Confronting White Fragility
Upholding White Fragility perpetuates a racist environment in the United States. The collective inability of white America to comprehend the perspectives of People of Color results in the resistance to bridge racial divides. White Fragility is ingrained in institutions and belief systems, which is a downfall of our collective experience. White people need to fully understand their privilege and value a variety of perspectives to combat racism.
Although White Fragility has always been prominent in our society, the term was coined in 2011 by Dr. Robin DiAngelo. Please refer to Dr. DiAngelo’s journal (White Fragility) and her book (White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism) for a deeper understanding of the topics discussed in this blog post.
White Fragility is defined by Dr. DiAngelo as, “an insulated environment of racial protection that build whites’ expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress.” She furthers explains that White Fragility results in a variety of different defensive actions that are caused by even a small amount of racial stress. Undesirable reactions such as anger and emotional incapacitation lead to avoiding addressing racism. Much needed conversation centered on racism is hindered by a lack of racial stamina.
Racism is not isolated to a single instance of prejudice and it is defined by Whiteness Scholars as “encompassing economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between white people and People of Color.” A racist environment cultivates unequal distribution of benefits in favor of white people and normalizes white privilege.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo details White Fragility triggers, which occur when white individuals are asked to engage with a racial disparity. A challenge to meritocracy occurs with the acknowledgement of a disparity between racial groups. A challenge to white liberalism is when a statement or behavior is recognized as racism. Triggers can prompt unwanted emotional and even confrontational responses. When triggers arise, there is a dangerous possibility that white people will fail to respond constructively.
Dr. DiAngelo outlines factors that result in White Fragility including Universalism and Individualism. White people understand their perspectives as representative of the collective human experience. This is detrimental to marginalized communities because white people do not recognize or understand the vast impacts of structural oppression on People of Color. Even when white people believe their interests and perspectives are universal, they simultaneously see themselves as individuals instead of part of a racial social group. Therefore, white people do not address their own racial biases because they declare themselves as unique, when truly they perpetuate a racist environment that protects white privilege.
Personal experiences of White Fragility are found throughout Austin Channing Brown’s book (I’m Still Here, Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness). In her chapter about White Fragility she powerfully expresses that, “Sadly, it’s all too common for qualified Black women to find themselves facing off with white ignorance. White men have yelled at me in defensiveness, challenged the entirety of my talks, and simply ignored me as if I don’t exist, gathering all their privilege like a shield. Beneath the volatility, combativeness, white people become disturbed because they often can’t fathom black people having something important to teach them about themselves and about the world.” Channing’s encounters with White Fragility are damaging and all to common in the lives of People of Color.
White people must address their privilege in order to end a perpetual cycle of racism. When white people retreat from challenging issues around race, racism persists and People of Color are continually harmed. White people need awareness of White Fragility to ultimately unearth and address problems at the root.
Ayana understands the importance of recognizing a racist culture and directly combats sources and symptoms of racism through empowerment. Ayana empowers People of Color through online therapy that reflects their individualized values and experiences. Conversations relating to race should be invited because it is a key component of identity.