “baby jails”. And when Maddow took to Twitter to apologize for “losing it there for a moment” in a thread breaking down the on-air situation, the responses to her were expressions of praise and plans to take action to help migrant families.
I felt frustrated watching this unfold. While I was not surprised by the public’s response to Maddow, I was disappointed by the fact that she was so easily able to convince people of the truth and move them to action, and all she had to do was cry. Her tears made it real for them.
To be clear, I don’t fault Maddow’s breakdown and her letting her humanity show I’m just bothered that it took her co-sign as a white woman to “prove” the truth was, well… true.
They called Maddow “courageous” for her tears and said that she represented all Americans. It raises questions (to which we already know the answers) about whose emotions matter and who is seen as deserving of compassion. I think that it’s fair to say that white people co-signing a claim of injustice is the only thing that makes many people want to create change.
I see this happen frequently. People of color speak truth about their experiences, but it won’t be heard or believed until a white person affirms it. As a Black woman, I have to sit with the reality that my truth might never be believed, not because of my tone or emotionality, but because a white person hasn’t validated it.
I face the reality every day that no matter how much I talk, advocate, pray or even weep as a Black woman, my public displays of pain don’t mean shit unless a white person agrees. I face the reality that when speaking my truth, I may not be seen, may not be heard, and may not be believed if a white person is not confirming or validating it. But I will continue to resist and speak my truth daily in hopes that someday I will be believed without a white co-signer.
Tynesha is a strong-willed higher education professional in the DMV with a passion for social justice. Born and raised in North Carolina, Tynesha is true to southern roots. Tynesha has a B.S. in Human Development and a Master of Education. Tynesha’s interests include watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, singing, painting, traveling, and writing.