That it appears to be open season on unarmed black men by law enforcement is only a newsflash to those of us who are white. It has been going on for hundreds of years in this country. Ferguson. Cleveland. Baltimore. These are the most recent incidents that moved this reality out of its jail of marginalization in the Black community. Those of us who are white skinned can no longer say that we do not know. And that fact makes us angry.
Angry as in outrage at injustice. Outrage at our own complicity. Frustration because we do not know what to do or where to start. We are told, “Do the work.” But we do not know what that means.
Angry as Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a Seattle “consultant and trainer for over 20 years on issues of racial and social justice” says, because “white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews…Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement that we are either not consciously aware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We experience a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people.”
How do those words make you feel as you read them? Angry? Angry because our eyes have been opened? Angry and we protest and cry out “But not me!” Yes, you, me, all of us who are white skinned. It is what DiAngelo calls our “white fragility.”
Here’s the thing: racism, personal and institutional, is not comfortable or safe to talk about or own. We can experience paralysis of analysis. The paralysis of guilt. The paralysis of ignorance. The paralysis of not getting it right. The paralysis of being overwhelmed. In the meantime, the system stays intact and destroys everyone’s humanity regardless of color but particularly people of color.
DiAngelo offers the following as antidotes to our white fragility:
- The antidote is not a potion but is rather, “on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education.
- Be willing to tolerate the discomfort associated with an honest appraisal and discussion of our internalized superiority and racial privilege.
- Challenge our own racial reality by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race.
- Attempt to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or unequal relationships.
- Take action to address our own racism, the racism of other whites, and the racism embedded in our institutions—e.g., get educated and act.
We have work to do as white skinned people. That work involves listening to people of color. Read books, blogs, magazines, and articles written by and about what it means to be a person of color. Discuss what you are learning with other white skinned people. Talk about what actions you want to take in regard to racism, both personal and institutional. Be curious, respectful, and open. Do something. Start somewhere. Do the work…