White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo

I enjoyed this book — it’s a worthwhile read and it came to the forefront at an opportune time — but as quickly as it became the “must read” of the moment it came under a ton of criticism from all sides. I’m still not quite sure how this book became so controversial, but a bit of digging lead me to see that bringing in a white woman to lead large scale group conversations on race in a business setting isn’t always appreciated. It seems businesses will hire someone like Diangelo just to “check a box” and also make it seem like they are doing something about race when they might not truly care, and employees might think they are having the topic forced upon them. Another point of contention is the fact that so-called racial equity presentations, and the like, are very big business and Diangelo charges a ton of money for these appearances. I’m not sure I totally buy that part of the argument, but her book does not mince words at all. She has no problem calling out white people for their silence and ignorance, and she also has very little sympathy for white people who think they are being picked on or made to feel guilty for the sins of the past — sins that they themselves would argue they had nothing to do with. And those folks are right, of course, but that misses the point entirely, and Diangelo is here to help get us back on track and make sure we do, in fact, understand what the point of all of this is.

  • Race is a condition
  • Whiteness, however has remained constant
  • Whiteness is the unchanging variable
  • Whiteness, like race, may not be true, but it is reaal
  • Socieities and rights and goods and resources and privileges have been built on its foundation
  • what it means to be american is not what it means to be white, at least not exclusively, or even primarily
  • identity politics refers to the focus on the barriers specific groups face in their struggles for equality
  • critical examination of white identity — a necessary antidote to white fragility
  • Passing = the ability to blend in as a white person, there is no corresponding term for the ability to pass as a person of color
  • the desired direction is always toward whiteness and away from being perceived as a person of color
  • saliency — we all occupy multiple and intersecting social positionalities
  • we haven’t had to build our racial stamina
  • white fragility — born of superiority and entitlement, a powerful means of white racial control and the protection of white advantage
  • defensiveness maintains the racial status quo
  • the way we are taught to define racism makes it virtually impossible for white people to understand it
  • white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color (opinion)
  • race as a social construct has profound significance and shapes every aspect of our lives
  • author was taught not to see myself in racial terms and certainly not to draw attention to my race or to behave as if it mattered in some way (like most white people)
  • silence, defensiveness, argumentation, certitude, and other forms of pushback
  • “I was taught to treat everyone the same” “People just need to be taught to respect one another, and that begins in the home”
  • these statements tend to end the discussion and the learning that could come from sustained engagement
  • western ideologies: individualism and objectivity
  • these ideologies make it difficult for white people to explore the collective aspects of the white experience
  • according to the ideology of individualism, race is irrelevant
  • our understanding of ourselves is necessarily based on our comparisons with others
  • denying that we have biases ensures that we won’t examine or change them
  • patterns are recognized as such precisely because they are recurring and predictable
  • no aspect of society is outside the forces of racism
  • “I am white and I have had X experience, how did X shape me as a result of also being white?”
  • race, like gender, is socially constructed
  • the external characteristics that we use to define race are unreliable indicators of genetic variation between any two people
  • colonizers brought with them deeply internalized patterns of domination and submission
  • jefferson suggested there were natural differences between the races and asked scientists to find them
  • race science was driven by these social and economic interests
  • people asked “Why are blacks (and others) inferior”
  • Coates: But race is the child of racism, not the father
  • Kendi: if we truly believe that all humans are equal, then disparity in condition can only be the result of systemic discrimination
  • from the late 1800’s waves of immigrants entered the US, the concept of the white race was solidified
  • the court stated that being white was based on the common understanding of the white man, people already seen as white got to decide who was white (1922)
  • if we look white, we are treated as this in society at large
  • poor and working class people were not always perceived as fully white
  • poor and working class whites were eventually granted full entry into whiteness as a way to exploit labor — racial divisions have served to keep them from organizing against the owning class who profits from their labor
  • all humans have prejudice — prevailing belief that prejudice is bad causes us to deny its unavoidable reality
  • discrimination is action based on prejudice
  • prejudice always manifests itself in action because the way i see the world drives my actions in the world — everyone has prejudice and everyone discriminates — given this reality, reverse prejudice is nonsensical
  • when a racial groups collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism
  • racism is a structure, not an event
  • women could not grant suffrage to themselves
  • racism is a system
  • racism beings with ideology — frameworks through which we are taught to represent, interpret, understand, and make sense of the social existence
  • superiority of capitalism, democracy as a political system, examples
  • racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society
  • a person of color may refuse to wait on me if I enter a shop, but people of color cannot pass legislation that prohibits me and everyone like me from buying a home in a certain neighborhood
  • only whites have the collective soil and institutional power and privilege over people of color
  • people of color are confined and shaped by forces and barriers that are not accidental, occasional or avoidable
  • racism as a system of advantages based on race
  • these advantages are referred to as white privledge
  • whiteness as property — exertnal object of property, moving whiteness from privileged identity to a vested interest
  • to examine whiteness is to focus on how racism elevates white people
  • whiteness, the foundational premise: definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as the deviation from that norm
  • color based celebrations take whites out of the equation
  • “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play baseball.”
  • white history is the norm for history
  • whiteness as multidimensional — location of structural advantage, a standpoint from which white people look at ourselves, at others, and at society, and a set of cultural practices that are not named or acknowledged
  • dimensions of racism benefiting white people are usually invisible to whites
  • white supremacy in this context — overarching political, economic, and social system of domination
  • circulated globally
  • idea of whiteness as the ideal for humanity well beyond the west
  • The Racial Contract — Charles Mills, peoples of Europe to assert, promote and maintain the ideal of white supremacy in relation to all other people of the world
  • brings into existence whites and non whites, full persons and sub persons
  • white supremacy is never named — invisible while other political systems are identified and studied
  • failure to acknowledge white supremacy protects is from examination and holds it into place
  • sociopolitical economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefits those defined and perceived as white
  • originated the west, circulates globally
  • Atwater — “Southern Strategy” appeal to the racism of white southern voters without pronouncing it openly
  • describes the culture we live in — definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color from the deviation of that norm
  • if we name it, it makes the system visible and shifts the locus of change onto white people, where it belongs
  • white racial frame — how whites circulate and reinforce racial messages that position whites as superior
  • pieces of cultural information, one generation to the next
  • people of color recall a sense of always having been aware of color while most white people real being aware by at least age 5
  • sesame street told me explicitly that all people were equal, but we simply do not live together across race
  • children learn that it is taboo to openly talk about race — and they learn that people should pretend not to notice undesirable aspects that define some people as less valuable than others
  • new racism — modern norms, policies and practices result in similar racial outcomes as those in the past, while not appearing to be explicitly racist
  • racism can still exist because it is highly adaptive
  • color blind racism — if we pretend not to notice race, then there can be no racism
  • civil rights act was passed and it was less acceptable for white people to admit racial prejudice
  • King’s famous line was seized on to pretend we don’t see race and racism will end
  • not noticing race denies reality, and keeps those insular and unchallenged
  • racial bias is largely unconscious, and defensiveness eases upon any suggestion of racial bias
  • lack of understanding about implicit bias leads to averse racism
  • manifestation of racism that well intentioned people who see themselves as educated and progressive are more likely to exhibit
  • holding deep racial disdain that surfaces in daily discourse but not being able to admit it because the disdain conflicts with our self image and professed beliefs — aversive racism
  • Morrison — race talk is the explicit insertion into every day life of racial signs and symbols that have no meaning other than postioning african americans iinto the lowest level of the racial hierarchy
  • us and them
  • whites believe that people of color and blacks in particular are dangerous
  • aversive racism only protects racism because we can’t challenge our racial filters if we can’t consider the possibility that we have them
  • white children develop a sense of white superiority as early as preschool
  • we are socially penalized for challenging racism
  • underlying foundation of white fragility — how being white shapes our perspectives, experiences, and responses
  • in virtually every situation or context deemed normal, neutral or prestigious in society, i belong racially
  • white people don’t have to worry about how others feel about my race, nor do i worry that my race will be held against me
  • people of color lack these benefits because they are racialized within a culture of white supremacy in which they are seen as inferior
  • all places i perceive as beautiful are open to me racial, and my expectation is that i will have a pleasant and relaxing experience there
  • any representation of human is based on white peoples norms and images — Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary
  • white solidarity = racial bonding
  • we chose silence as we want to be liked/silence is not benign and protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it
  • a romanticized past is strictly a white construct — the good ol days
  • internalized sense of superiority and entitlement and the sense that any advancement for people of color is an encroachment on this entitlement
  • positions went largely unchallenged in the past
  • it has not been african americans who resist integration efforts, always whites
  • we position ourselves as innocent of race, we are not required to take similar cross racial risks
  • they, not we, have race and thus they are the holders of racial knowledge
  • for most whites, the percentage of men of color in a neighborhood is directly correlated with perceptions of the neighborhood crime level
  • when people of color go before a judge, the crime is atributed to something internal — more prone to, more animalistic, less capacity or remorse
  • racism is something that happens to people of color and has nothing to do with us and that we consequently cannot be expected to have any knowledge of it
  • requires nothing of us and reinforces unequal power relations by asking people of color to do our work
  • disregards how often people of color have indeed tried to tell us what racism is like for them and how often they have been dismissed
  • of all racial groups, whites are most likely to choose segregation and are the group most likely to be in the social and economic position to do so
  • for upwardly mobile whites from the lower classes, reaching forward the most valuable places in society usually means leaving friends and neighbors of color behind
  • most profound messages of racial segregation may be that the absence of color in our lives is no real loss
  • we are taught we lose nothing of value through racial segregation
  • my pyshococial development was inculcated in a white supremacy culture in which i am the superior group
  • good/bad binary
  • after civil rights movement, you could not be a good person and participate in racism; only bad people were racists
  • mean, ignorant, old, uneducated, southern whites
  • deflecting the charge, rather than reflecting on the behavior
  • impossible for the average white person to understand or interrupt racism
  • for most whites, racism is like murder — someone has to commit it in order for it to happen
  • affected by the forces of racism as a member of a society in which racism is the bedrock
  • focus on individual incidences masks the personal, interpersonal, cultural, historical, and structural analysis that is necessary to challenge the larger system
  • if i am not racist, what further action is required of me?
  • “i don’t see color therefore i am free of racism; i know people of color, therefore i am free of racism; rests on the good/bad binary — ends the discussion
  • color celebrate — set claims the person sees and embraces the racial difference (I work in a diverse environment) — exempts person from responsibility for or participation in the problem
  • race is off the table, they close any further exploration
  • if working near people of color is the evidence that distinguishes them from a racist, then evidently a racist cannot work near people of color
  • conscious intolerance — a racists is someone who presumably cannot tolerate even the sight of a person of color
  • not possible to treat everyone the same — humans are not objective — people have different needs and different relationships with us
  • most black people eye roll at the distinction of “i don’t see color” — denial and invalidation
  • cross racial friendships do not block out the dynamics of racism in a society at large, and these dynamics continue unabated
  • no person of color has said that racism isn’t in play in his or her friendships with white people
  • silence is one of the ways that racism is names, for it is an imposted silence
  • “I was taught to treat everyone the same” — humans cannot be 100 percent objective/implicit bias
  • “I marched in the 60's” — they see racial learning as finished, how many white people who marched in the 60’s had authentic cross racial relationships?
  • white people are in the position to oppress people of color collectively and throughout society — a poor white kid in an all black school might experience race prejudice and discrimination, not racism
  • “my parents taught me not to be racist”- however you definer racism it benefits white people — a racism free upbringing is not possible because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and it’s institutions
  • cannot be free of prejudice
  • ideally, we would teach our children how to recognize and challenge prejudice, rather than deny it
  • “children today are so much more open” — children are vastly more sophisticated in their awareness of racial hierarchies than most people believe — children internalize both implicit and explicit messages about it from their environment
  • older children also have prejudice but sometimes hide it when a white adult is present
  • “race has nothing to do with it” — we represent our groups and those who have come before us — out identities are not unique or inherent but constructed or prejudiced based on social processes — on some level, race is always at play
  • “focusing on race is what divides us” — denial is a fundamental way in which white opepole maintain unequal racial power
  • unequal power relations cannot be challenged if they are not acknowledged
  • we must do so if we want to challenge, rather than protect, racism
  • i am not in a fixed position on the continuum — am i actively seeking to interrupt racism in this context? how do I know?
  • white people must suspend our perception of ourselves as unique and/or outside race
  • discuss white people as a group
  • `anti blackness is foundational to our very identities as white peole
  • there was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of africans
  • blackness is essential of the creation of white identity
  • people of color have been discriminated against in hiring since the ending of enslavement and into the present
  • affirmative action is a tool to ensure that qualified minority applicants are given the same employment opportunities as white people
  • white women have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action, corporations are more likely to favor white women and immigrants of color from elite backgrounds from outside the us when choosing their executives — AA only applies to state and government agencies
  • majority of whites do not want to integrate with blacks
  • anti blackness comes from deep guilt about what we have done and continue to do
  • compassion toward white people who are addicted to opiates and the call to provide them with services verses the mandatory sentencing perpetuating against those addicted to crack
  • existence of blacks provides the needed other against which whites may rise
  • we are capable and guilty of perpetuating immeasurable harm and that our gains come through the subjugation of others
  • the trigger for white rage is black advancement
  • The Blind Side — Oher could be saved from the terrors of his own black community through the benevolence and bravery of a white family
  • film is fundamentally and insidiously anti black
  • educational programs where white responses include anger, withdrawal, emotional incapacitation, guilt, argumentation, and cognitive dissonance
  • habitus — predictability of white response to having our racial positions challenged — result of socialization, repetitive practices of actors and their interactions with each other and with the rest of their social environment
  • persons familiar ways of perceiving interpreting and responding to social cues around him or her
  • Field — specific social context the person is in — a party workplace, school
  • Capital — social value people hold in a particular field, how they perceive themselves, and are perceived by others in terms of their power or status
  • Habitus — persons internalized awareness of his or her status, as well as responses to the status of others
  • when disequilibrium occurs in habitus, we use strategies to regain our balance
  • white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress in the habitus becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves
  • white fragility restores equilibrium and returns the capital “lost” via the challenge
  • white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear as early as preschool
  • white peoples moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging their complicity with it
  • self defense — whites characterize themselves as victimized, blamed, slammed and attacked
  • talking about race in a world that insists that race does not matter — white people are unprepared to explore, even on a preliminary level, their racial perspectives and to work to shift their understanding of racism
  • perpetuates a cycle that keeps racism in place
  • white fragility functions as a form of bullying to make it miserable for you to confront me no matter how diplomatically you try to do so, you will back off, give up and never raise the issue again
  • if we could receive, reflect and work to challenge our behavior
  • dominate worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism
  • with so many aspects of racism, we rarely examine or consider them problematic
  • functions of white fragility — maintain white solidarity, close off self reflection, trivialize the reality of racism, silence the discussion, make white people the victims, hijack the conversation, protect a limited worldview, take race off the table, protect white privledge, focus on the messenger, not the message, rally more resources to white people
  • block any entry point for reflection and engagement, block ability to repair a racial breach
  • protect racism
  • only way to give feedback to white people without triggering white fragility is to not give it at all (her view as a teacher)
  • white fragility punishes the person giving the feedback and press them back into silence — also maintains white solidarity, agreement that we will protect white privledge and not hold each other accountable for our racism
  • here is the feedback I want and need — thank you
  • white fragility is also evidenced in the need for so many white people progressives to build trust before they can explore racism in workshops, support groups, and other educational forums
  • building trust = don’t judge, don’t make assumptions, assume good intentions, speak your truth, respect — problem with each of these guidelines when trying to teach to white folks
  • guidelines driven by white fragility accommodations to coddle white fragility
  • for people of color the racial status quo is hostile and needs to be interpreted, not reinforced
  • conditions reproduce the weight of racism that people of color must constantly carry — putting aside their own needs to focus on white needs
  • antidote to white fragility is build up our stamina to bear witness to the pain for racism that we cause, not to impose conditions that require people of color to continually validate our denial
  • kindness is combined with clarity and the courage to name and challenge racism
  • ubuiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided
  • how rather than if our racism is manifest
  • stoping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them
  • white tears — all the ways that white fragility manifests itself through white peoples laments over how hard racism is on US
  • felt moved to tears, they should please leave the room (what she said in a training)
  • tears are rein scribing rather than ameliorating racism
  • emotions shaped by our biases and beliefs, our cultural frameworks
  • emotions are a result of the frameworks we are using to make sense of social relations
  • historical backdrop of black men being tortureed and murdered because of white womans distress, we bring these histories with us
  • our tears trigger terrorism — Emmitt Till — when a white woman cries, a black man gets hurt
  • when a white woman cries attention immediately goes to her, demanding time and energy and attention from everyone in the room when theyshuld be focus on ameliorating racism
  • “Imagine first responders at a scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person who car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street”
  • white men retain control of the discussion end the challenge to their positions and reassert their dominance
  • have to get racially uncomfortable
  • guilt functions as an excuse for inaction
  • tears function as impotent reflexes that don’t lead to constructive action
  • “we are abused daily, beaten, rapes and killed but you are sad and that’s what’s important”
  • white women have been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action
  • how our racism manifests, not if
  • I appreciate the feedback/I have some work to d
  • if my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated
  • take the initiative and find out on your own
  • own your racism
  • admit your behavior can be offensive
  • rare for white people to own and repair our inevitable patterns of racism — relationships with white people tend to be less authentic for people of color
  • information offerred to us for decades — our own lack of interest or motivation that has prevented us from receiving it
  • when we engage with the feedback and seek to repair the breach, the relationship deepens
  • I am responsible for my role in it
  • continuous work of identifying internalized superiority and how it may be manifesting itself is liberating
  • strive to be less white — to be less white is to be less racially oppressive
  • open to, interested in, compassionate toward the racial realities of people of color
  • break with white silence, and white solidarity, stop priledging the comfort of white pool over the pain of racism for people of color, break with past guilt and into action
  • affirm and persons perspective before i share mine and when I do share mine , try to point the finger inward, instead of outward
  • actions are driven by my own need for integrity, not a need to correct or change someone else
  • ask my friends of color to trust that I can handle their feedback
  • pressure on people of color — they don’t share their pain with us because we can’t handle it
  • niceness will not get racism off the table
  • interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality
  • never consider ourselves finished with our learning

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.