“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”
Upon ordering Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s newest publication back in May, entitled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, I was inspired to pick up her extremely popular and successful first book. While I plan to write a blog on her newest title in the near future, I firstly want to recognize how exceptional and vital White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is to our country’s ongoing dialogue about and understanding of race.
Published back in 2018 and a staple of antiracist literature, this book approaches racism from a sociological perspective, considering the ways in which racism is so engrained in our culture, practices, and institutions that we, as participants of this culture, cannot possibly avoid it. When faced with this notion of inevitably being influenced by a racist culture, DiAngelo contends many white people are quick to put up their defenses, responding with anger and shame, as well as feeling attacked or insulted. She explains this common knee-jerk reaction is primarily due to the very narrow definition of racism that our society perpetuates; while many perceive racism as overt and intentional racist acts committed by immoral and unkind individuals, she asks readers to consider a broader context in which everyone engages with and acts upon unconscious biases, which stem from the simple act of partaking in a shared culture that is founded upon white racial frameworks.
Upon presenting this much-needed context, DiAngelo then goes on to identify the common responses and reactions of white people in the face of racial discomfort as “white fragility.” Drawing from her 20+ years of experience as a consultant, educator, and facilitator on issues of racial and social justice, she details how these reactions manifest and how white people often find ways to distance themselves from racial issues, thereby exempting themselves from conversations about race. Furthermore, she argues this fragility essentially inhibits individuals from participating in productive and empathetic conversations in which they recognize and accept their roles and responsibility in perpetuating the systemic racism in the United States today, whether intentionally or not.
One especially powerful passage I’d like to share is DiAngelo’s explanation of a metaphor she cited that describes the “interlocking forces of oppression.” In this analogy, she compares a white person’s worldview of racism to viewing a bird in a birdcage. If a viewer stands close to the cage and views the bird through the bars, they aren’t actually able to see the bars of the cage holding the bird in; consequently, the bird looks as if it can fly away whenever it pleases. As the viewer moves back from the cage, they may start to see one or two bars of the cage and think that, while there are some barriers, the bird could just simply fly around them. Upon backing all the way up, however, the viewer can see all of the bars intersecting one another, ultimately barring the bird from escaping the cage. This metaphor, therefore, affirms that in order to truly understand the pervasive existence and profound impact of racism on our society, we must take multiple steps back to see the whole picture.
All in all, this book is incredibly eye-opening and illuminates how white people unconsciously continue to play a role in perpetuating racism, even when they don’t intend to. DiAngelo calls us all to action, stressing that we can no longer exempt ourselves from our white collective identity and say that this isn’t our problem. Rather, she maintains this is very uniquely our problem and that, whether we like it or not, we must carry our history with us and actively work to improve equitability and social justice in our society by engaging in lifelong acts of antiracism.
*Disclaimer: From the get-go, DiAngelo recognizes her privilege of being a white woman writing this book. While some readers may want to discount her work because of this status, I highly recommend giving her a chance. She has extensive experience and a unique perspective as a diversity educator, while also never pretending to have all the answers.
This title is also available in the following formats: