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Book Review: White Fragility–Part III

Blogger’s Note: This is Part III 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.

In Part I, I acknowledged the author’s eloquence in stating the history and context of how race was constructed in the would-be USA over 400 years ago. I cited the challenge that readers, especially white readers like me, may have in processing, accepting, and embracing this lens of our nation’s history. Having these conversations might make some feel uncomfortable–and fragile.

In Part II, I reflected upon the origin, meaning, and portrayal of white fragility. If one wants to know how to identify fragile pieces in the puzzle, clarify misconceptions, or have constructive conversations about race, it’s imperative to know the historical context, traditional system, and everyday examples that perpetuate racism to this day.

Continuing in Part II, I explored how the author illustrated:

What does white fragility look like in action?

I really like how the author framed it here:

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).

Part III

Now that I know what white fragility looks like in action, it’s equally (and all the more) important to know:

What does the undoing of white fragility look like in action? 

“However, from a transformed paradigm, when we are given feedback on our inevitable but unaware racist patterns, we might have very different feelings” (DiAngelo, 2018, p. 141).

Once again, I really like how the author used the same framing technique of “Feelings, Behaviors, Claims, Assumptions, Functions of Interrupting White Fragility and Racism” that were used earlier when identifying what white fragility looks like in action.

Once again, I find this super 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 the undoing of white fragility in action (p. 141-143):

Feelings

  • Gratitude
  • Motivation
  • Excitement
  • Humility
  • Discomfort
  • Compassion
  • Guilt
  • Interest

Behaviors

  • Reflection
  • Apology
  • Grappling
  • Listening
  • Engaging
  • Processing
  • Believing
  • Seeking More Understanding

Claims

  • Oops!
  • I appreciate this feedback.
  • This is very helpful.
  • I have some work to do.
  • This is hard, but also stimulating and important.
  • It’s personal but not strictly personal.
  • It is inevitable that I have this pattern. I want to change it. 
  • It’s my responsibility to resist defensiveness and complacency.
  • I will focus on the message and not the messenger. 
  • I need to build my capacity to endure discomfort to bear witness to the pain of racism.

Assumptions

  • Being good or bad is not relevant.
  • Racism is a multilayered system embedded in our culture. 
  • All of us are socialized into the system of racism. 
  • Racism cannot be avoided.
  • 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. 
  • Whites are/I am unconsciously invested in racism. 
  • 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.
  • Feedback on white racism is difficult to give; how I am given the feedback is not as relevant as the feedback itself. 
  • Authentic anti-racism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.
  • White comfort maintains the racial status quo, so discomfort is necessary and important.
  • I must not confuse comfort with safety; as a white person, I am safe in discussions of racism. 
  • Given my socialization, it is much more likely that I am the one who doesn’t understand the issue.
  • It takes courage to break with white solidarity; how can I support those who do?
  • I bring my group’s history with me; history matters.
  • The antidote to guilt is action.
  • Nothing exempts me from the forces of racism. 
  • My analysis must be intersectional (a recognition that my other social identities–class, gender, ability–inform how I was socialized into the racial system).
  • Racism hurts (even kills) people of color 24-7. Interrupting it is more important than my feelings, ego, or self-image. 

Functions of Interrupting White Fragility and Racism

  • Interrupt internalized superiority.
  • 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.
  • Minimize our defensiveness.

Moving Forward–For Me

While I believe that white people like me can observe, analyze, and even demonstrate frequent progress toward the undoing of racism, I also believe that progressing toward anti-racism is a daily, ongoing challenge. Especially in a system built by white men and specifically designed for white men to succeed, I may never completely arrive as a white person who has fully overcome my own implicit biases that may ultimately resemble racism. Perhaps, it’s the continual willingness to identify, acknowledge, invest, evolve, emerge, and continue moving forward that truly matters. It’s a matter of the heart.

On September 29th, 2019, I tweeted:

“Friends! I’m researching topics of implicit bias, equity, and racism with a few colleagues. What media, resources, or people would you recommend to help us in our journey?”

Now, I understand why this book was the number one recommended resource. Not only is it a book that can change your life forever, yet it’s also a book worth reading, rereading, and sharing with others, frequently.

To all of you who have shared resources, recommendations, and dialogues with me over the years, thank you. Keep ’em coming! I join you in highly recommending White Fragility as a must-read for all, especially for white people in America.

TPSW
The “Problem Solving Wheel” was developed by the Racial Equity Institute, who adopted from DRworks. This version of the image was used with permission from a 2017 workshop entitled “Organizing for Racial Equity” presented by Michael Parker West, Erica Everett, Sharhonda Smith, and Jennifer George.

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