Friday, December 28, 2018

White Fragility

I just finished White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism, by Robin DiAngelo.

I need this book. I need it to help me talk about race. To help me verbalize what I'm learning about racism. I wanted to share my notes publicly, even if it's hard for white people to read. If you find it difficult, I suggest you pick up this book and read it yourself - I will miss a TON.

We are socialized into different groups - whether we acknowledge this or not. (17)
Race is a social construction - never more prevalent than in the United States.
If we "look white," we are treated as white in society at large. Although our internal identities may be different, if we "pass" as white, we will still have the white experience externally. (18)
All humans have prejudice. Prejudice is pre-judgment about another person based on thoughts and feelings, including stereotypes, attitudes, and generalizations that are based on little or no experience and then are projected onto everyone from that group. (19)
Discrimination is action based on prejudice (ignoring, exclusion, threats, ridicule, slander, violence). Everyone has prejudice, and everyone discriminates. (20)
Racism occurs when a racial group's prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control. This authority and control transforms individual prejudices into a far-reaching system that no longer depends on the good intentions of individual actors; it becomes the default of the society and is reproduced automatically. Racism is a system.  (White men granted suffrage to women, but only granted full access to white women.) (21)
The racial ideology that circulates in the U.S. rationalizes racial hierarchies as the outcome of a natural order resulting from either genetics or individual effort or talent. (21)
The direction of power between white people and people of color is historic, traditional, and normalized in ideology.  Whites hold the social and institutional positions in society to infuse their racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices, and norms of society in a way that people of color do not. ... In the U.S. only whites have the collective social institutional power and privilege over people of color. THIS is racism. (22)
White supremacy = promotes the idea of whiteness as the ideal for humanity.
Who controls our institutions?
White supremacy is more than the idea that whites are superior to people of color; it is the deeper premise that supports this idea - the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm. (33)
White people are defensive, because we have a lack of understanding of implicit bias. (43)
Here I am, today, reading this book in a "good" and "sheltered" community = white community. I am so very privileged. All I see is whites. I belong here. I can go into highly affluent communities and not worry that I don't belong - after all, I'm white. Wherever I go, I am not looked at as a threat or as a criminal. I can teach without worrying about losing my job by saying something "wrong." I am not troubled by racism on a daily (or even weekly or monthly or YEARLY basis). I am free from many burdens - because the color of my skin is white, and society accepts this. (ch 4)

I was actually worried about sharing my thoughts on this book, because of fear of being shunned by fellow white people. There is white solidarity everywhere - no white person wants to cause a stir. That would mean we'd have to TALK about it. Oh, how uncomfortable that would make us. (ch 4)
The "good old days" that white people talk about were only good for white men! (59)
White innocence is NOT an excuse to not talk about race. Just because I grew up segregated (for the most part) from people of color does not mean I haven't benefited from racism. Growing up in segregation (schools, work, social gatherings, places of worship, entertainment, shopping...) reinforces the message that our experiences and perspectives are the only ones that matter. We don't see people of color around us, and few if any adults acknowledge a lack of racial diversity as a problem. In fact, the classification of which neighborhoods are good and which are bad is always based on race. (65)
White people often us color-blind statements or color-celebrated statements to show they are not racist. This only takes race off the table and closes any further exploration. This protects the racial status quo. (78)
Once we understand the power of implicit bias, we know that we must deepen rather than close off further reflection. (81-82)
While it isn't comfortable for most whites to talk about racism, we must do so if we want to challenge - rather than protect - racism. (86-87)
Am I actively seeking to interrupt racism in this context? How do I know? (87)
We've been taught that people of color aren't as smart as white people. We've been taught that they're more violent. We've been taught that it's them vs. us. Yet America was (literally) founded on the backs of black people. White men raped black slaves, only to enslave more. They sold black children. This guilt that whites must have also contributes to anti-blackness.
Anti-blackness is rooted in misinformation, fables, perversions, projections, and lies. (94)
White people are surrounded by protection. We have an insulated environment of racial privilege. We expect racial comfort and become less tolerant of racial stress (she's getting into what white fragility means now). (100)

Random thoughts - Why is it that the government comes down on crack/cocaine users (mostly black) and yet tries to help herion addicts (mostly white)? Jesus is white in my world. Santa Claus is almost always white. (My ignorance shows here - is it because he lives at the North Pole?? Please let me know if this is racism on my part, and help me figure it out.)

I realized what my own response has been when it's been suggested I don't benefit from being white...
Some responses are challenges to objectivity, white taboos on talking openly about race, racial comfort, the expectation that people of color will serve us, white solidarity, white racial innocence, white authority, white centrality, and universalism. My issue? A challenge to meritocracy. I've always thought - I've worked hard to get to where I am. My family wasn't the richest. We lived in what people called "Hangover Park," for goodness sake. Dad was being laid off all the time. We reused paper plates! My white fragility comes when I must acknowledge that access is unequal between racial groups. (104)
When it comes to white solidarity, white protect their positions when challenged by characterizing themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked - all violent actions that are not actually happening. Yet - they're playing on one of the biases we have of people of color - that they're dangerous. Whites claim they are unfairly treated if they're called out on racism!! (109)
Whites can make it so miserable to be confronted - that those "bullying" them will back off, give up, and never raise the issue again - thus supporting the status quo and maintain power and control. (112)
The author asked people of color, "What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?" One reply - "It would be revolutionary." (113) Revolutionary.
When whites act fragile - they are protecting racism. (122)

When it comes to feedback, the author tries to follow these guidelines on page 125:
1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant - it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it's on ME to build my racial stamina.
2. Thank you.

White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad, or you have people of color in your workplace or family, the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided. The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement. Entering the conversation with this understanding is freeing because it allows us to focus on how - rather than if - our racism is manifest. (129)
The more defensive (fragile) we act, we will protect our limited worldview, and stunt our emotional and intellectual growth.  We need to receive feedback on our inevitable but unaware racist patterns, and we may feel gratitude, motivation, humility, compassion, discomfort and guilt that may lead to reflection, apology, seeking more understanding, grappling, engaging, listening, and processing. (141)

Let's try to use these assumptions from pages 142-143 (these are the ones that hit me the most)...

  • Racism is a multilayered system embedded in our culture.
  • Whites have blind spots on racism - I have many blind spots on racism.
  • Racism is complex, and I don't have to understand every nuance of the feedback to validate that feedback.
  • Bias is implicit and unconscious; I don't expect to be aware of mine without a lot of ongoing effort.
  • Giving us white people feedback on our racism is risky for people of color, so we can consider the feedback a sign of trust.
  • Authentic antiracism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.
  • It takes courage to break with white solidarity; how can I support those who do?
  • Racism hurts (even kills) people of color 24-7. Interrupting it is more important than my feelings, ego, or self-image.


Finally, I was looking for WHAT TO DO. It's simple. It will take the rest of my life. Keep learning. Do my homework. How have I managed to not know what to do about racism? I need to get educated. I need to build more relationships with people of color. I need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment. (144)

In a vicious racial cycle, white fragility has functioned to keep people of color from challenging racism in order to avoid white wrath. In turn, not challenging white people on racism upholds the racial order and whites' position within that order. (153)

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