'White fragility' is a defensive response to real conversations about race.
By Sam Adler-Bell
Robin DiAngelo: To be honest, I wanted to take it on because it’s a frustrating dynamic that I encounter a lot. I don’t have a lot of patience for it. And I wanted to put a mirror to it.
I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.
Of course, it functions as means of resistance, but I think it’s also useful to think about it as fragility, as inability to handle the stress of conversations about race and racism.
Sometimes it’s strategic, a very intentional push back and rebuttal. But a lot of the time, the person simply cannot function. They regress into an emotional state that prevents anybody from moving forward.
And, the thing is, it feels good. Even though it contradicts our most basic principles and values. So we know it, but we can never admit it. It creates this kind of dangerous internal stew that gets enacted externally in our interactions with people of color, and is crazy-making for people of color. We have set the world up to preserve that internal sense of superiority and also resist challenges to it. All while denying that anything is going on and insisting that race is meaningless to us.
SAB: Something that amazes me is the sophistication of some white people’s defensive maneuvers. I have a black friend who was accused of "online harassment" by a white friend after he called her out in a harsh way. What do you see going on there?
RD: First of all, whites often confuse comfort with safety. We say we don’t feel safe, when what we mean is that we don’t feel comfortable. Secondly, no white person looks at a person of color through objective eyes. There’s been a lot of research in this area. Cross-racially, we do not see with objective eyes. Now you add that he’s a black man. It’s not a fluke that she picked the word "harassed." In doing that, she’s reinforcing a really classic, racist paradigm: White women and black men. White women’s frailty and black men’s aggressiveness and danger.
But even if she is feeling that, which she very well may be, we should be suspicious of our feelings in these interactions. There’s no such thing as pure feeling. You have a feeling because you’ve filtered the experience through a particular lens. The feeling is the outcome. It probably feels natural, but of course it’s shaped by what you believe.
By Andray Domise
Rather than the irritating pressure to understand or empathize, what they want is to stop having to try. To quit the endless cycle of self-examination, and the inculpatory guilt. What they want is for the world to once again contort itself to accommodate their comfort. To accept and once again become loyal to the myth that what we understand as “racism” is hardly more than a series of minor misunderstandings, blown out of proportion by shrill opportunists. They want this, along with our agreement to redraw the lines.
It’s no accident that conversations on diversity and racism are so often dominated by white men. At their heart, they’re not conversations at all--they’re recruiting tools. The political correctness of aggrieved white men exists, and they’re asking you to be a party member.
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