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Book Review: White Fragility–Part II

Blogger’s Note: This is Part II (here’s Part I) in a series of personal reflections on the book: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. While it’s imperative to reread, revisit, and reference the entire book, frequently, I’m citing just a few selections that are especially impacting my life–and continue to enhance my perspective. I’m seeking to grow in a personal, lifelong, learning journey. End Blogger’s Note.

White Fragility.

Just that phrase alone invokes immediate reaction.

What does white fragility really mean, anyway?

Wait–I’m white. Does that mean that I’m fragile?

To answer these questions in context, as the author intended, and only as eloquently, authentically, and comprehensively as the author composed, you’ll have to read the book for yourself. After all, this journey is a personal one. And for me to attempt to add anything, distort perspective, or project personal bias on a fellow reader may not be appropriate.

A better question may be:

What does white fragility look like in action?

This part was especially meaningful for me, and, I hope that it helps to name white fragility as it happens, as well as to clarify some potential misconceptions moving forward.

While capturing just one instance of white fragility in totality is nearly impossible, the author provides a framework to acknowledge phases throughout the process. It’s almost as if this seemingly simple framework is symbolic of a much larger process, as if to encompass one act of racism in centuries of national history and complex systems, for example.

Using the framework of “Feelings, Behaviors, Claims, Assumptions, Functions of White Fragility,” here are “common emotional reactions that white people have when our assumptions and behaviors are challenged” (DiAngelo, 2018, p. 118).

What’s interesting? Try this out…

It seems like you could string together any item from each of these lists to form a sequence or an example of white fragility in action (p. 119-122):

Feelings

  • Singled Out
  • Insulted
  • Attacked
  • Judged
  • Silenced
  • Angry
  • Shamed
  • Scared
  • Guilty
  • Outraged
  • Accused

Behaviors

  • Crying
  • Denying
  • Physically Leaving
  • Focusing on Intentions
  • Emotionally Withdrawing
  • Seeking Absolution
  • Arguing
  • Avoiding

Claims

  • I know people of color.
  • I marched in the sixties.
  • I already know all this.
  • You are judging me.
  • You are elitist.
  • You don’t know me.
  • You are generalizing.
  • This is just your opinion.
  • I disagree.
  • I can’t say anything right.
  • You misunderstood me.
  • The problem is your tone.
  • That was not my intention.
  • You hurt my feelings.
  • I have suffered too.
  • I don’t feel safe.
  • You’re playing the race card.
  • This is not welcoming to me. 
  • You don’t do this the right way.
  • You’re being racist against me.
  • You are making me feel guilty.
  • Some people find offense where there is none.
  • I just said one little innocent thing.
  • The real oppression is class [or gender, or anything other than race]

Assumptions

  • If I am feeling challenged, you are doing this wrong.
  • It’s unkind to point out racism.
  • If I can’t see it, it isn’t legitimate.
  • Racism is simply personal prejudice.
  • There is no problem; society is fine the way it is.
  • My learning is finished; I know all I need to know.
  • White people who experience another form of oppression cannot experience racial privilege.
  • If you have more knowledge on the subject than I do, you think you’re better than me.
  • I am entitled to remain comfortable/have this conversation the way I want to.
  • I have friends of color, so I can’t be racist.
  • If I am a good person, I can’t be racist.
  • My suffering relieves me of racism or racial privilege.
  • How I am perceived by others is the most important issue.
  • I am free of racism.
  • As a white person, I know the best way to challenge racism.
  • Racism is conscious bias. I have none, so I am not racist.
  • I will be the judge of whether racism has occurred.
  • Racism is a simple problem. People just need to…
  • Racists are bad individuals, so you are saying that I am a bad person.
  • If you knew me or understood me, you would know I can’t be racist.
  • My worldview is objective and the only one operating.
  • Racism can only be intentional; my not having intended racism cancels out the impact of my behavior.

Functions of White Fragility

  • Silence the discussion.
  • Take race off the table.
  • Hijack the conversation.
  • Protect a limited worldview.
  • Make white people the victims.
  • Protect white privilege.
  • Focus on the messenger, not the message.
  • Rally more resources to white people.
  • Trivialize the reality of racism.
  • Maintain white solidarity.
  • Close off self-reflection.

For more, see this FREE White Fragility Reader’s Guide:

Chapter 9 (PDF Page 13), Question 4:

  • Now consider the assumptions underlying those claims on p. 121.
  • Which ones have you held?
  • Do you still hold some of these?
  • If so, how do they function for you and what would it mean to you
    to shift them (what do you see yourself as having to “give up”)?

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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