For too long have white people ignored the discussion of race and actively avoided responsibility to end racism. No, not all white people, but the undeniable majority have clearly taken this path as it is 2019 and America’s culture is still overtly racist, and our systems remain institutionally racist.
While I do believe we live in a morally unjust world, I personally think the majority of white people do not intend to be so hateful and dehumanizing although their actions perpetrate it further. Rather, I believe white fragility is holding too many white people back therefore coming off the opposite of how they intend to, seeming and acting more racist.
White Fragility is 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. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.-Robin DiAngelo
White fragility (DiAngelo, 2018) perpetuates racism. When a white person becomes defensive through white fragility there is no longer a shared, mutual goal of dialogue but an individual path aimed to benefit that individual. While that may balance out in a world where people are genuinely treated and thought of us equal, in a world where we oppress people we consider “others” this pushes the people considered “others” deeper and deeper down the power structure.
For too long have white people been able to maintain doing this by claiming white fragility, by manifesting their guilt of racism into being racist. The shared path is the only way to accomplish a goal that will benefit everyone, and to walk that path requires conversations that you might be uncomfortable in.
This semester, I took part in a research team compiled of students working together for a mutual goal. Our research examined the experiences of students of color at PWI’s, specifically Muhlenberg. Being white and a researcher, this meant I was constantly walking a fine line of saying something that might offend someone because I am not an expert. I am a junior in college, I am white and I am female and the only experience I can say I truly know is my own. But does that mean I am going to not walk that fine line to understand other people’s experiences? Walking that fine line, is walking that path together. At any point in time someone can see another path coming out from your shared one and chose to abruptly take that path, leaving you on your own for a little. Who’s to say those two paths will not merge again though? When I cross the line and offend someone, I could chose to continue walking on my own, or I could walk on my own for a little, reflect, and rejoin the path to the common goal. White people tend to ignore the latter. White people remain defensive through white fragility and continue to walk their individual paths while stones are being thrown and mountains are placed in front of the person of color on the path a mile away who could use your help.
White People: TIME’S UP! Stop avoiding the guilt through defense mechanisms, lean into that guilt. You SHOULD feel guilty, if you do not, you are doing something wrong. Feeling guilty is not something to be embarrassed of, it means you understand you have the power to be feeling guilty. No longer is “being uncomfortable” a valid excuse to choose a path that inherently forces others to suffer and it’s embarrassing that we would ever consider that a valid excuse.
When I did this research, I could have taken the path alone. I could have taken it over as a white space by talking too much. Or, I could have micro-aggressed further by not speaking at all, making it seem as though it is solely the responsibility of people of color to do the work. Instead, I did everything in my power to walk that fine line and share that path. This power isn’t because I’m something special, it has nothing to do with intellect or talent… This “power” that allowed me to share the path is directly correlated to the color of my skin which is a ludicrous reason to have power. However, we unfortunately have trapped ourselves into a maze of individual paths and if more white people used their power to join these paths we might be able to escape the maze all together.
- DiAngelo, R. (2018). White Fragility : Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Beacon Press.
This is a special post in a series authored by students in Professor Wolfe’s Spring 2019 Research Lab. We are studying the experiences of students of color at PWIs.