Note: I wrote this post a while ago. March of 2019 actually. I had it almost finished, more finished than any other post in my draft folder. But then I let it sit there for over a year. I don’t fully remember why I didn’t post it, (partly because I still struggle to write book reviews that are more than quotes and am insecure about my writing abilities in general), but I am sure it mostly had to do with a fear of making people uncomfortable. A fear of mixing business with my personal views. Fears that show how much growth I still need to do. Because to be honest, if I can’t express things as important as this, if I can’t stand up for the issues I think are important, then why do I even have a blog? Why do I even want to have a public platform?
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
This is for George Floyd. This is for Breonna Taylor. This is for Ahmaud Arbery. This is for Eric Garner. This is for Trayvon Martin. This is for Tamir Rice. This is for Terence Crutcher. This is for Michael Brown. This is for Emmett Till.
This is because we have all been Amy Cooper at some point, to some degree, whether we think we have or not.
This is hoping for growth, for honest conversation, for learning. This is hope for a better tomorrow.
“Action is hope. There is no hope without action.”
The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort.
What is this?
I read a book.
And I chose this book because of a problem.
It is not a problem that inconveniences me, or makes my life more difficult. In fact, it is a problem that makes my life easier. It is a problem I don’t have to confront if I don’t want to, something I can avoid. It’s a problem that millions of Americans are affected by and I am part of it. No matter how ‘good my intentions are’ I am part of the problem. And if you’re reading my little blog, you probably are too.
“In light of the challenges raised here, I expect that white readers will have moments of discomfort reading this book. This feeling may be a sign that I’ve managed to unsettle the racial status quo, which is my goal. The racial status quo is comfortable for white people, and we will not move forward in race relations if we remain comfortable. The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider the possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?
(White Fragility, page 14, emphasis mine)
Well, if you read that quote, you now know that the problem I was referring to is racism and the book I read is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. If you read that quote and are still here, well that’s already an achievement. Because let’s be honest: talking about race and racism makes us white people incredibly uncomfortable. We prefer to think that because we are good people, or that because ‘my best friend is black,’ we get a pass from this conversation. Real talk: those excuses are part of the problem.
Now, if you would rather click off my blog right now to go buy (or check out from a library) a copy of White Fragility to read yourself, I would not be offended in the least. In fact, I encourage that: Go! ⇒ here or here or here ⇐
But, if you would rather read some more of my summary first (and hear why I think this is such a crucial book) then please, continue on:
What’s all the fuss about?
This is corny, so just bear with me: You know when you’re a kid (or an adult) and someone asks you: if you could have a superpower, what would you choose? Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to actually see waves of sound or infrared light? Or to be able to discover once and for all if spirits and ghosts are floating among us? To have the superpower that allows you to see the things that are normally invisible to us? Well, I honestly feel like that’s what this book allowed me to do. It has helped me to begin to see the things that I do (or don’t do), the ways the I think, and the emotions that I feel that make me complicit with racism in America. Things that were virtually invisible to me prior to reading this book.
And that’s part of why I am writing this post… I want you to feel that too. I want us to start having these discussions and to be aware of the ways we are harming our fellow humans, regardless of our intentions.
I have wanted to learn more about this topic for a while but 1. didn’t know where to begin, 2. was scared to find out if I have intentionally been a part of this problem and this pain (now I know it’s not if, but how), and 3. I just wasn’t prioritizing it. And that’s a huge part of the issue. We can get away with not prioritizing learning more about racism. We can get away with not talking about it. And actually, in a lot of contexts we are subtly rewarded for not talking about it.
“Many of us can relate to the big family dinner at which Uncle Bob says something racially offensive. Everyone cringes but no one challenges him because nobody wants to ruin the dinner. Or the party where someone tells a racist joke but we keep silent because we don’t want to be accused of being too politically correct and be told to lighten up… All these familiar scenarios are examples of white solidarity… The very real consequences of breaking white solidarity play a fundamental role in maintaining our white supremacy.” (58)
*gasp* What?! White supremacy?! That only exists in the KKK (and on certain far right media outlets…) Well, fun fact: it doesn’t. Robin
(Also, side note: That was a quote from the book. I have a real life Uncle Bob and I don’t need anyone thinking I’m specifically naming names. Plenty of drama available without me accidentally starting more.)
The back of the book summarizes it like this: “Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility. Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth examination, DiAngelo explores how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.”
A very accurate summary indeed!
In the Beginning
In the beginning, there was no race. There were just people. Sure, they were from different places and had different skin tones, but the concept of race did not exist.
“Race is a social construction…” (18)
DiAngelo goes into detail about this fact, briefly explaining some of the things our history books never taught us. (For more information skimmed over by our history books, check out The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I am still working my way through this one, but it is filled with crazy-important information about mass incarceration in America and its connection to the war on drugs, systemic racism, and the history of the USA.)
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism
The book contains the definition of the words prejudice, discrimination, and racism, the distinctions between them, and which ones are unavoidable. (It seems like it should be pretty obvious, but I didn’t know this information until I read this book!) It explains why everyone these days keeps saying that “racism is a systemic issue.”
“People of color may also hold prejudices and discriminate against white people, but they lack the social and institutional power that transforms their prejudice and discrimination into racism…” (22)
Why read this book? Or others like it, when you have a friend or colleague of color you could ask about it?
I don’t need to read a book! I can just talk to my friends of color about this stuff. They’ll surely tell me everything I need to know. Besides, they should be the ones telling me about it, not some white author!
For a long time I thought this too. I thought it would be helpful for them to talk about these topics, to get to finally express their thoughts on the matter. I thought I was providing a door for open conversation. That I was being a woke white person, an open-minded liberal, a thoughtful and conscious friend. And regardless of my intentions, all of that false. So incredibly, embarrassingly false. Here’s a quote explaining why:
“The expectation that people of color should teach white people about racism is another aspect of white racial innocent that reinforces several problematic racial assumptions. First, it implies that 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. This framework denies that racism is a relationship in which both groups are involved… Second, this request requires nothing of us and reinforces unequal power relations by asking people of color to do our work. There are copious resources available on the subject generated by people of color who are willing to share the information; why haven’t we sought it out before this conversation? Third, the request ignores the historical dimensions of race relations. It 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.)” (64)
DiAngelo devotes the final chapter of her book to the question ‘Where do we go from here?’ She gives a great balance of some practical steps as well as some more conceptual answers to that question. For the sake of brevity, and to encourage you to read the entire book, I’m going to skip the specifics… but I assure you, that seeing these issues and approaching these topics with openness, curiosity, and humility is a huge first step.
And So Much More
What I talked about here is only the tip of the iceberg. (I could only quote so much… I don’t want to infringe on copyright! Otherwise I would totally share the whole thing right here!)
In addition to the topics I touched on, DiAngelo explains why this statement (“He’s not a racist. He is a really nice guy.”) is flawed and based on a false dichotomy. She talks about color blindness, white solidarity, white supremacy, and of course, white fragility. She lists a plethora of the things we say and ways we respond that are problematic. And there is a really awesome resource list at the end for ways to learn more about this topic.
DiAngelo is sensitive without avoiding hard truths; she is gentle without backing down. This book is a must-read and the truth contained is a must-see-acknowledge-accept and vitally, a must-change.
“If you are reading this and are still making your case for why you are different from other white people and why none of this applies to you, stop and take a breath. Now return to the questions above and keep working through them.”
White Fragility, page 14
If you are looking for more books about understanding and dismantling racism, check out a great list here: https://www.charisbooksandmore.com/understanding-and-dismantling-racism-booklist-white-readers
ALSO, BE SURE TO SPECIFICALLY READ BOOKS BY BLACK AUTHORS! While DiAngelo’s book is a great primer, she is white and therefore cannot speak to these issues to the same degree that a black author can.
Here’s another blog post I wrote, about our silence when it comes to racial issues.
This video by Trevor Noah does a really great job of explaining how Amy Cooper, George Floyd, and the riots/looting are connected. If you’re frustrated at seeing stores being destroyed, I recommend watching this:
Here’s a really good, relatable video by Gabbie Hanna too (which has additional article links in the video description):