Building community in a changing world

October 3, 2022

White Fragility

Here is an excerpt from “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo (here’s a great video of Robin presenting), courtesy of The AntiRacist Table:

“To say that whiteness is a standpoint is to say that a significant aspect of white identity is to see oneself as an individual, outside or innocent of race–’just human.’ Whites also produce and reinforce the dominant narratives of society–such as individualism and meritocracy–and use these narratives to explain the positions of other racial groups. These narratives allow us to congratulate ourselves on our success within institutions of society and blame others for their lack of success.” 27

“Exploring our [white people’s] collective racial identity interrupts a key privilege of dominance–the ability to see oneself only as an individual. We need to discuss white people as a group–even if doing so jars us–in order to disrupt our radicalized identities. For people of color, the privilege of being seen (and seeing themselves) as unique individuals outside the context of race cannot be taken for granted. Talking about race and racism in general terms such as white people is constructive for whites because it interrupts individuals. But racial generalization also reinforces something problematic for people of color–the continual focus on their group identity.

Furthermore, it collapses many racial groups into one generic category, therefore denying the specific way that different groups experience racism. While people of color share some experiences of racism overall, there are also variations based on a specific group’s history. These variations include how group members have adapted to the dominant culture, how they have been represented, how they have been positioned in relation to other groups of color, and the ‘role’ the group has been assigned by dominant society. The messages I have internalized about people of Asian heritage, for example, are not the same as those I have internalized for Indigenous people, and a key aspect of challenging these messages is to identify their differences and how they shape my attitudes toward various groups of color.” 89-90

This New Yorker article about Robin’s book is useful – here’s an excerpt from that (and here’s a good list of examples of white privilege):

In DiAngelo’s almost epidemiological vision of white racism, our minds and bodies play host to a pathogen that seeks to replicate itself, sickening us in the process. Like a mutating virus, racism shape-shifts in order to stay alive; when its explicit expression becomes taboo, it hides in coded language. Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. It just looks for ways to avoid detection.

“The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” DiAngelo claims, “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.