Book Review: White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

Hamad’s first book presents an incisive analysis of white womanhood and the lies that perpetuate the myth of a common sisterhood.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Author Ruby Hamad. Image supplied.

Ruby Hamad dedicates her incisive commentary on race and gender to ‘the forgotten ones’ and it is a stark reminder of the role that colonialism still plays in silencing, subjugating and dismissing the voices of people of colour. Hamad notes that ‘race is an imposition, not a biological reality’ and details the ways in which white womanhood, in particular, has appropriated the experiences of women of colour while continuing to gaslight them when they object. Hamad’s fabulous word for this is ‘gaswhiting.’

Using examples from her own and other brown women’s writing, testimonies and experiences, Hamad defines the ways in which marginalisation and anger have become the default position most white people adopt when they are uncomfortable. Covering politics, history, ideology, race, religion, society and celebrity culture, this book explores narratives which are routinely silenced by populist media and shouted down by outraged women who claim that race is not a factor in the feminism industry. It focuses in particular on how white women ‘weaponise’ tears, citing the examples of both Pauline Hanson and Kirrily Dutton crying on television when ‘their’ (vile) white men had been vilified. White women, invoking the image of the damsel in distress, also use their tears to shut down brown women. (Hamad uses ‘brown’ and ‘people of colour’ interchangeably.) As a woman of colour, this really resonated as I recalled several instances of my own where I walked away from ‘confrontation’ because a white woman cried and said that all she’d ever wanted was to be an ally.

This book asserts that most brown people in countries like Australia are in an abusive relationship with whiteness. Delving into the history of abuse faced by Aboriginal people, particularly women, in this country, Hamad lists a language of denigration. She critiques white women’s complicity in the casual use of terms such as ‘gin’ or ‘black velvet’ or ‘half-caste’ to describe black women, who were also believed to have loose morals and therefore not entitled to the same respect as white women. Other derogatory terms used to describe brown women are also listed – dragon ladies, lewd Jezebels, Angry Black Women and China dolls. Hamad makes the point that such language indicates sexualisation of brown women while white women are seen as paragons, damsels and help-mates.

Hamad reserves her sternest critique for ‘allies’ who invoke intersectionality, a term appropriated from a black woman’s scholarship and used against brown women by claiming that white women who are allies and intersectional feminists simply cannot be racist. The sisterhood, says Hamad, does not exist. What does exist is shared power within white feminist circles, including power shared with white men. When white women make advances, they do not make room for women of colour; they make room for other white women. The argument that someone does not ‘see’ race is more indicative of white fragility than a desire to be an ally.

This is a powerful testament, an act of witnessing, a work of depth and scholarship. It asks deeply uncomfortable questions of white people and places the experiences of brown people in the context of race and colonialism. It challenges white feminism’s safeguards and legitimises the confusion brown women feel when confronted with weaponised white tears and complicity in upholding patriarchy. I recommend it to readers cautiously; this book contains tough, unpalatable truths, but they are truths; they validate the existence of women like me.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad
Publisher: Melbourne University Press
ISBN: 9780522875584
Format: Paperback
Categories: Non-fiction/Australian
Pages: 232
Release Date: 2 September 2019
RRP: $34.99

Rashida Murphy
About the Author
Rashida Murphy is a Perth based writer and reviewer. For more information visit her website.