Actress Nancy Lee Grahn of ABC’s General Hospital
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Actress Nancy Lee Grahn of ABC’s General Hospital
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

So, I’ve heard this term “white tears” used before. What exactly does it mean?

As I’ve written before, “white tears” is a phrase to describe what happens when certain types of white people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a nonwhite person’s success at the supposed expense of a white person. It encompasses (and makes fun of) the performative struggle to acknowledge the existence of white privilege, and the reality that it ain’t always gonna go unchecked.


Basically, think of some of the reactions whenever Serena Williams happens to be playing tennis. There, you experience the gamut of white tears. Angry white tears. Disrespectful white tears. Passive-aggressive white tears. Backhanded-compliment white tears. Oddly-timed-tweet white tears. No one is better at showcasing the variety of white tears than Serena Williams. She’s basically the Ryan Seacrest of white tears.

That seems kinda racist, doesn’t it?

Not exactly. It doesn’t apply to all white people. Not even all white people who happen to be crying. I saw a little white kid crying earlier today at Starbucks, and I’m certain it was because his mom wouldn’t let him taste her latte. Not because he was feeling a certain way about the possibility of Idris Elba playing James Bond. Basically, there’s a difference between “white tears” and “white people who happen to have functional tear ducts.”


Also, acknowledging racist behavior does not make you a “racist.” Just a “person who happens to have functional eyeballs.” I need better questions, man.

OK, OK, OK. So who is this Nancy Lee Grahn person?

I have no idea.

Come on, I know you know.

Seriously, until I Googled her this morning, I would have believed Nancy Lee Grahn was anything from the prime minister of Poland to the first female serial killer.

She does have one of those “prime minister or serial killer” names, doesn’t she?

She does.

But anyway, who is she?

She’s an actress best known for her roles on General Hospital and Santa Barbara. Basically, although you might not know who she is, your great-aunt definitely does.


Why is she in the news today? Did she win an Emmy last night?

Heavens no.

So what happened?

Viola Davis won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder. During her acceptance speech, she quoted Harriet Tubman, name-dropped several black actresses currently working on TV—many of whom were in attendance—and stated that the only reason there haven’t been more black actresses awarded with Emmys is that the opportunities haven’t been there. It was one of the three or four blackest moments I’ve ever seen on live TV. The only thing that would have made it blacker is if an actual Harriet Tubman hologram had presented Davis with the award.


Unfortunately, Nancy Lee Grahn decided to sprinkle some white tears in the black party punch bowl by tweeting, “Im a [f—king] actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled.”

She continued tweeting until a cousin or publicist or someone finally texted her, “Yo, WTF? You can’t get fired, man. I don’t want to lose your revenue stream and have to move back in with my grandma again.” And then she stopped, deleted a tweet and then tweeted about how she can’t be racist because she bought a bunch of Sojourner Truth stamps in 1961 or something.


How exactly does this qualify as “white tears”?

Well, instead of acknowledging the fact that Davis was speaking on a very real racial reality lived by black actresses in Hollywood—or instead of just not saying or tweeting anything and listening—Nancy Lee Grahn made it about her. How all women struggle. How Davis has never been discriminated against. (And Nancy Lee Grahn knows this because, apparently, because she is Charles Francis Xavier.) And how Davis couldn’t dare compare herself to Harriet Tubman because Tubman was a slave and Davis is a star actress. It was basically like she was playing a round of white-tears bingo and managed to drop a tear on every slot.


I see. So, what’s next for these two?

Viola Davis will continue winning awards and being unapologetically black and awesome. And Nancy Lee Grahn will be at Sam’s Club looking for discount tissue paper. 


Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of He is also a contributing editor at He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at

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