White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism was a 2018 New York Times bestseller. If I am reading the codes right, my copy is already the 12th printing of the book.
I am a white, married-with-children, middle-aged, lower middle-class male. I grew up in half-a-mile from the projects and the worst part of town. I went to school with African Americans, played together at recess, sang and danced together in high school show-choir, spent time together before and after basketball practice. I never tended to view myself as racist- what kid would? Even as I came to learn what racism was, I tried to consciously distance myself from it.
I’ve lived in China for two years. I lived in Ramallah for a summer. I’ve taken multiple trips to Zambia to teach. I’ve been on my own in Mexico. I am literate in cultural differences and seem to be able to adapt and get along in most settings.
I am not a racist.
I am white.
I am a racist.
I am reading White Fragility to explore this truth. I am reading it, because the publisher’s blurbs did their job and convinced me that the book might have something for me. Whenever talk turns to racism, and white privilege, I have felt my internal defenses and anger rise.
In teaching a Sunday school class I shared a quote about the place of racism among whites and blacks that I thought was so self-evident it was indisputable. It was met with open scorn and rebuke. And it hit me. Maybe I am racist. Maybe all of us singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World” are too.
Robin DiAngelo is a white woman writing to white people about white fragility: the immediate negative response white people have to any discussion of race, racism, or the possibility that they are racist or play leading roles in a racist society.
Her introduction to the book frames the discussion by sharpening the definition of racism. White people are fragile about race discussions because racism has been defined as “discrete acts committed by individual people.” As long as I don’t burn any crosses; spit in anyone’s face; fly any Confederate flag; use the N-word; I am not a racist. As long as consider racism an individual act against an individual person- of which I am not guilty- I will resent the accusation.
Instead, racism is “a system into which I was socialized.” My whiteness has been advantageous to me at every stage of my life here in America. My natural inclination, is to expect and protect those advantages. Power structures are people structures: as a member of the power structure I have no interest in seeing the current power structure altered in any way. As a member of the power structure, my natural impulse will be to revolt against any confrontation to that structure. I will even scoff at the very suggestion the power structure exists at all.
These aspects of the Introduction of White Fragility resonated with me. I recognize that my whiteness has brought privilege. I confess that I have often felt and demonstrated the anger, resentment, defensiveness, and dismissiveness when racial topics have been brought up.
I am looking forward to continuing in the book.