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  • Tammy Allison, Esq.

My Black Tears

When black women cry their tears are villainized as if they are in some sort of

rage—stereotypical angry black woman. When white women cry their tears are

victimized as if they are in some sort of trouble—stereotypical damsel in distress. The

exact same emotional response of tears somehow manages to have a completely

different definition.


This dawned on me while I was still employed as a senior attorney with the U.S.

Department of Justice in September 2019. I had to attend a mandatory three-day

training out of state that I tried to get out of since I was still grappling with the anxiety of

attending a contentious divorce hearing the day prior. Like most black women, I pushed

through, smiled and exchanged pleasantries while trying to hold it together. After the

last day of training as we all were wrapping up, I overheard my supervisor coordinating

a carpool to the airport without including me. For whatever reason, feeling excluded

started a stream of uncontrollable tears. I tried to compose myself, but it was one of

those cries that had to come out. As I attempted to discreetly hold back the tears and

sniff quietly, a different supervisor asked me what was wrong. I let him know, entered

my Lyft and made it back home safely.


A week later, after returning back to business as usual, I unexpectedly received a

performance log entry for being “visibly upset” at the training facility. To say that I was

shocked is an understatement.


VISIBLY UPSET: Its meaning varies depending solely on skin color.


In reality, whether this occurs in the courtroom as a defendant, as seen in the Amber

Guyger sentencing hearing, on the tennis court as seen with Serena Williams, or like

me at work as a senior DOJ attorney, the responses to a black woman’s tears are so

vastly different than that of a white woman.


In October 2019, after being convicted and sentenced for the murder of Botham Jean,

Guyger’s white tears led to the black judge coming down off of the bench to embracing

Guyger and gifting her with a bible. Clearly her white tears equated to being viewed as

“visibly upset” in a much different way than my black tears, or any defendant’s black

tears in the criminal justice system.


In stark contrast, Serena Williams was penalized for showing emotion in the 2018 U.S.

Open; however, the same emotions by Aryna Sabalenka in the 2021 Australian Open

garnered sympathy and support characterized empathetically by commentators as

being “stressful” competing against Williams. In February 2021, after losing to Naomi

Osaka, Williams’ tears were reported as being related to a possible retirement

announcement, as opposed to just simply an emotional response to losing to Osako, the same person that she lost to at the 2018 U.S. Open. Interestingly enough,

Eurosport described her as being “visibly upset.”


The duality of the definition of being “visibly upset” is rooted in micro-aggressions based

on implicit biases, systemic racism, and institutionalized racism. Black women have

emotions and should not be expected to hold it all in. Unfortunately, often time we feel

as if we have to hide our emotions and remain unbreakably strong, out of the fear of

being retaliated against, viewed as angry, or worse—death.

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