WMWP: Takeaways After Reading ‘White Fragility’

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),

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  1. So much of what I see in her video is the low hanging fruit of racism. I drive by Confederate flags every day on my commute. I live in a state where some of my fellow citizens think that creating ‘sanctuary’ for Second Amendment rights is more important than economic equity and opportunity for all. I am steeped in racism at my university and know that much of what I am doing to dispel it in my own life is an aggravating, discordant struggle against my own biases and blindspot. I know I am more than some old, white, privileged male, yet that is what confronts me from others. As a movement strategy, I am not moved.
    If race is the first thing we notice (or gender or _______), that is forgiveable. If it is the only thing and you can’t get past that, then you are a racist. That’s why I point folks to Daryl Davis (http://loveandradio.org/2014/02/the-silver-dollar/) as proof of concept for the real racial reconstruction infrastructure work that needs doing around me, but I am not sure I am up to the work of confronting my neighbors about their “heritage”. One thing for sure for me–racism is not so entirely invisible to me as DiAngelo insists.
    I don’t say that as some social warrior virtue signaller nor as a privileged white male, but as someone who is a human being first and wants to be seen as someone struggling to be better at being a human being.

    antiracist-ismist: grille ye I loved the BBQ festival. Every summer, 4th of July, we gather on the town square to eat pig and bison and beef and even a little tofu–all BBQ’d. I even love the ‘too-clever-by-half” public service announcer, Dad joke with the call, “Grille ye, grille ye!” So much fun.

    • Thanks for this … I don’t find your comment aggrieved at all … I’m listening now to the Daryl Davis piece, so appreciate the sharing … I have no answers to any of this … I guess I find that we have to be talking about it, but as you note, we have to talk about it not in the abstract (which books like this can sometimes fall into) but in the reality of our varied experiences of the world …

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