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White people unwilling combat racism just as guilty

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Gay Naked Gallery White people unwilling combat racism just as guilty.

I recognized myself in it.

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I recognized so many of my white, progressive, and not-so-progressive friends in that small, but potent little phrase. Sociologist and educator Robin DiAngelo, who coined the term, describes the defensive reactions so many white people have when their racial world views are questioned. She offers a clear framework to rely on in moments of confusion, as well as actionable ways to turn my own white privilege from a passive fact White people unwilling combat racism just as guilty something I can actively disassemble with my everyday actions.

The term is meant to capture the defensive reactions so many of us who are white have when our racial world views, positions, identities, or advantages are questioned or challenged. For example, as a white person, I move through the world in racial comfort, with a taken for granted sense of belonging and expectation of racial acceptance.

Now let me be clear: Most white people consider a challenge to our racial world views as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. These responses work to repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.

In this way, white fragility is not weakness per se; it is a powerful means of racial control and the protection of our advantage. Tell us a little bit about the formation of your own racial consciousness. What led you into this work? In terms of my qualifications, I just assumed that my open-mindedness was sufficient. As a result, the federal government had mandated that every employee in the state over 5, people receive 16 hours of diversity training.

I had no idea that I was in for the most profound learning curve of my life. I showed up for the five day train-the-trainer session with 39 other new hires. The challenges began almost immediately.

This was the first time in my life that I had ever talked about race in such a direct and sustained way, and I had never discussed race before in a racially mixed group. My racial paradigm was shaken to the core as the people of color shared their experiences and challenged my limited racial perspective.

Indeed, I had never before realized that I had a racial perspective.

Yes, you can be “racist”...

The contrast between the way my colleagues of color experienced the world and the way I did worked like a mirror, reflecting back to me not only the reality that I had a racial viewpoint, but that it was necessarily limited due to my position in society. The next point on my learning curve began when my co-trainer a black woman and I began leading the workshops.

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I was unprepared for the depth of resistance we encountered in those sessions. The vast majority of the predominantly white employees did not want to be in these workshops. They were openly hostile to us and to the content of the curriculum. Books slammed down on tables, crossed arms, refusal to speak, and insulting evaluations were the norm. This outrage was not based in any racial reality, yet obviously the emotion was real.

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I began to wonder how we managed to maintain that reality. How were we, as white people, able to enjoy so much racial privilege and dominance in the workplace, yet believe so deeply that racism had changed direction to now victimize us?

How do we resist participating in a meaningful way? It may be more useful to think about how to use that privilege to open the door to others. Our voices tend to carry more weight, so how might we use them? For example, breaking with white solidarity and making sure that whenever decisions are to be made that affect the lives of people not at the table, you make sure to get them at the table.

Once they are at the table, listen, believe, make space. And consistently break silence with other white people about racism.

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How do you think about your racial responsibility in this regard? We have to recognize white space as racially active, not neutral or inactive. For example, I ask this reflection question in my workshops: There are three consistent patterns that emerge for white people in answering that question.

First, white people are deeply uncomfortable sub-pattern: Second, it is difficult for us to answer that question with any depth or nuance. I have seen white people not be able to fill 60 seconds in answer to that question. What this reveals is how deeply we associate race with people of color.

If they are not present or we are not referring to them, we believe that there is no race at play. White people often say that since they lived in an all-white neighborhood or rural setting, they know nothing about race. We have to understand that white space is teeming with race. And second, every moment I spend in all-white space I am being reinforced in a white worldview.

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How do we teach our children that it is a loss? This is a very common question I get from white parents, but notice how it turns the lens away from me and presumes that I am not the problem.


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