White Fragility By Don M. Dumas
Welcome to the third post in our guest blog series. This article is by Don Dumas (@don_dumas) A high school history teacher, with a Master's Degree in Secondary Education.
This is a post about race and racism. Particularly, this post is about “whiteness” in the United States. Go ahead, roll your eyes. Scroll right on past this. This is getting old, right? Can we just get over the whole “race” thing?
Yes. I’m glad you feel that way. These are the exact responses that I am going to address. You see, many of you white people are in denial. And it is you who I am addressing in this post.
And this post is long—probably too long for you to read. You cannot read/discuss/think about race for longer than two seconds because it makes you feel uncomfortable. You suffer from white fragility.
If you respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”, you suffer from white fragility.
If you say things like, “I don’t see color. We are all human beings in my eyes,” you suffer from white fragility.
If you think because you are a poor or middle class white person, then white privilege doesn’t exist, you suffer from white fragility.
If you think that the U.S. is strictly a meritocracy, and that racism only exists in individual acts of “meanness” (which you don’t commit, so you’re one of the good guys, right?), and that if everyone would just work harder, they will have the same opportunities as anyone else, you suffer from white fragility.
The term “white fragility” was coined by Dr. Robin DiAngelo. She defines ‘white fragility’ as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”
Are you refusing to read any further? That is you “leaving the stress-inducing situation.”
Now that we understand the term, let us discuss white fragility as it applies to the things I see on my news-feed.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded because of the numerous cases of black people being murdered, yet their murderers did not face justice. Some times the murderers were police officers, some times they were private citizens. The killings were bad enough, but it was the escape from justice that gave birth to the BLM movement. The term “black lives matter” should be clear in light of these circumstances.
The term is a plea to the American power structure. It asks, quite simply, for the nation to see our humanity; see that we are human beings; that we are valuable; that we, too, are Americans. We are your brothers and sisters. We are not expendable.
It is actually quite magnanimous—as in NOT vindictive. It was a plea for compassion from the rest of society. It most definitely was not a claim of black superiority, or an attempt to elevate black lives above any other lives.
But some of you couldn’t deal with that. Fox News told you that the people involved in the BLM organization were violent, dangerous, separatists, militant. And you bought it because you’re racist.
Not racist in a way that you would call a black person an n-word, but racist in the fact that because the participants in BLM are young, black, and angry, it was feasible in your mind that this group was dangerous; this group was part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
When you discount the ‘black lives matter’ mantra by responding with, “All Lives Matter”, you believe you are speaking from a position of racial refinement. You think you have cultivated your sense of racial perspective to the point of harmonious enlightenment. ‘You don’t see color’, right?
No. You are wrong. You are deflecting from the issue, which is a classic response from
someone suffering from white fragility.
To respond to ‘black lives matter’ with ‘all lives matter’ is to be in denial. Denying that black people in the U.S. suffer disproportionately from all of our social ills (poverty, discrimination, police brutality, etc.) can only be the result of two things: 1) living with your head in the sand or, 2) suffering from the typical white fragile symptom that makes you believe history has no impact on the present.
Claiming not to see color, for one thing, is a bold-faced lie. But more than that, it insults people of color. You see, part of having white privilege is the ability to claim race neutrality. You get to say that “you don’t see color”, and there are no negative consequences to having that stance. That is a privilege. Do you ever notice that the overwhelming majority of the people who use the phrase “I don’t see color” are white? Why is that?
It’s like that because people of color HAVE to be aware of color. In many cases, it is a matter of life and death.
When you say you don’t see color, you are denying that a person’s color impacts the way they have to navigate our society. Being white, you don’t have to consider these things. Failing to acknowledge it is another manifestation of white fragility because it threatens your race neutrality. Acknowledging it puts you in the privileged class and, perhaps you feel guilty that you benefit from living in a racial society.
You cannot make a plea for “all of us getting along”, and then deny the real experiences of people of color when they are shown to you. You cannot claim to want to see racism come to an end, and then when presented with data confirming systemic racism, look for non-racist explanations for the problems.
Here are some of those explanations I have seen on my newsfeed:
“What about black-on-black crime?”
“How about not breaking the law?”
“Just comply and everything will be fine.”
“It’s a black culture thing; they have a criminal culture.”
“Black people don’t value education.”
“Absentee fathers is the real issue.”
“If they had a job they wouldn’t have time to protest in the streets.”
All of these explanations do not EXPLAIN racial outcomes, the are the RESULTS of systemic racism.
What you must admit is that this society was organized along white supremacist lines. The laws, the courts, the banks, the schools, were all created during a time of blatant white supremacy. The institutions in this country were built by white people and designed to maintain white supremacy. There have been changes to our laws and to our schools, but most of these laws go unenforced. That’s the truth.
I am not going to make this post any longer by giving the historical data that proves how our laws, courts, banks, religious institutions, schools, etc. are racist. If you don’t believe me, or don’t see how that affects our society now, I’ll explain upon request.
For now, I will just say that we are all conditioned at an early age to view whiteness as “normal”, “to be aspired to”, and “good”. An honest reflection of your lived experience should confirm this.
I could go on and on, but I’m going to wrap this up, because I have things to do today.
So where do we go from here?
First, if you’re white and don’t want to live in a white supremacist society, you have to change your thought patterns and your behavior.
Stop trying to be race-neutral. Stop thinking that you can determine whether or not racist actions have taken place, and that your whiteness lends credibility to your conclusions.
When people of color tell you about the racism they’re facing, don’t let your first response be denial. Don’t let your mind think of things that the person of color could have done to prevent the situation. That is a racist’s response. If you claim you aren’t a racist, then work harder at not being one. Remember: racism is a white problem, not a person of color problem. We are the victims of racism, not the perpetrators. Solutions to racism must be implemented in the white community, not communities of color.
The next thing you need to do is challenge racism when you see it. I know when white people are alone, sometimes one of them might say or do racist things, because many white people have told me such. Challenge them. Don’t let it slide. No matter how uncomfortable you might be, confront racism at every turn. It could be your friend, a member of your family, a co-worker; it doesn’t matter. They must be confronted.
Lastly, do more to integrate our society. Just because you have a black co-worker, and you joke together, that does not mean that you can’t be racist (the old, ‘I have black friends’ line). When was the last time a black person ate at your dinner table? When was the last time you ate at a black person’s dinner table? Do your children have black playmates? Have they spent the night at their house? Have the black friends spent the night at yours? How much do you REALLY socialize with people of color?
If you do socialize with people of color, and you recognize their humanity, apply that to the people of color you don’t know. Don’t allow yourself to think, “Why can’t they all be like [my friend]? If they all behaved like [my friend], we wouldn’t have these problems.”
Guess what? Those people of color that you don’t know ARE just like your friend.
In fact, we are all alike. We all share the same goals in life, more or less. We all want to be free. We all want to safe. We all want to be happy.
If we want our society to operate in a way that allows ALL people to fulfill their life goals, you must stop pretending that society already exists.
Because it doesn’t.
-Don M. Dumas, San Diego, California, July 15, 2016