What's The Difference Between Normal Tears And "White Women's Tears"? Popularity
Reflections on a very silly and easily weaponized meme
Maybe you have read the Bad Art Friend story in The New York Times Magazine by now. Among media types, it’s all anyone has been able to talk about since it went up this past Tuesday.
If you have the time you should read it, but here’s a brief summary: Written by Robert Kolker, the story involves two fiction writers, Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson. Dorland did what is known as a ‘nondirected’ kidney donation, meaning she donated her kidney not to any specific individual, but to add it to the pool of available kidneys so it could go to someone in need of one (Vox’s Dylan Matthews did the same thing). A very good and generous act! She also made it pretty central to her identity, posting about it online, touting her participation in an awareness-raising parade, and so on. Dorland even created a private Facebook group about her kidney donation and invited some of her friends into it, and at one point posted a letter she had written to the donor’s eventual recipient.
Eventually it came out that Sonya Larson, a more successful writer who Dorland viewed as her friend and who was a member of the group, coopted Dorland’s altruistic act and her general attitude about it to write a short story about a “white savior”-type woman who donates a kidney (Larson herself is a “a mixed-race Asian American,” as Kolker’s story puts it). One version of the story directly plagiarized from Dorland’s letter to her kidney recipient. Cue all sorts of chaos, lawsuits, a cancelled short-story competition, etc. etc. Just read the thing.
If you want to hear a general discussion of the story between Katie Herzog, Kat Rosenfield, and me, check out the next episode of Blocked and Reported, which will be up Tuesday (holiday delay). We were all, on balance, on Team Dorland — my own view is that Dorland comes across as more broken and needy (she had a very traumatic upbringing), while Larson seems more conniving. That’s not to say Dorland’s hands are clean: She appears to have reacted from a place of deep hurt, and ended up causing a great deal of damage and chaos during what became something of a jihad against Larson. But… she donated a kidney? And was seriously betrayed by people she thought, foolishly or not, to be her friends? To me it’s a pretty clear call that she is the less guilty party here.
I want to bite off one small chunk of this that caught my eye on Twitter: the idea that Dorland has committed the grave sin of shedding White Women's Tears.