Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team is reading White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo and we will be having a book discussion next week, facilitated by one of our WMWP colleagues. It’s a book on my radar for some time because it has been mentioned so often in so many circles, so to read it knowing we will be discussing it together as a group of teachers is helpful. (DiAngelo, who is white, is a diversity trainer, brought into companies and organizations to confront racism and she brings many stories into the book of how difficult those conversations can be).
It became clear rather quickly that I am a target audience, all the way. White male. Living in a neighborhood that is predominantly white. Grew up in an apartment complex, predominantly white. I teach at a suburban school, predominantly white.
DiAngelo’s book frames such white experiences in a way that makes sense — once you let your defenses down — but it takes courage to step back and see it as it is. Even if we suggest we are open-minded and not racist, her message is that our culture is, inescapably, and therefore, we, the white population with much of the social power and financial capital, bring that history and those societal influences to the table with every single interaction we have.
I appreciated the various ways DiAngelo names these things, such as the defensive reactions that white people have when called out for saying something hurtful, or the excuses white progressives have for why they are not racists, or the way we use “color-blind” as our defense, or the various triggers for white people when race becomes a topic of conversation, and more.
Honestly, I started the book thinking, I won’t see much of myself in there. (And double-honest, this was not my first choice from our list of possible texts — I had hoped we would read the New York Times series about the start of slavery — The 1619 Project) I consider myself rather progressive. I am leader in WMWP, which espouses social justice and works race and equity into our programs. I teach my young white students to question the world. I run a diverse summer camp project in our large urban center. I have my own personal history, in which I was the only white soldier in a military platoon of black soldiers, the outsider for a long time. And on and on.
I was wrong. I saw myself all over the place in White Fragility.
This is her whole point.
If we don’t intentionally notice and own up to our views, we will never make progress, never take forward steps. She suggests that no white person will ever be free of racism — it’s engrained too deep in our society — but that we can make progress in addressing those issues, in making amends when we make mistakes, and in looking deeper at ourselves, not blaming others.
We live in a time — The Time of Trump — when the very issues that she writes about – defensiveness, blaming the other, turning racism around, ignoring the inequities, fear — seems to be on the front page, every day, either overtly or inferential, and on the political stage. with regularity. If Stephen Miller is whispering in your ear and if Breitbart is your alt-right source for news, then the world is skewed and will remain so.
But voting out Trump won’t change the racial currents of our country. Maybe some of DiAngelo’s suggestions can help make a different on a small scale, person to person, and that is ultimately where change can happen. Maybe it starts in our classrooms. Or so we can hope.
Peace (digs deep),