Posted by: abbiewatters | October 29, 2016

Feelings and the Culture of Niceness: Freeing myself from the conflict-free world of WASP etiquette

Chapter 30 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

What lessons were you taught about crying? Do you feel differently if you see a man, woman, or child crying? For whom do you tend to feel empathy? For whom do you tend to feel judgment? Why?

Debbie could have been describing my family:

My parents – warm, funny, kind, and smart – so competent in so many ways – were utterly unprepared for one thing in life: navigating emotional conflict. Typical of their era, race, and class, they believed unpleasantries belonged under the rug, where, the hope must’ve been, the magic winds of time would blow them away. Bucking up and soldiering on without complaint – this is how successful people got on. Our ancestors did it, and so should we.

We were always told that crying was selfish – it was spreading gloom around the world. “If you don’t quit crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” My husband sees tears as an emotional manipulation, probably because his family generally taught the same things as I was taught. My initial reaction to seeing someone cry is exactly as I was always taught. “Let a smile be your umbrella.” I’m usually much more empathetic to seeing a man cry, because men – even more than women – have been socialized to believe that weeping is a sign of weakness. I believe it takes real courage for a man to show that kind of emotion.

Crying children bother me, particularly when their crying is manipulative. That is a selfish reaction, but it’s difficult to carry on a conversation in a nice restaurant when a kid is screaming at the next table. BUT rather than just shushing children, I at least try to find out what the problem is. I generally blame the parents when children cry, and I think “They should have taught them that is not how nice people behave.”

It has taken me a long time to be able to actually look at my own emotions when I feel like crying – even when talking about the deaths of my parents. Where did I get the idea that there was something shameful about mourning their loss?

Injustice, particularly towards me, but also towards people I know, frustrates me and can bring on the tears, but unfortunately I usually swallow them, believing showing that kind of emotion will soften my arguments instead of bolstering them.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.


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