A Christian Reading of White Fragility: chapter 3, Racism after the Civil Rights Movement

Chapter 3 is a fitting follow-up to chapter two’s blunt accusations. Chapter 3 is the “I’m not racist, but…” chapter. Aren’t we post-racial? Segregation has been illegal for over a generation now. We are enlightened now. DiAngelo discusses three forms of racism still binding the thoughts of white people.

Color-blind racism ignores the circumstances of reality. In the introduction, DiAngelo surprisingly claims that white progressives cause the most daily damage to black people. To the degree that white progressives see themselves as having arrived, they put their energy into making sure others see them as having arrived. I have certainly seen that phenomenon at places like The Gospel Coalition’s website (tgc.org).  Young and middle-aged white men seem to occasionally engage in woke-off contests seeing who can lay claim to being the most racially aware.

Color blind racists claim to see no color. I don’t see a black man in front of me, I just see another human being: someone just like me. Such thinking is counter-productive and offers little solace. When white people claim to see no color, it denies the life experiences of African Americans and attempts to project the realities of white experience on people of color. Color-blind ideology makes it difficult to address unconscious beliefs formed through years of socialization.

Aversive racism is wink-and-nod racism. Aversive racism makes use of code words, euphuisms, and communal inside language to identify and marginalize African Americans. That side of town, urban, underprivileged, diverse, sketchy, as opposed to the good side of town, sheltered, safe, etc. No one ever says “where all the black people are” because no one has to. All of the participants in the conversation know what is being said, even as it is never mentioned. Because we are enlightened we would never say such things; so we just say such things without saying them. Holding this deep racially motivated suspicion while leaving it unspoken, offers little hope of escaping such thought patterns.

Cultural racism is “backstage” racism: it is practiced in all-white company. Here, the codes and symbols of aversive racism are discarded because white people see themselves in a safe place free from the threat of judgment or retribution. Jokes that depend on racial stereotypes are told, and laughed at, and not spoken against. Racially derogatory terms are used. These backstage performances create white solidarity and reinforce the ideals of white supremacy. Racism is kept in circulation in less formal, but more powerful ways. “Today we have a cultural norm that insists we hide our racism from people of color and deny it among ourselves, but not that we actually challenge it. In fact, we are socially penalized for challenging racism.”

These three forms of wink-and-nod racism help establish one of the pillars of white fragility: the refusal to know.

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