White Fragility chapter 1: The Challenge of Talking to White People About Racism

In chapter 1, DiAngelo strikes the balance between confrontation and comfort. After reading the chapter, I am even more encouraged about progressing through the book. DiAngelo discusses three key terms in the chapter: individualism, objectivism, socialization.

Socialization is at work among all peoples everywhere. Socialization organizes, identifies, and values people in groups. These social groupings include: young and old, male and female, rich and poor, abled and disabled, etc.  While the valuations might vary across time and place, valuations are made. In Western society, young is better than old, male is better than female, white is better than black. Every culture socializes. White people must recognize and acknowledge this phenomenon. White people must recognize that in America forces of socialization make them the valued people and non-whites less valued.

Within American culture, individualism and objectivism further blind white people to the results of racism. Objectivism is the belief that we can see things objectively and impartially. DiAngelo only mentions this force and never really develops it. I would hesitate to classify objectivism as particular to American culture; or as stronger in American culture than in most others.

Individualism is where DiAngelo makes hay, and there is plenty of hay to be made.  Individualism is a particular emphasis of American culture, indeed one of the most prominent features of it. Individualism holds that every individual is unique and in control of his own destiny. Individualism maintains that things like race, class, gender, and social groups, have no bearing on opportunity to succeed. DiAngelo does not make use of it, but the illustration that comes to my mind is Clarence Thomas, or Barack Obama. The white American can point to either and say, “See! If he can do it, any black man can do it. They just need to put their mind to it.”

It is a devilish cycle: our fate is intimately connected to our social groupings, but our mantra is “I can be whatever I want to be.” Because we believe the one, we ignore the other. We believe a fact, but ignore the truth.

DiAngelo’s final section should probably take the place of the introduction. I can see some curious readers being put-off by the introduction. “Here we go again, tell me why I am to blame for all the world’s problems and what an awful person I am.” This attitude, however, springs from our faulty definition of racism: the definition of racism that we have embrace to protect us against the charge of being racist. As long as we define a racist as someone who consciously harms another person because of his race, we will revolt against the charge.

While she does not give her definition of racism, enough comfort is offered to lead on the soul that seeks genuine dialogue and change. To prepare the ground for that dialogue, DiAngelo ask several penetrating questions about the discomfort white people have in talking about race: “Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?”

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A Christian reading of “White Fragility”: introductory thoughts

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.

 

 

Verse for Christmas: Augustine’s sermon 186

Word made flesh.
Before He was born
All power was his-
Power to remain in the heart of the Father;
Power to be made in the womb of his mother.
Not ceasing to be God
Not changed into flesh.
Word made flesh.
 
Son of God made Son of man.
Taking on something lesser
Not changing from something better
Taking what he was not
Not losing what he was.
 
He himself in form of God
Emptied himself in form of man.
Son of God made David’s son.
Sent by God
Born
Of a woman.
Son of God made son of man.
 
~~
Adapted from Augustine’s sermon 186

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 185

Truth is sprung from the earth.
Truth which enfolds the world
The hands of the Virgin now hold.
Truth which the heavens cannot contain
There in a manger lain.

Righteousness looks down from heaven.
Right, so absent from man.
By his own hand, no commendation.
Believing in Him who was born
The only escape from due damnation.

Righteous by faith,
We have peace with God.
In the kiss of righteous peace
The Son of God made man
That men be made sons of God.

~~~
In sermon 185 Augustine meditates on Psalm 85:11, “Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” This verse is used frequently in Augustine’s Christmas sermons. It vies with a portion of Isaiah 53:8, “Who shall declare his generation;” for place of prominence. In this sermon, Augustine ties Ps. 85:11 with Romans 5:1 using Psalm 85:10. Once made, the connection seems easy and obvious. But only a mind soaked in Scripture would seem likely to make it. It is one reason I marvel at reading the fathers: they had no concordance or computer; only their memory and the Spirit. And their grasp of Scripture shames me.

Verse for Christmas: from Augustine’s sermon 184

Wisdom, let us attend.
Mourn, o proud, seeking the lofty you spurn the lowly
Forgetting it is these that dwell with the Holy.

God of God remaining what He always was
Takes to Himself what we are
Leaving the Father, journeys to country far.

Heaven and angels chant, “He is born!”
Holding all things together by powerful word
His first cries are scarcely heard.

O wondrous humility,
The greatness of God made small.
Christ comes down to save from the fall.

 

 

Augustine Verse for Christmas: Sermon 140

Open our hearts!
Begotten of the Father without time
The Son is made of the Virgin in time
Begotten transcending time
Born filling time
Open our hearts to wonder!

Open our hearts!
Born of the Father, our Maker
Born of the Virgin, our re-Maker
Born of the Father that we might be
Born of Mary that we might not be lost
Open our hearts to praise!

Open our hearts!
God the Father never without the Son
Son born, not made, eternally begotten One
Source with the Father, equality with the Son
God my Father, I his Son, are One
Open our hearts to believe!

~~
From Sermon 140 of Augustine. There is uncertainty about whether this was actually a Christmas sermon-i.e. a sermon preached at Christmas; but the Incarnation is obviously addressed.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; sermon 196. A Christmas poem for daughters

Rejoice, daughter, God is born for you!
Marvel, daughter, God is born for you!
Eternally begotten without a beginning-
Bow in awe, daughter,
God is born for you!

Whether virgin, wedded, or widowed;
He who was in the beginning
Is born for you.

The angel announces
Mary believes
A virgin conceives
God is born for you.

Once barren bride
Carries the prophet
Hails the savior!
God is born for you.

With tears and fastings
A widow of four-score and four
Greets the groom of all the faithful
God is born for you.

He took to Himself what He was not
He remained what He was.
Born in a hovel
Wrapped in cloths
For who?

Word speaking from the Father
Cries wordlessly at His mother
Eternal wisdom grows in knowledge
To suffer
To die
To rise
For who?

Who shall declare His generation?
The Word in the beginning
Is born
Is born, my daughter,
For you.

~~~
Sermon 196 is Augustine’s second Christmas sermon particularly suited to the women in the congregation: the first, being sermon 191.

As a dad with 5 daughters, I appreciate this. As someone who has preached a few sermons, I am admonished by it. Aside from Mother’s Day, there seems to be little direct address to women in most sermons. Augustine, of course, mentions Mary in nearly every Christmas sermon. But merely talking about a woman, even the Virgin, is not enough. Augustine speaks to women: he addresses the birth of Christ to women. However you understand Paul’s command that women are to be silent in the church, it is not a command that they are to be forgotten.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 195

Who shall declare his generation?
Which generation to declare?
The generation of One never not born,
Eternal with the Father?
The generation of One born,
Who made His mother?
How is God born of God
With no increase of Gods?
How is God born of woman
With no aid of man?

Born of the Father,
He creates His mother.
Born of a mother,
He glorifies His Father.
Never born by woman- the eternal Son;
Without embrace from man- born by woman.

Who shall declare His generation?
Maker of the world, comes into the world.
Never absent in power, present in flesh.
Coming in the flesh to cleanse our flesh.
Creator come to heal the world.
Who shall declare his generation?

Giant in strength
Terrible in love
Serene in severity
Remaining at the Father’s side,
Filling His mother’s womb.

Who shall declare his generation?
Eternal One. Born in time.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas; Sermon 189

Day of Day. Light of Light.
Day who shines upon the angels
Light who brightens shore of heaven
Covered in darkness; putting on flesh.

Born of the Virgin:
From whence this wonder?
Mary from Adam
Adam from earth
Adam from earth
Mary from Adam
Truth. Sprung from the earth.
Born of the Virgin.

Truth. Sprung from the earth.
You were sleeping;
It came to you.
You were snoring;
It shook you.
That you would not be lost
Truth made Way to Life.

Truth. Sprung from the earth
He who brought all things into existence;
Brought into existence in the midst of all things is he.
He who made the day-
Coming into the light of day.
Forever, without beginning, with the Father
He has a birthday!
Truth. Sprung from the earth.
Man. Born from heaven.

~~~

Poetic adaptation of Augustine’s sermon 189. From the translation by Thomas Comerford Lawler in vol. 15 of the Ancient Christian Writers series.

Augustine: Verse for Christmas (187b)

O Word of God renewing all things
Neither hemmed in by space
Nor extended by time
                Varied by pause
                Composed of sound
                Ended by silence.

 O Word of God making fruitful
The womb of the mother you chose
Going forth
                Revealing to the eyes of men
                Illumining the mind of angels
                Glorying your Father
                Appearing on earth
                Transcending the heavens.

 O Word of God taking flesh in time
Eternity is thine
O Word of God taking on our form
Emmanuel is born.

~~~

This is the second poem adapted from sermon 187.