White Fragility

White Fragility Introduction

The reason to start anti-racism education with white fragility is to help become aware of all the internalized resistance, emotions, and avoidance that comes up with white people when confronted with racism and white privilege.  If these internalizations aren’t dealt with they will become a barrier to any real anti-racism efforts.

Dr. Robin D’Angelo: White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement

“In my workshops, I often ask the people of color,

“How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism and had that go well for you?”

Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the general consensus of never. I then ask,

“What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?”

Recently a man of color sighed and said,

“It would be revolutionary.”  

I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. Revolutionary that we would receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, it points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, how simple taking responsibility for our racism can be.”


Table of Contents

Defining White Fragility

Triggering White Fragility

Common White Reactions to Racism and White Privilege

Common Reasons White People Resist Learning about Racism and White Privilege

Course Correcting White Fragility

White Centering and Respectability Politics

Initiatives to Follow and Further Readings


Defining White Fragility

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Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race

“…At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.

They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.

The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave our mouths and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further…

…Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?”

Seeing White Fragility (RISE District)

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility – International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility…

…White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium…”

Fragility is a response which comes from your guilt. It solves nothing and helps nothing, it simply derails the conversation and sends it off to a direction where it helps no one. Obviously the fragile person recognizes their participation in the system.⁣

Fragility is when someone points out the harm done by a system of oppression (to which maybe you are an active willing or unwilling participant) and you decide that instead of focusing on deconstructing the system of oppression … that time and energy would be better spent focusing on your feelings. And not the system of oppression and how it harms marginalized people.⁣
Aja Barber

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

“It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews. We can manage the first round of challenge by ending the discussion through platitudes — usually something that starts with ‘People just need to,’ or ‘Race doesn’t really have any meaning to me,’ or ‘Everybody’s racist.’ Scratch any further on that surface, however, and we fall apart.

Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement that we are either not consciously aware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We experience a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. It also challenges our sense of rightful place in the hierarchy. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as a very unsettling and unfair moral offense…

…The most effective adaptation of racism over time, is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people. This “good/bad binary,” positing a world of evil racists and compassionate non-racists, is itself a racist construct, eliding systemic injustice and imbuing racism with such shattering moral meaning that white people, especially progressives, cannot bear to face their collusion in it…

…“Getting it” when it comes to race and racism challenges our very identities as good white people. It’s an ongoing and often painful process of seeking to uncover our socialization at its very roots. It asks us to rebuild this identity in new and often uncomfortable ways. But I can testify that it is also the most exciting, powerful, intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling journey I have ever undertaken. It has impacted every aspect of my life — personal and professional.

I have a much deeper and more complex understanding of how society works. I can challenge much more racism in my daily life, and I have developed cherished and fulfilling cross-racial friendships I did not have before.”

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

“If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you. I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.”

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  • Racism Complicity
    • To consciously or unconsciously support, contribute or benefit from racism or racist systems
  • Racism Complacency
    • To support racism and racist systems by not challenging it

The Conscious Kid: Critical Conversations: Dr. Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility and Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

“Most white people believe that a racist is: one, an individual, two, one who holds conscious and aware dislike of people based on race, and three, intentionally seeks to be mean to them. Individual, conscious, intentional. And by that definition, virtually all white people are exempt from racism. We do not understand that this is a system that is infused across all institutions, traditions, politics, practices, language, norms. It is the system we are all in and none of us could be exempt from its forces.

White people apparently don’t understand socialization because we believe that we can be exempt from this system just because we say we are or see ourselves that way.

What white people need to do is start from the premise that you have been shaped by the forces of racism. That you could not have avoided that, and therefore, the question you ask is very different. The question we ask now from the dominant framework is if its racism. But, understanding that it’s a system whose forces have shaped us, changes that question to how was it racism? So that’s the question I would always ask: What does this look like in my life?

When you stop with the defensiveness, and the denial, and the deflection, and the explaining, you can see that, of course I have this.

I would never march in Charlottesville. But I still manifest internalized superiority. And it is on me to try to identify how I do that. And that is actually incredibly liberating. When you stop with the defensiveness, and the denial, and the deflection, and the explaining, you can see that, of course I have this. I actually don’t want it, but how about I be open to people helping me see how I have it. The worst fear of a white progressive is that we’re going to say something racist, but don’t you dare tell me I just said something racist!”

Medium: How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace

White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me, no matter how diplomatically you try to do so, that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again. White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place…

White fragility is much more than mere defensiveness or whining. It may be conceptualized as the sociology of dominance; an outcome of white people’s socialization into white supremacy and a means to protect, maintain, and reproduce white supremacy.

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Triggering White Fragility

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Dr. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable. The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people:

  • Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
  • People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race);
  • People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);
  • People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us);
  • A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
  • Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
  • Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
  • An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);
  • Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);
  • Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).

Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that push back white fragility.

This concept came out of my on-going experience leading discussions on race, racism, white privilege and white supremacy with primarily white audiences. It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews.

We can manage the first round of challenge by ending the discussion through platitudes—usually something that starts with “People just need to,” or “Race doesn’t really have any meaning to me,” or “Everybody’s racist.” Scratch any further on that surface, however, and we fall apart.

Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement that we are either not consciously aware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We experience a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. It also challenges our sense of rightful place in the hierarchy. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as a very unsettling and unfair moral offense.”

List of Things that Cause White People Racial Stress by  Dr. Robin DiAngelo

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Common White Reactions to Racism and White Privilege

 

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  • Defensiveness/dominance
    • Argumentative, anger, denial, bullying, projection
      • Making it so miserable to be confronted that people give up
    • Maintains status quote
      • A means to protect, maintain, and reproduce white supremacy
  • Stressful
    • White guilt, white tears, fear, white victimhood, feeling attacked
    • Makes the situations about you
      • Focuses on getting acceptance/forgiveness rather changing actions/ beliefs
  • Denying, dismissing or minimizing people of colors’ experiences
    • Dismissive, rationalization, intellectualization, patronizing, humor, “its not that bad”
      • Whites-plaining
    • Racial exceptionalism
      • If Obama and Oprah can make it…
  • Redefining Racism
    • Post racial myth, colorblindness, race neutral racism
      • People who focus on racism are the racist
        • I don’t see color, we all are people, All lives matter
    • Reverse racism
      • Does not exist and is an excuse to avoid talking about real racism
        • Racism = Prejudice + Power
  • Respectability Politics
    • Victim blaming, personal responsibility myth
      • False claims that if only POC acted a certain way things would be better
        • Ignores systemic racism, implicit bias, white supremacy, US history, etc.
    • Divided myth, tribal myth, white moderate
      • “…more concerned about tranquility & status quo than justice and humanity” MLK Jr.
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    • Civility, tone-policing, spiritual bypassing, gas lighting, universalism
      • Politeness is often behavioral expectations enforced on marginalized
        • Nice does not equal not racist
      • All you need is love, we’re all one people
        • Denying systems of racism and bypassing real anti-racism work
      • Equating legitimate hurt/anger from injustices with abuse of oppressor
        • Equating anger to hate, Don’t fight hate with hate
      • White discomfort
        • I don’t care about your experience with oppression as much as my feeling of discomfort
        • “What you are saying is ‘my discomfort with you right now is worth more than the potential that your life could be snuffed in 10 minutes.’ Until that stops, nothing is going to change.” Tim Wise, Everyday Racism in America
  • White silence
    • Silence, staying out of politics, ability to ignore, indifference
      • All forms of white privilege
        • POC can’t just log off Facebook to stop experiencing racism

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Newsone: Mark Meadows Showed Us The Six Stages White Men Go Through When Getting Called Out For Racism

There’s a lot that has been analyzed and broken down from what former Trump lawyer and criminal doofus Michael Cohen testified before a House committee this week. But one of the more newsworthy moments came when North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows brought out a Black woman who works for the president’s administration as proof that Donald Trump can’t be racist.

Cohen testified to actual examples of racism and Meadows’ response was, “behold, a Black.” It was…something. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib called him out for the stunt, declaring it racist. What followed next was a textbook example of what happens when white men are confronted with their own racism.

They generally follow a pretty strict blueprint as if they went to some sort of racial deflection boarding school. With that said, here is what happens when you call a white man out for racism.

1.The Racist Act

The white man’s response to being called racist begins, of course, with the racist act. This act is rarely the Hollywood racist moment – the “Green Book”-ian racist moment with a white person saying the N-word while pointing a shotgun at a Black person’s forehead. Those people don’t get called racist. They get the cops called on them or beat the hell up. No, the person who gets called racist generally has some sort of cognitive dissonance that allows them plausible deniability. Mark Meadows dragging a Black woman on stage like he was presenting her to the highest bidder, all in order to prove that Trump wasn’t racist is, in fact, an act of racism. He presented one Black woman as representative of an entire race and as a way to excuse a whole racist. Similar deniably racist acts include stopping and frisking Black folks, following a Black customer around a store or not getting approved for the same loans as our white counterparts. The decision to call out said racist act will always, always lead to the rest of the steps.

2. Shock and Outrage 

“How dare you?!” usually comes next. Scratch that, it always comes next. Meadows stopped a whole a$$ house hearing to make sure that he wasn’t being accused of being a racist. He demanded that the statement be taken down, removed from the record. His face after just hearing the word “racist” was worth the price of admission. He couldn’t even understand that he wasn’t being called racist. His actions were. Even after Tlaib clarified her statement and let it known she wasn’t calling Meadows racist, he still couldn’t control himself. Seriously, America watched a grown a$$ man have a temper tantrum overhearing something he did get called racist and thinking it meant he was getting called racist. See how he couldn’t even comprehend words anymore? Even after Tlaib reread her statement and clarified. It was too late, we were in the “I need to speak to the manager stage.”

3. “I Know A Black”

4. “No YOU’RE Racist”

I’m grouping steps three and four together because Meadows hit us with a one-two combo of white man meltdown, melding these together so seamlessly, so effortlessly, so loudly that it all seemed like one step. First, like someone sinking into quicksand looking for a vine to hold on to, he yelled out to the Black friend he had in the room, Elijah Cummings, who he is apparently actually friends with. Then he went to his mental Rolodex of Blacks in his life he could toss in front of the friendly fire of his own making, lobbing up the fact he has Black nieces and nephews. BLACK NIECES AND NEPHEWS, PEOPLE. Because, of course, white people merely being around Black people absolves them of any capability of being racist. Remember how all those slave owners suddenly stopped being racists when they started hanging around their Black slaves? I remember it, too. That’s how ending slavery works.

The “I have a Black friend” defense is a tale as old as time. It’s a belief that white people have that revolves around the idea of proximity to Blackness equating to an absence of racism. We all know this isn’t true, but it’s one of the most readily used defenses.

Then, when that fails, we get Meadows’ second grenade: the accusation that the person who astutely and accurately calls something racist is actually the racist one. Meadows, may I remind you, is still in a maniacal tantrum phase that has him thinking he was called racist. Again, he wasn’t being called racist. The “no, you’re racist” defense falls flat when you realize that nobody can be racist against white people because nobody has the power over white people to oppress them. This is Sociology 101. Racists don’t know Sociology 101. Or decency. Or, you know, an understanding of how not to be racist.

5. Spoiler: The Revelation That The Person So Outraged At Being Called A Racist (Though He Was Never Called A Racist) Has More Evidence That He Is, In Fact, A Racist

Within minutes, like clockwork, social media was full of clips of Meadows announcing, loudly and proudly that President Barack Obama was from Kenya. Not only that but Meadows also proudly declared that he’d send Obama back to said Kenya. Kids, that’s racist. That’s what racist people do. The whole birther movement was an act of racism and Meadows perpetuated it. It never fails. If you allow someone who does something racist to talk long enough or if you do even a superficial amount of digging into that person’s life, the inevitably more racism appears. Like magic. It never fails.

6. *Shrug*

And like a whimper, nothing happens. Because what really ever happens to white men who reveal themselves to be racist. They do all that crying because the r-word to white men is their N-word. Why? Because white men will never have to face something as deadly, painful and hateful as the N-word. When in the end “racist” is just a mild inconvenience. Nothing substantial really happens to them. Sure, they may get fired eventually but they’ll find more jobs with no problems. They’ll find bigger fan bases who embrace their racism. They get to keep their jobs as governors. They become presidents. They throw fits on national television and get coddled into feeling like everything is okay. They learn nothing. They don’t grow. They get to continue to hate us. And all we get in the end is a shrug.

And that’s what happens when white men get called racist.

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Common Reasons White People Resist Learning about Racism and White Privilege

  • Segregation (community, school, friends, media, etc.)
    • Lack of opportunities to learn about racism and personal involvement
    • Taught everyone is treated equally
      • With equal opportunities and similar experiences
      • Believe racism is dead, US is post racial, color blindness, etc.
      • People of color treated bad did something to deserve it (victim blaming)
        • Victim blaming, personal responsibility, black broken family myth, etc
        • “A Bootless Man Cannot Lift Himself By His Bootstraps” MLK
    • Taught a whitewashed US history
    • Universalism
  • Worked hard for things despite privilege
    • Without realizing how much harder it would be with racism
    • Suffering from other oppressions regardless of race
      • Like poverty, class, gender, religion, sexuality, health, etc.
  • Always defined as an individual
    • Never a racial group/racial terms
  • Inability to hold more than one narrative
    • “And” not “But”
  • White people don’t know what they don’t know about racism
  • Believe racism is only an explicit personal choice
    • Not a system or implicit bias we’re all trapped in
    • Racism = Prejudice + Power
      • “Racism occurs when a racial group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority & institutional control” Robin DiAngelo
    • White supremacy is not just the KKK

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“Racism is a systemic, societal, institutional, omnipresent, and epistemologically embedded phenomenon that pervades every vestige of our reality. For most whites, however, racism is like murder: the concept exists, but someone has to commit it in order for it to happen. This limited view of such a multilayered syndrome cultivates the sinister nature of racism and, in fact, perpetuates racist phenomena rather than eradicates them.” Omowale Akintunde, White Racism, White Supremacy, White Privilege, & the Social Construction of Race: Moving from Modernist to Postmodernist Multiculturalism

  • Good/Bad Binary
    • Racism is only done by bad people myth (judge of character)
    • Doesn’t recognize good people trapped in a system of racism
      • With unintentional internalized/socialized racism and implicit bias
        • Which describes most white people

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Dr. Robin DiAngelo Speaks about Good/Bad Binary Perspective

: White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It’s not

“While the thin veneer of a post-racial society that descended during the Obama years has been ripped away by our current political reality, most white people continue to conceptualize racism as isolated and individual acts of intentional meanness. This definition is convenient and comforting, in that it exempts so many white people from the system of white supremacy we live in and are shaped by. It is at the root of the most common kind of white defensiveness. If racists are intentionally and openly mean, then it follows that nice people cannot be racist. How often will a white person accused of racism gather as evidence to the contrary friends and colleagues to testify to their niceness; the charge cannot be true, the friend cannot be racist, because “he’s a really nice guy” or “she volunteers on the board of a non-profit serving under-privileged youth”. Not meaning to be racist also allows for absolution. If they didn’t mean it, it cannot and should not count.

Thus, it becomes essential for white people to quickly and eagerly telegraph their niceness to people of color. Niceness in these instances is conveyed through tone of voice (light), eye contact accompanied by smiling and the conjuring of affinities (shared enjoyment of a music genre, compliments on hair or style, statements about having traveled to the country the “other” is perceived to have come from or knowing people from the other’s community). Kindness is compassionate and often implicates actions to support or intervene. For example, I am having car trouble and you stop and see if you can help. I appear upset after a work meeting and you check in and listen with the intent of supporting me. Niceness, by contrast, is fleeting, hollow and performative.

In addition to niceness, proximity is seen as evidence of a lack of racism. Consider the claims many white people give to establish that they aren’t racist: “I work in a diverse environment.” “I know and/or love people of color.” “I was in the Peace Corps.” “I live in a large urban city.” These are significant because they reveal what we think it means to be racist. If I can tolerate (and especially if I enjoy and value) proximity, claims of proximity maintain, I must not be racist; a “real” racist cannot stand to be near people of color, let alone smile or otherwise convey friendliness.”

“By not seeing that racism is systemic (part of a system), people often personalize or individualize racist acts. For example, they will reduce racist police behavior to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the country and is basic to the society. This mistake has real consequences: refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system needs to be changed, means that the brutality will continue.” Elizabeth Martinez, What is White Supremacy

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  • Believe Intent trumps Impact myth
    • Friendly people with good intentions can’t be racist myth
    • “Whatever the intention of your words, actions, inactions, thoughts, behaviors, perspectives, opinions are all secondary to the actual IMPACT they have on Black bodies, Black joy, Black lives + Black liberation” Rachel Ricketts, Racial Justice Advocate
  • Need for White comfort
    • Pattern of consciously or unconsciously dismissing POC experiences to maintain white comfort

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    • Belief of being unfairly labeled racist because of disagreement with POC
      • Not because argument consciously/unconsciously supports/denies systemic racism
      • “Can’t say anything these days”
      • Falsely equating anger to hate

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For on this link for more on White Comfort

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews.

The following patterns make it difficult for white people to understand racism as a system and lead to the dynamics of white fragility. While they do not apply to every white person, they are well-documented overall:

Segregation: Most whites live, grow, play, learn, love, work and die primarily in social and geographic racial segregation. Yet, our society does not teach us to see this as a loss. Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude of this message: We lose nothing of value by having no cross-racial relationships. In fact, the whiter our schools and neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to be seen as “good.” The implicit message is that there is no inherent value in the presence or perspectives of people of Color. This is an example of the relentless messages of white superiority that circulate all around us, shaping our identities and worldviews.

The Good/Bad Binary: The most effective adaptation of racism over time is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people. If we are not aware of having negative thoughts about people of color, don’t tell racist jokes, are nice people, and even have friends of color, then we cannot be racist. Thus, a person is either racist or not racist; if a person is racist, that person is bad; if a person is not racist, that person is good. Although racism does of course occur in individual acts, these acts are part of a larger system that we all participate in. The focus on individual incidences prevents the analysis that is necessary in order to challenge this larger system. The good/bad binary is the fundamental misunderstanding driving white defensiveness about being connected to racism. We simply do not understand how socialization and implicit bias work.

Individualism: Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group. Individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society. This erases our history and hides the way in which wealth has accumulated over generations and benefits us, as a group, today.  It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group. Thus we get very irate when we are “accused” of racism, because as individuals, we are “different” from other white people and expect to be seen as such; we find intolerable any suggestion that our behavior or perspectives are typical of our group as a whole.

Entitlement to racial comfort: In the dominant position, whites are almost always racially comfortable and thus have developed unchallenged expectations to remain so. We have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is “wrong,” and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). This blame results in a socially-sanctioned array of responses towards the perceived source of the discomfort, including: penalization; retaliation; isolation and refusal to continue engagement. Since racism is necessarily uncomfortable in that it is oppressive, white insistence on racial comfort guarantees racism will not be faced except in the most superficial of ways.

In fact, the whiter our schools and neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to be seen as “good.” The implicit message is that there is no inherent value in the presence or perspectives of people of Color.

Racial Arrogance: Most whites have a very limited understanding of racism because we have not been trained to think in complex ways about it and because it benefits white dominance not to do so. Yet, we have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people who have thought complexly about race. Whites generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives rather than have the humility to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar, reflect on them further, or seek more information.

Racial Belonging: White people enjoy a deeply internalized, largely unconscious sense of racial belonging in U.S. society. In virtually any situation or image deemed valuable in dominant society, whites belong. The interruption of racial belonging is rare and thus destabilizing and frightening to whites and usually avoided.

Psychic freedom: Because race is constructed as residing in people of color, whites don’t bear the social burden of race. We move easily through our society without a sense of ourselves as racialized. Race is for people of color to think about—it is what happens to “them”—they can bring it up if it is an issue for them (although if they do, we can dismiss it as a personal problem, the race card, or the reason for their problems). This allows whites much more psychological energy to devote to other issues and prevents us from developing the stamina to sustain attention on an issue as charged and uncomfortable as race.

Constant messages that we are more valuable: Living in a white dominant context, we receive constant messages that we are better and more important than people of color. For example: our centrality in history textbooks, historical representations and perspectives; our centrality in media and advertising; our teachers, role-models, heroes and heroines; everyday discourse on “good” neighborhoods and schools and who is in them; popular TV shows centered around friendship circles that are all white; religious iconography that depicts God, Adam and Eve, and other key figures as white. While one may explicitly reject the notion that one is inherently better than another, one cannot avoid internalizing the message of white superiority, as it is ubiquitous in mainstream culture.

As a white person, I was raised to be racially illiterate. On the rare occasion in which race came up in school or professional development, we typically studied “them,” not “us.” I learned about their histories, struggles and triumphs. But consistently left off the table was the question: “Histories, struggles and triumphs in relation to whom?”

Take the Jackie Robinson story. Robinson is celebrated as the first African-American to break the so-called color line and play in Major League Baseball. While Robinson was certainly an exceptional baseball player, framing the story this way depicts him as racially special. The subtext is that Robinson was the first black athlete strong enough to overcome the barriers preventing blacks from competing with whites; no black athletes before him were skilled enough to do so. While this tagline elevates Robinson as an individual, it implicitly positions African-Americans overall as inferior. It also falsely propagates the belief that racism in sports ended with Robinson, implying that current struggles against racism in sports are unnecessary.

Such narratives of racial exceptionality obscure the reality of ongoing institutional white control while reinforcing individualism and the illusion of meritocracy. Importantly, these narratives do whites a disservice by promoting racial illiteracy, leaving us with simplistic explanations for racial inequality. By not naming what those barriers were, who put them there, and how they were removed, we are also denied much needed anti-racist role models. In Robinson’s case, these role models are the white people who actually changed the rules and opened professional sports leagues to African-American players.

Historical narratives of racial exceptionality also leave us unprepared to address current conditions. For example, they hide the role of race in the response to the opioid crisis versus the crack epidemic, the Parkland shooting versus the Black Lives Matter movement, gentrification versus Flint, Michigan, the Bundy Standoff versus Standing Rock. We are left without the analysis needed to engage with these deeply complex social dynamics.

Imagine instead, if the story of Jackie Robinson went something like this: “Jackie Robinson was the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.” This telling acknowledges the role of white control. It simply wasn’t up to Robinson. Had he walked onto the field before being granted permission by white owners and policy makers, the police would have removed him. Critically, the real Jackie Robinson story is a story of the relationship between blacks and whites in this country, between this individual black man and a white institution. Reframing race in the Jackie Robinson story reveals white structures of power and the strategies used by those who contested that power, strategies that we can build upon today as we work for racial justice.

As a product of my culture, my racial illiteracy has rested on a simplistic definition of a racist: an individual who consciously does not like people based on race and is intentionally hurtful to them. Based on this definition, racists are purposely mean. It follows that nice people with good intentions who are friendly to people of a different race cannot be racist. Not only does this definition hide the structural nature of racism, it also enables self-delusion: If I am a nice person with good intentions I am free of all racial bias and cannot participate in racism. Within this limited paradigm, to simply suggest that as a white person, my race has meaning and grants unearned advantage, much less to suggest that I have absorbed racist messages which may cause me to behave in racist ways — consciously or not — will be deeply disconcerting. The mainstream definition of a racist set me up beautifully to not only deny any impact of racial socialization, but also to receive any suggestion of racially problematic behavior as a personal blow — a questioning of my very moral character. Of course I would take umbrage, feel hurt, attacked and misunderstood; this is what I term white fragility.

Yet regardless of my intentions, these defensive reactions only protect the racist status quo. Those of us who profess to believe in racial equality have to challenge our understanding of racism in ways that don’t uphold it. We also need to build our skills and stamina for the racial discomfort engendered by a new paradigm.

While I was raised to see myself as somehow “innocent” of race, a lifetime of socialization as a white person does provide me insight into the ways my race shapes my frameworks, assumptions and responses, which in turn shape my identity, community and politics. I can speak as an “insider” to my socialization into whiteness: the messages of superiority I have received, patterns I have developed, advantages I enjoy and the personal and institutional challenges I face when seeking to counter racism. I am not, in fact, innocent of race.”

Racially Illiteracy

  • Example
    • Taught
      • First Black athlete to break color line in Major League Baseball
    • Subtext
      • Robinson was first black athlete strong enough to overcome barriers preventing blacks from competing with whites
        • No black athletes before him were skilled enough to do so
      • Falsely promotes belief that racism in sports ended with Robinson
        • Implying that current struggles against racism in sports are unnecessary
    • Reality
      • Jackie Robinson was the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball
        • Real story the relationship between this individual black man and a white institution
        • Reframing race reveals white structures of power and strategies used to contest it, that can build on today for racial justice
  • Similar Historic narratives:
    • MLK Jr, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Brown vs Board of Education, Civil Rights Act, etc.
      • Instead of being examples of systemic racism and white supremacy
        • We’re taught these people’s exceptionality overcome all our race misunderstandings of the past
        • “the idea that racism in the US can operate outside white people is reinforced through celebrations such as Black History Month, in which we study the Civil War and civil rights era as if they occurred separately from all US History” Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility
  • Similar Narratives today:
    • BLM, racism, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, segregation, etc.
      • Any connection to white people or white supremacy is often left out of these narratives

5 Things You Should Know About Racism | Decoded | MTV News

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Course Correcting White Fragility

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Tips on Approaching Racism & White Privilege

Approach with:

  1. Humility not ego
  2. Tolerance to discomfort
  3. Avoid shame or guilt
  4. Avoid the need to be “good” or “right”

Make an effort to understand:

  1. Reactionary feelings
  2. The effects of racial segregation
  3. Internalizations of white supremacy and white privilege
  4. Difference between non-racist and anti-racist
  5. The importance of doing your own research and respecting POC and spaces

Moving Beyond White Fragility

  • Ideal emotions to feel when confronted:
    • Humility
    • Gratitude
    • Motivation
    • Compassion
    • Interest
    • Less paralyzing discomfort
  • Ideal actions taken after confronted:
    • Reflection
    • Seeking more understanding
    • Listening
    • Engaging
    • Processing
    • Apology
    • Believing
    • Move to action

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

The antidote to white fragility is on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education.

“Getting it” when it comes to race and racism challenges our very identities as good white people. It’s an ongoing and often painful process of seeking to uncover our socialization at its very roots. It asks us to rebuild this identity in new and often uncomfortable ways. But I can testify that it is also the most exciting, powerful, intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling journey I have ever undertaken. It has impacted every aspect of my life—personal and professional.

I have a much deeper and more complex understanding of how society works. I can challenge much more racism in my daily life, and I have developed cherished and fulfilling cross-racial friendships I did not have before.

I do not expect racism to end in my lifetime, and I know that I continue to have problematic racist patterns and perspectives. Yet, I am also confident that I do less harm to people of color than I used to. This is not a minor point of growth, for it impacts my lived experience and that of the people of color who interact with me. If you are white I urge you to take the first step—let go of your racial certitude and reach for humility.

Saloon: White fragility is real: 4 questions white people should ask themselves during discussions about race

Here are a few ways I check myself against white fragility.

1. Am I trying to change the subject?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard (or said) the following:

“Arguing on Facebook is pointless.”

“ALL lives matter!”

“Why are we talking about this when we’ve got ___ to worry about?!”

In other words, this translates to: I’m uncomfortable. Can we talk about something else? And it harkens back perfectly to what DiAngelo says about racial comfort: “In the dominant position, whites are almost always racially comfortable and thus have developed unchallenged expectations to remain so. When racial discomfort arises, whites typically … blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). … White insistence on racial comfort ensures that racism will not be faced.”

White people don’t like to be uncomfortable or challenged – I’ll certainly own that.

To enact change on a large scale, however, white people need to have painful, uncomfortable conversations about white privilege, white supremacy, and about how we benefit from it. Otherwise, nothing can change.

2. Am I using inappropriate humor to deflect?

One major way I’ve noticed white people derail conversations about race is to inappropriately inject a little “humor.” During one online conversation, when things started getting heated, a white person who hadn’t been part of the conversation prior to that moment parachuted in on the comment thread and posted a picture of two Labrador Retrievers with the caption, “Black Labs Matter! All Labs Matter!” Okay, then. In another online discussion, an acquaintance tried to diffuse the tension by posting YouTube compilations of puppies in the comments section. (By the way, fellow white people, what is it with us and dogs?) In both instances, the conversations ground to a halt and the women of color in the conversation were understandably pissed. Sometimes humor can be healing – but sometimes it can minimize another person’s pain.

3. Am I getting defensive or angry?

As a white woman, I know I’m absolutely cocooned in privilege: The color of my skin gives me an advantage when I’m applying for a loan, interviewing for a job, or even being taken seriously when I speak. But sometimes hearing from other people about how privileged I am can send a jolt of hot anger through my body. I forget that having white privilege doesn’t mean my life has been perfect, or that I’ve never had a single hardship, or that I’ve never suffered loss. I have.

Anger is something I see (and personally experience) often when I’m confronted with racial issues, because accusations sting. I know theoretically that white people have oppressed and colonized indigenous people and people of color, and the effects of that are still felt to this day, from the Rwandan Genocide to Apartheid to the subliminal fear of black men that killed Philando Castile. But hearing that I’m personally part of the problem? That hurts. DiAngelo explains this perfectly in her paper on white fragility when she states, “people of color are almost always seen as ‘having a race’ and described in racial terms (‘the black man’) but whites rarely are (‘the man’), allowing whites to see themselves as objective and non-racialized. … Race and racism become their problems, not ours.”

I may be outraged by the deaths of Sterling and Castile. I may have never participated in slavery or personally colonized a country, but you can bet that I still benefit and enjoy privileges that my friends of color don’t. I’m still part of the problem. By recognizing that, I hope to be part of the solution.

4. Am I going out of my way not to focus on “the negative?”

If you have white friends or are yourself a Fragile White Person, I can almost guarantee you’ve said or heard the phrase “negativity” in reference to the uproar around Sterling and Castillo’s deaths – be it the news itself or the way people are responding to it. One popular Christian blogger I follow (a white woman) wrote a brief blog post after the Dallas shootings, begging her readers to “choose love and forgiveness” instead of “dwelling on the negativity.” It sounds noble, but asking others to “choose love and forgiveness,” especially so soon after suffering a tragedy, is just one way of many to minimize black pain.

Consider this: If you think it’s inappropriate to go to a funeral and tell the bereaved to “cheer up” and “focus on something positive,” then it makes no sense to call for “forgiveness” or flood your twitter with “positivity” immediately after a shooting. Right now, people need to grieve and feel some feelings. Let them.

In the wake of Sterling and Castillo’s shooting deaths, my white friends and I feel hopeless, angry, desperate to help in some way. I certainly don’t know how to repair systematic white supremacy, but what I do know is this: When white people get defensive, conversations grind to a halt. Understanding stops. Feelings are repressed. Tension builds. Nothing is resolved.

Want to help? Don’t want to be a Fragile White Person? Get uncomfortable, and get used to it.

White Fragility* Self-Test

by

Ally Henny

Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I feel defensive when a person of colour says “white people?”
  2. Do I feel angry when people tell me that I benefit from white privilege?
  3. When a person of colour talks about race, do I feel defensive because they’re describing things that I do or think as racist?
  4. Do I feel angry or annoyed by the above questions?
  5. Do I have a history of embracing or growing up in racism that I feel ashamed of and so I need to show people that I’m not racist anymore?
  6. Does saying “Not all white people” or similar phrases make me feel better :then someone calls white people out for something?
  7. Do I expect an apology when I feel like I’ve been unfairly accused of racism?
  8. Do I feel better when I say, hear, or read, “It’s okay to be white?”
  9. Do I try to convince people of colour that they’re wrong about racism by pointing out people from their racial group who agree with me?
  10. Do I feel the need to talk about how hard my ancestors had it when they immigrated, or explain my own hardships when a person if colour talks about being oppressed?
  11. Do I think that racism would go away if people stopped talking about it?
  12. Does being told that something I say, think, do, or otherwise value is racist make me want to shut down, leave, or express my discomfort/displeasure in some way?
  13. Do I feel the need to state that I have friends/family who are people of colour when someone accuses me of racism?
  14. Do I feel the need to prove that I’m not racist?
  15. Do I feel that my opinions and perspectives about race should be given equal weight to that of a person of colour, that I have something unique and important to contribute to the race conversation, and/ or that it is unfair to be told to listen more than I speak?
  16. Do I feel the need to defend myself on any of the above points in the comment section?

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism

I would never march in Charlottesville. But I still manifest internalized superiority. And it is on me to try to identify how I do that. And that is actually incredibly liberating. When you stop with the defensiveness, and the denial, and the deflection, and the explaining, you can see that, of course I have this. I actually don’t want it, but how about I be open to people helping me see how I have it. The worst fear of a white progressive is that we’re going to say something racist, but don’t you dare tell me I just said something racist!”

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 Initiatives to Follow and Further Readings

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People to Follow

Further Initatives

Further Readings

Books

Other Relevant People’s School of DC Pages

White Guilt, White Centering, White Tears

White Feminism and Intersectionality

Tone Policing, Civility and White Comfort

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