On 8 September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Her death ushered in 10 days of national mourning, culminating in a state funeral service at Westminster Abbey. With the funeral over, now is an appropriate time to deconstruct attitudes toward White tears and Black tears.
Sorrow, death, pain, and grief come at some point. But as the reaction to Queen Elizabeth II’s death demonstrates, there is a racial hierarchy of tears whereby White tears are humanized while Black tears are dehumanized. The public outpouring of grief following the Queen’s death was broadcasted to a global audience. The broadcast had a peak viewing of 28 million, 11.5 million, 10 million, 8 million, and 5.17 million in the UK, Germany, USA, France, and Australia, respectively. Around the same time the nation was mourning Queen Elizabeth II, Black people were mourning the death of Chris Kaba, a Black man unlawfully gunned down through another act of racist misandric aggression by the Metropolitan Police. A few days later, as Black people marched the streets of London to protest the unlawful killings, a Sky News reporter stated that the people marching were mourning the Queen.
While Queen Elizabeth II lay in state at Westminster Chapel, the public was encouraged to express their grief. Hundreds of thousands of people queued for over 12 hours and braved the cold to file past the coffin of their Queen to pay their last respect. The viewing was streamed 24 hours daily on a dedicated TV channel for four consecutive days. The TV reporters and correspondents all wore long faces and were dressed in Black as they reported on the proceedings. Media houses also engaged the expertise of psychologists to share tips for dealing with grief following the Queen’s death, reminding readers that “[their] grief is valid.” As the British media invalided the Black tears following the death of Chris Kaba, the Daily Mail granted Dr. Roger Mugford, one of Britain’s leading animal psychologists, the opportunity to write a 1,400-word article explaining why the Queen’s corgi will grieve her passing.
One might argue that these tears are exceptional for the world’s most famous monarch. This claim cannot withstand analysis as it is not the first time White tears have been elevated over Black tears. Whenever disaster strikes the Black parts of the world or Black people, it doesn’t generate the same coverage attributed to White folk’s tears. When the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the global media projected the Ukrainian tears to a worldwide audience. The front pages of international newspapers were filled with images of Ukrainians crying. In contrast, the coverage given to the ongoing Tigray war in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia has been muted relative to the Russia-Ukraine war.
On 7 January 2015, shooters forced their way into the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, killing 12 people and injuring ten others. Like the outpouring of grief following the Queen’s death, the response to the killings was immense and global. The hashtag Je Suis Charlie began trending on social media, appearing more than 5 million times. A few days later, a rally of national unity took place in Paris, with an estimated 3.7 million joining the demonstration, including 80 world leaders, to express sympathy for the people of France. As the killings took place in Paris, 6,200km away in the north-eastern town of Baga in Nigeria, Boko Haram unleashed an avalanche of terror, resulting in over 2,000 deaths. However, as the Black people of Baga wailed, the global media and audience ignored their tears. Instead, it turned its gaze and sympathy to the 12 deaths in Paris.
Besides elevating White tears over Black tears, the White power structure also has an uncanny ability to recall its historical moments leading to its present grief while urging Blacks to forget the past as we grieve. As the nation cried about the Queen’s death, the media was filled with discussions and images about how the nation mourned during the deaths of King George VI, Princess Diana, and the Queen’s mother. Every second Sunday in November, Britain marks Remembrance Sunday to commemorate the contributions of the British soldiers to the two World Wars and later conflicts. While on 11 November of every year, it marks Armistice Day, which signifies the end of hostilities during the first world war. These two days are days of reflections marked by church services, two minutes of silence, and wreath laying. But when Blacks cry and recall past and present injustices, they are told by the White power structure to withhold their emotions and forget about the past. For instance, the Queen’s death resurrected past feelings about the ills of slavery and colonialism among people whose ancestors were colonized and oppressed by the British. As these people questioned the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II and the British royal family, they were met with calls to forget the past and acknowledge Britain’s positive roles in the colonies. Others were suspended from Twitter, called the N-word, or told to “Go back to where you belong.” Why is it ok for Whites to bring up feelings of nostalgia when they cry, but it is “illegal” for Blacks to bring up feelings of past injustice when they cry?
Furthermore, while Blacks are urged to forget their grudges and move on, Britain still held onto its past grudges during Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral by not inviting representatives from Russia and Belarus due to the country’s role in the war in Ukraine. When we express our sorrow through gestures such as marches, protests, or taking the kneel, we are dismissed as being woke, thugs, unpatriotic or virtual signaling. But when White folk tear up and wear a Black suit and Black tie for a Queen they never met, put on a yellow and blue ribbon on the lapel of their clothes, or wear a poppy, it is described as the outpouring of emotion and solidarity.
The historical dehumanization of the Black race and the notion that Blacks don’t feel pain have contributed to Black tears’ downgrading. Since the 16th century, when Europe merchants began their exploitation of Afrika, Blacks were dehumanized and viewed as chattels. In 1787, while enacting the Constitution of the United States, the founding fathers introduced a three-fifths clause as a compromise between the Southern slaveholders and the Northern Whites. This clause set out to make an enslaved Black person 60% of a White person.
Furthermore, historically, there was a White supremacist logic that Blacks have a higher pain tolerance than Whites. Harriet A. Washington in her book Medical Apartheid notes that one of the most tenacious beliefs was that Blacks did not feel pain or anxiety, which excused painful surgical explorations without anesthesia on Blacks. She documented in the book that Dr. Charles White, one of the most formidable experts in orthopedics, surgery, and obstetrics during the late 18th century, once declared that Blacks “Bear surgical operations much better than White people and what would be the cause of insupportable pain for White men, a Negro would almost disregard… [I have] amputated the legs of many Negroes, who have held the upper part of the limb themselves.” In addition, the Western media also plays a critical role in amplifying White tears and downplaying Black tears. Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, and Agence-France-Presse (AFP) are the most prominent global news agencies and account for 80% of international news coverage. These news agencies are headquartered in the West; hence, it should be no surprise that White tears and White pain will be given more airtime than Black and Brown pain and tears.
But we can’t lay the blame for elevating White tears over Black tears solely on Whites. We Blacks have also played our part in placing White tears above our tears. This is often because we sometimes rely on Western sources for our news feed. For instance, BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the default news channels in the homes of the Black bourgeoisie within and outside Afrika. So having been fed with a never-ending drip of White tears, why would we prioritize Black tears over White tears? Malcolm X said, “The press can make you not have any sympathy whatsoever for the death of thousands of people who look just like yourself, but at the same time, they make tears roll down your face over the loss of a few lives that don’t look anything like yourself. They manipulate your feelings.“
When in 2015, Boko Haram killed 2,000 people in Nigeria, no Afrikan leader came to console the people of Baga. Still, as the rally of national unity took place in Paris in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings, the Presidents of Benin, Gabon, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo were physically present to express solidarity with the people of France. Also, when the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi III, one of the most prominent kings in Nigeria, died in April 2022, the Nigerian government did not direct flags to be flown at half-mast; however, in the aftermath of the Queen’s death, the Buhari-led government directed that all flags at government offices in Nigeria and abroad be flown at half mast to honor Queen Elizabeth II. President Akufo-Addo created a social media storm in Ghana when he wrote pages upon pages on the condolence register at the British High Commission in Accra for Queen Elizabeth II. After finishing writing his epistle, he even reread what he had written and later asked the High Commissioner about the invites for the funeral. In London, some Nigerian women went to Hyde Park to mark the funeral by wearing customized attire with the Queen’s image on the front delivered from Lagos to London. To paraphrase Malcolm X, some of these negroes cried harder when Queen Elizabeth II died than they cried for Jesus when he was crucified.
In order to decolonize White tears, the White race would have to see the humanity of the Black race and understand that Blacks also cry. For the Black race, we need to decolonize our minds and realize that no race will cry more than the bereaved race.