Thursday, November 05, 2015

White Fragility 101 -- The Basics

Whilst traipsing through Black Tumblr, I found a phrase that encompassed much of what I've been experiencing all too often lately: white fragility.  A conversation about race begins and everything is fine until I say something that makes the white person uncomfortable. (And believe me, it doesn't take much.) That's when they become defensive or go into attack mode or they shut down and walk off.

As a professor of critical multicultural and social justice education, Dr. Robin DiAngelo -- the one who coined the phrase a few years ago -- is doing God's work.  Her book What Does It Mean To Be White? is on my short list. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from her must-read article White Fragility: Why It's So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism.

And yeah, it's virtually impossible to talk to white people about racism -- which is why white people who are woke should do the heavy lifting on this issue. It's more likely that other white people will listen to them.

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 pushback white fragility.

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