In the nonprofit sector lately, Helen and Mazarine have seen some glaring examples of white fragility. So, we decided to do an episode on what this is, and how we can do better.
Are you wondering what white fragility is? how it shows up? listen up for some quick tips on what it is, how to recognize it, and how to do better as a white ally.
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According to Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, she writes:
Here’s what people say their “feelings” are when White Fragility is going on-
- Singled out
Here are the behaviors of white fragility-
- Physically leaving
- Emotionally withdrawing
- Focusing on intentions
- Seeking absolution
Here are the things people say when white fragility is going on-
- I know people of color
- Out of context Martin Luther King quote
- I marched in the sixties
- I already know all this
- You are judging me
- You don’t know me
- You are generalizing
- That is just your opinion
- I disagree
- The real oppression is class [or gender, or anything other than race]
- You are elitist
- I just said one little innocent thing
- Some people find offense where there is none
- My friend said that this word is not racist therefore I am not being racist.
- You’re playing the race card
- You misunderstood me
- I feel so attacked right now
- The problem is your tone
- That was not my intention
- I have suffered too.
- You hurt my feelings.
- You’re being racist against me
- You are making me feel guilty
- I don’t feel safe.
Here are the assumptions that are going on when white fragility is appearing-
- Racism is simply personal prejudice
- I am free of racism
- I will be the judge of whether racism has occurred
- My learning is finished; I know all I need to know.
- Racism can only be intentional; my not having intended racism cancels out the impact of my behavior
- My suffering relieves me of racism or racial privilege
- White people who experience another form of oppression cannot experience racial privilege.
- If I am a good person, I can’t be racist.
- I am entitled to remain comfortable/have this conversation the way I want to.
- How I am perceived by others is the most important issue.
- As a white person, I know the best way to challenge racism.
- If I am feeling challenged, you are doing this wrong.
- It’s unkind to point out racism.
- Racism is conscious bias. i have none, so I am not racist.
- Racists are bad individuals, so you are saying I am a bad person.
- If you knew me or understood me, you would know I can’t be racist.
- I have friends of color, so I can’t be racist.
- There is no problem, society is fine the way it is.
- Racism is a simple problem. People just need to…
- My worldview is objective, and is the only one operating.
- If I can’t see it, it isn’t legitimate.
- If you have more knowledge on the subject than I do, you think you’re better than me.
Here are the rules of engagement for white fragility.
- Do not give me feedback on my racism under any circumstances. If you DO break this first rule, then
- Proper tone is crucial. feedback must be given calmly. If any emotion is displayed, the feedback is invalid and can be dismissed.
- You must give feedback privately. If you give feedback in front of others, is to commit a serious social transgression. If you cannot protect me from embarrassment, the feedback is invalid, and YOU are the transgressor.
- There must be trust between us. You must trust that I am in no way racist before you can give me feedback on my racism.
- Our relationship must be issue-free- if there are issues between us, you cannot give me feedback on racism until these unrelated issues are resolved.
- You must be as indirect as possible. Directness is insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.
- As a white person, I must feel completely safe during any discussion of race. Suggesting that I have racist assumptions or patterns will cause me to feel unsafe, so you will need to rebuild my trust by never giving me feedback again.
- Highlighting my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience, e.g. classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, transphobia. we will then need to turn out attention to how you oppressed ME.
- You must acknowledge my intentions, always good and agree that my good intentions cancel out the impact of my behavior.
- To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain myself until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.
Functions of White Fragility
- Maintain white solidarity
- Close off self-reflection
- Trivialize the reality of racism
- Silence the discussion
- Make white people the victims
- Hijack the conversation
- Protect a limited worldview
- Take race off the table
- Protect white privilege
- Focus on the messenger, not the message
- Rally more resources to white people.
AS A WHITE PERSON, what can you do instead when someone calls out your biases, assumptions or racism?
- I appreciate this feedback.
- This is very helpful.
- It’s my responsibility to resist defensiveness and complacency.
- This is hard, but also stimulating and important.
- It’s inevitable that I have this pattern. I want to change it.
- I will focus on the message and not the messenger.
- I need to build my capacity to endure discomfort and bear witness to the pain of racism.
- I have some work to do.
Change your assumptions to:
- White comfort maintains the racial status quo, so discomfort is necessary and important.
- Racism hurts and even kills people of color every day. Interrupting it is more important than my feelings, ego or self-image.
- My analysis must be intersectional.
- Nothing exempts me from the forces of racism.
- Given my socialization, it is much more likely that I am the one who doesn’t understand the issue.
- I bring my group’s history with me. history matters.
- The antidote to guilt is action.
- I must not confuse comfort with safety. as a white person. I am safe in discussion of racism.
- Authentic anti-racism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.
- Feedback on white racism is difficult to give, how I am given the feedback is not as relevant as the feedback itself/
- Racism cannot be avoided. All of us are socialized into the system of racism.
- Whites have blind spots on racism, and I have blind spots on racism.
- Racism is complex, and I don’t have to understand every nuance of the feedback to validate that feedback.
When you get caught out, think about how to:
- Minimize our defensiveness.
- Demonstrate our vulnerability.
- Demonstrate our curiosity and humility.
- Allow for growth.
- Stretch our worldview.
- Ensure action.
- Demonstrate that we practice what we profess to value.
- Build authentic relationships and trust.
- Interrupt privilege protecting comfort
- Interrupt internalized superiority.