Social Justice Book Club: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Hi. My name is Mandy and I am a white lady. Did it make you uncomfortable that I pointed out my whiteness? Talking about race can sometimes feel awkward, especially for white people….but when we don’t talk about how our whiteness works, when we don’t call out problematic racist behavior, when we fail to work towards dismantling institutionalized racism, when we refuse to recognize how we contribute to/benefit from/are complicit in a system that gives white people an immense amount of privilege, we uphold a culture of white supremacy. Inaction is action. Refusing to dismantle racist systems is a way to uphold them. Failing to call out racism when you see it is a way to affirm white supremacy. For too long we have relied on people of color to do the work to dismantle this culture, the culture of white supremacy that we (white people) hold the most power to challenge and change. We have to do better.

Our social justice book club just finished reading White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin DiAngelo. In my opinion, it should be required reading for every white person, but especially for white people who think they are progressive. Often progressives do more damage than good in these efforts because we stop doing the work. We think we are so much better than the conservative white supremacist next door that we are somehow exempt from continuing to do the work. We think we’ve arrived when in reality, we will never “arrive”…we will always have space to grow and learn.

DiAngelo starts by defining white fragility as the racial stress white people feel when their whiteness is named and suggested to have meaning. These emotional responses are born of superiority and entitlement and work to reinstate racial comfort. Our defensiveness, our shame/guilt, they maintain the status quo. They take the emotional and tangible resources that should be spent dismantling racism and pull them back towards us, white people.

DiAngelo then works to name whiteness and make the system and culture of white supremacy visible. Doing this puts the onus of change on white people- the ones with the power and privilege and responsibility to change the systems they often control. DiAngelo then dismantles all the excuses and tools we use to disengage with this work- the claim that we live in a post-racial society, the powerful concept of white solidarity, our commitment to a good/bad binary of racism that we are either a part of or not instead of seeing racism as a system that permeates every area of our lives, our claim that some past action to dismantle racism exempts us from doing the work now, etc. There are so many ways we try to wiggle out of doing this work.

Finally, DiAngelo outlines what white fragility is, how it works, and why it sustains the status quo. Throughout the book, DiAngelo does an artful and nuanced job of showing how white fragility maintains a culture of white supremacy and how we all (white people) are complicit in upholding these systems. She gives us a frame for receiving feedback when we misstep, which is inevitable because of the racist culture we were socialized into. Being able to see and name these experiences empowers readers to disrupt them. In my own life, I have far too often retreated into my privilege and failed to be bold enough in calling out racism when I see it. Occasionally I have been defensive when I should have been grateful that someone was willing to call out a problematic view I had. I made it about me when I should have made it about dismantling racism and white supremacy. I am committed to doing better and continuing to learn. I am committed to being bolder. Will you go on that journey with me?

This is such a great book for everyone, but especially for white people who want to work towards racial justice. Grab a copy. It will challenge you to grow and empower you to act more intentionally and effectively.

Here are other resources I recommend checking out. If there are other resources about dismantling racism and seeing how whiteness works that you recommend, send them my way!

Websites: 

Podcasts: 

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