White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Category: Social Sciences
Author: Michael Eric Dyson
This Month Reddit 2


by voompanatos   2021-12-10

Original essay by Robin DiAngelo: "White Fragility," International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 2011.

Abstract: White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. This paper explicates the dynamics of White Fragility



Bestselling book on Amazon: "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," Beacon Press, Reprint Edition (June 26, 2018)

“Robin DiAngelo demonstrates an all-too-rare ability to enter the racial conversation with complexity, nuance, and deep respect. Her writing establishes her mastery in accessing the imaginal, metaphoric mind where the possibility for transformation resides. With an unwavering conviction that change is possible, her message is clear: the incentive for white engagement in racial justice work is ultimately self-liberation.”

—Leticia Nieto, coauthor of Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment

“White fragility is the secret ingredient that makes racial conversations so difficult and achieving racial equity even harder. But by exposing it and showing us all—including white folks—how it operates and how it hurts us, individually and collectively, Robin DiAngelo has performed an invaluable service. An indispensable volume for understanding one of the most important (and yet rarely appreciated) barriers to achieving racial justice.”

—Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

“Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility brings language to the emotional structures that make true discussions about racial attitudes difficult. With clarity and compassion, DiAngelo allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people.’ In doing so, she moves our national discussions forward with new ‘rules of engagement.’ This is a necessary book for all people invested in societal change through productive social and intimate relationships.”

—Claudia Rankine

by TXrutabega   2021-12-10

Well, if there's anything I've got in my toolbox, it's bluntness! HA!

When I mention the bitterness, I'm talking exactly about the self-determination mindset that you talk about a couple paragraphs later; that you believe in humanity's right to free choice without external interference. I would find that most people do, including the SJW's you mention. People just define 'external interference' differently.

So, if you view self-determination as a foundational core to your ability to be free, than any social construct (views on race or gender) runs counter to that and you may view 'compliance' as a direct violation of your liberty. However, if you are one of the people who is seeing external interference as a direct RESULT of systemic racism, you see self-determination in a very different way. (Not to go too far down that rabbit-hole, but individual autonomy is reliant upon social views and/or actions regarding your right to that autonomy- which has historically been denied to people of color aka. systemic racism).

You, then, may become bitter at the constant onslaught of 'SJW' forcing conversations and wonder why others don't do what you did, and 'hard-work' their way out of it, without recognizing that there are roadblocks that exist for others that you did not encounter by virtue of your race. Just because you may not see those roadblocks, or agree, doesn't mean they aren't there. This also doesn't mean people affected by racism are victims but again, diminishing a very real experience to victimhood status so that it can be dismissed is self-serving at best.

To follow that, defaulting to the 'empirical evidence' standard, to me, is an easy out. It seems to be an 'I can't smell the sunflowers, and no one can prove what they smell like, and I don't see them anywhere, so they don't exist'. In the meantime, your back is to the field of flowers and despite people trying to give you directions, you do not turn around.

To me, it's just not that easy or simple. Which is why, I urge you, if you are feeling defensive about some of what you heard, don't dismiss it out of hand. Figure out if there was some truth there that will be useful for you. If you feel dehumanized by the conversations you've been having, imagine how dehumanized the people who have experienced some of these struggles may feel, knowing that you categorically deny their reality as propaganda. (I'm referencing your comments on systemic racism).

To your point, it's hard to recognize someone else's humanity if you feel it's THEIR boot on your neck. For you, it's the SJW's, for everyone else- it's you (and not because you're white, but because you refuse to take your blinders off). The difference is, your boot causes actual harm, while an SJW's boot causes you inconvenience, anger, feeling of being unduly criticized, and potentially outward capitulation and/or withdrawal instead of an eyes-wide-open confrontation of the realities of racism.

I may not have said all of this in the right way, but hopefully the intention came across. With that, I'm exhausted!

Edited to add: This is a good read that you may be interested in. Ironically, it is actually called White Fragility. There's a review in The New Yorker on it here.

> “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


> As an ethical thinker, DiAngelo belongs to the utilitarian school, which places less importance on attitudes than on the ways in which attitudes cause harm

by acd8168   2019-11-17

I am glad you are open to engaging with me on this topic. I appreciate your point about the types of mistreatment that many minority person's grandparents faced are not the case anymore, thank goodness.

When I began learning about these sorts of issues, one of the things that impacted me the most viscerally was familiarity. Most school teachers are white and because of this I do not have to feel anything but comfort and familiarity in the face of most teachers. A minority student in the same position will be in situations where they do not "fit in" with the majority racially and ethnically. Also, typically schools in low-income communities and those in communities consisting of primarily people of color are severely underfunded, so the school is not as good nor does it have as many opportunities as others, which might make it harder for students attending to see the value in it. When everyone around you has never graduated or it didn't visibly help them, why should they care either? - That's kind of how I think about it.

Another consideration are effects government policies that are largely behind us, such as redlining and gentrification. While it is not our country's policy today, we did devalue neighborhoods based upon the presence of black, and other minority, families in the past. This meant that minority groups had a difficult time getting loans in many of the "nicer" neighborhoods. A poor white family would have been at a large advantage to receive a loan that would allow them to buy a house in one of these communities, their children could go to school in nicer facilities with newer textbooks and without the burden of worrying or worrying about supporting their families (to the extent of minorities).

Today we still recognize the challenge of being a first generation student, for many minorities getting to that point was even harder to laws and societal forces discriminating against them.

There is much more to all of this then I can put in a single comment, but I recommend looking up things like gentrification and redlining, and the Federal Housing Agency's view on people of color in the 1960s and 70s - particularly how those policies and laws negatively affected people of color. If you wish to know more, Robin DiAngelo wrote a great book about related topics, many of which white people often just don't think about because we haven't been exposed to it or needed to think about them. You can find it [here](https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/dp/0807047414/ref=sr_1_1?gclid=CjwKCAjw9dboBRBUEiwA7VrrzWDxjioQAIGNeFai6Fsgxn2_sFtDmdU4TjGRWg5RkU93Pzgke15PZRoCMVIQAvD_BwE&hvadid=241949715031&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9022035&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t1&hvqmt=e&hvrand=10628953467337170282&hvtargid=kwd-242688300007&hydadcr=22534_10344589&keywords=white+fragility&qid=1561766919&s=gateway&sr=8-1).


I would love to hear more about your perspectives and experiences, feel free to dm me if you want to talk more, or would like sources.

by tehryanx   2019-11-17

the dictionary definition isn't going to cut it. Go read this: https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/dp/0807047414

and then we can have a conversation about how a lot of what you said is actually pretty racist.

by CHRISTINEitsDAVEpmME   2019-11-17

According to this book it’s racism. This video is white fragility in action. It’s a New York Times & Amazon best seller so it’s really opened my eyes to how racist white liberals are. The act out in all sorts of ways when interacting with people of color https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/dp/0807047414

by Dawn_Coyote   2019-11-17

I've got this on hold at the library. I go through library books way more quickly than I read the books I own, because I don't have to return those.

by CHRISTINEitsDAVEpmME   2019-11-17

I’m white. It’s not racist to expose the crimes of my own race. White fragility is real & white liberals suffer from it...

  • https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/dp/0807047414/ref=asc_df_0807047414/?tag=bingshoppinga-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=%7Bcreative%7D&hvpos=%7Badposition%7D&hvnetw=o&hvrand=%7Brandom%7D&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=%7Bdevicemodel%7D&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=&hvtargid=pla-4583726541003311&psc=1

  • https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RYmDTeGw5_k

by functor7   2019-08-24

> In the above post, he mentioned someone dressing like that having a predilection to do dumb or ignorant shit.

Why do you think we might think this? Hint: It's racism. We've taken a style associated with minority groups and associated it with doing dumb shit. It's not stereotyping to say that a certain style of clothing is predominantly worn by certain cultural groups. A stereotype is an overly generalized belief about something. Identifying that a certain style is predominately associated with certain cultural groups is not an overgeneralization, but saying that people who dress a certain way are dumb is an overgeneralization. Most people who wear kimonos are Japanese. If we suddenly started saying that people who wear kimonos are dumb, then what are we really saying? And at what point did the overgeneralization take place?

Race is 100% a power relationship. It is advantageous for those in power to racialize certain groups of people in order to maintain order, at the cost of excluding these races. Most white people in America directly (albeit, in the past) benefit from slavery. Because of Jim Crow Laws, white people were able to get redlined into the nice places and the people of color were excluded. Because of the New Jim Crow (eg, marijuana laws and broken windows policies), minority communities have been kept impoverished and white communities have separately thrived. Things that enable and justify this kind of thinking are racist. Finding a roundabout way to say that certain minority groups are dumb function to justify these things. We say that poor, dilapidated neighborhoods need more policing because of crime, we're not saying anything bad about black people directly, but since race and economic status are correlated, then we're really just saying that we need to police black neighborhoods (which is what happened). Even though, if the windows are broken, an effective way to reduce crime is to fix the goddamn windows. If our ideas are that people dressed as in the image are people who do dumb shit, then when we see someone like that we'll be more likely to try and find something bad about them. Possibly leading to police being called on them just for occupying white spaces (like Starbucks).

Racism is very complicated and powerful. It's more that just the KKK, we all contribute to it. The notion that it is isolated, single events of discrimination by ill-willed people prevents us from making progress. We have to understand ourselves as raced people, and that there is an implied power relationship between different races, and that we need to actively subvert this. Pretending that race isn't a think is harmful to progress against racism. Understanding the effects of what we say as racial actions is important to make progress about racism. Moreover, the fact that it is urban streetwear which is (rightfully or wrongfully) associated with urban minorities means that the overgeneralizations we make about the style are actually overgeneralizations about a race.

Your statements about the nature of racism are outdated. I would recommend reading the book White Fragility (pdf), which is a discussion about race for white people who are typically are resistant to contemporary ideas about race because it is associated with ill-intended actions, and we're all good intended so can't be racist, right? But the truth is that we all do racist things (myself included), and the more stop trying to excuse ourselves and look critically about the real racial relationships that enable inequality, the more we can work against it.

by LurkingHare   2019-08-24

Recently I got a very interesting book called White Fragility by Robin D'Angelo. Now I do not live in the US, but I was horribly surprised how many points this book raises applied directly to me.

by [deleted]   2019-07-21


you might need this

by Practically_   2019-07-21

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism https://www.amazon.com/dp/0807047414/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_ScJWCbQ2VCE0D

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History https://www.amazon.com/dp/0525559442/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_udJWCb7H07RV6

by boner79   2019-07-21

Agreed. Here’s a book on the topic:


by timwis   2019-04-17
Hi everyone! Just a friendly reminder that as a community of largely white, highly educated, [male](https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/d...).
by wpietri   2018-12-11
Ah, got it. Thanks for mentioning growing up elsewhere; that helps. Yes, one of the problems with America's current racial status quo is that white people really don't want to talk about it. If you're interested in learning more about that dynamic, I strongly recommend this recent book: https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/d...

The same author gave a great talk about the book: smart, funny, and very informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45ey4jgoxeU

I do agree that people are racially distinct, but only if people are trained from an early age to treat those specific racial as significant. In Africa there are 27 major ethnic groups; to Africans those are visually distinct. To Americans, they're all just "black". The category of "white" is similarly artificial. [1] The boundaries of "white" have varied greatly over the years. So yes, I agree Americans will quickly classify somebody by race, but it's not primarily a visual difference, but one of specific cultural training.

I am saying that "special" treatment is not at issue here. The treatment was not just special; it was somewhere between suspicious and hostile. One of my colleagues there was just short of 7 feet tall. He was visually distinct but read as white. He often got treated differently, but never suspiciously. I doubt a white dude in a wheelchair would have gotten the third degree; my expectation is that people would immediately open the door for him.

As to calculus in high school, I know plenty of people who are programmers without it. I certainly have never used calculus while coding, so it doesn't make a practical difference.

As to how you can help, I think the best things to do are a) learn about America's history here, b) learn what present-day social structures help continue the diminished-but-still-ongoing oppression, and c) talking about them frankly. As somebody who didn't grow up here, you'll be able to see and talk about these things in a way that white people will listen to. Good books include Loewen's "Sundown Towns", Ijeoma Iluo's latest book, and Julie Lythcott-Haims recent memoir.

I hope that helps!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_White_People

by wpietri   2018-12-10
That's a non-apology apology. [1] You have avoided actually admitting that you were being rude. If you'd like people to think your apologies sincere, you have to recognize your bad behavior, not just put it on somebody else's interpretation.

Second, I never said he was racist -- that's your interpretation. I specifically avoided that term because when white people are experiencing white fragility [1], which is certain to happen in a large group discussion like this, then they immediately cast any incident in into the common post-Civil-Rights-era frame of "racist=bad person" and start defending their fellow white person, who surely must be good. What I talked about was unconscious racial bias.

Third, your demanding "proof" is unreasonable. What would count? Should I have fMRI scans done of the person's brain under various stimuli? Even that wouldn't be enough; you could argue he might harbor racial bias, but that it wasn't active at the time he grilled my intern. I just looked at the last few pages of your comments here, and you have offered all sorts of reasonable opinions without ever giving a bit of proof. You are bringing up a standard that couldn't possibly apply and that you don't hew to yourself. You might ask yourself why.

Fourth, I included evidence. First, there was the testimony of the one witness who, even though he's still in college, has had to become an expert in America's still pervasive and demonstrable white bias against black people. Second, there was my testimony as to the nature of the environment and the rareness of an event like this. Third, as I mentioned, I talked about this with my boss. In all of our judgments, under the preponderance of the evidence, this was an unconscious racial bias incident. Nobody at the company thought otherwise, including HR and the black employee group, who deal with this sort of thing regularly at that company.

Fifth, it's not my job to prove anything to internet randos. It's your job to understand America's racial dynamics and how this fits in before commenting. I told this story knowing full well that I'd get salty replies from people who would react with instant denial to any description of a bias incident caused by someone like them (a well-meaning white tech dude). Why would they do that? Well, if you have studied American racial dynamics, you'll already know the answer to that. And if you haven't, I recommend that you read one or two of the four books I've already recommended in this discussion. You'll learn something.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/d...

by wpietri   2018-12-10
I'm not sure why this is getting downvoted. Those skeptical should watch this recent lecture from Dr. Robin DiAngelo: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0807047414